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Matthew Arnold (1822–88). The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867. 1909.

Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems


[First published 1852. Reprinted 1855.]

SAY, what blinds us, that we claim the glory

Of possessing powers not our share?—

Since man woke on earth, he knows his story,

But, before we woke on earth, we were.

Long, long since, undower’d yet, our spirit

Roam’d, ere birth, the treasuries of God:

Saw the gifts, the powers it might inherit;

Ask’d an outfit for its earthly road.

Then, as now, this tremulous, eager Being

Strain’d, and long’d, and grasp’d each gift it saw.

Then, as now, a Power beyond our seeing

Stav’d us back, and gave our choice the law.

Ah, whose hand that day through heaven guided

Man’s blank spirit, since it was not we?

Ah, who sway’d our choice, and who decided

What our gifts, and what our wants should be?

For, alas! he left us each retaining

Shreds of gifts which he refus’d in full.

Still these waste us with their hopeless straining—

Still the attempt to use them proves them null.

And on earth we wander, groping, reeling;

Powers stir in us, stir and disappear.

Ah, and he, who placed our master-feeling,

Fail’d to place our master-feeling clear.

We but dream we have our wish’d-for powers.

Ends we seek we never shall attain.

Ah, some power exists there, which is ours?

Some end is there, we indeed may gain?