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

New Poems, 1867

Stanzas composed at Carnac

MAY 6, 1859

[First published 1867.]

FAR on its rocky knoll descried

Saint Michael’s chapel cuts the sky.

I climb’d;—beneath me, bright and wide,

Lay the lone coast of Brittany.

Bright in the sunset, weird and still,

It lay beside the Atlantic wave,

As if the wizard Merlin’s will

Yet charm’d it from his forest grave.

Behind me on their grassy sweep,

Bearded with lichen, scrawl’d and grey,

The giant stones of Carnac sleep,

In the mild evening of the May.

No priestly stern procession now

Streams through their rows of pillars old;

No victims bleed, no Druids bow;

Sheep make the furze-grown aisles their fold.

From bush to bush the cuckoo flies,

The orchis red gleams everywhere;

Gold broom with furze in blossom vies,

The blue-bells perfume all the air.

And o’er the glistening, lonely land,

Rise up, all round, the Christian spires.

The church of Carnac, by the strand,

Catches the westerning sun’s last fires.

And there across the watery way,

See, low above the tide at flood,

The sickle-sweep of Quiberon bay

Whose beach once ran with loyal blood!

And beyond that, the Atlantic wide!—

All round, no soul, no boat, no hail!

But, on the horizon’s verge descried,

Hangs, touch’d with light, one snowy sail!

Ah, where is he, who should have come

Where that far sail is passing now,

Past the Loire’s mouth, and by the foam

Of Finistère’s unquiet brow,

Home, round into the English wave?—

He tarries where the Rock of Spain

Mediterranean waters lave;

He enters not the Atlantic main.

Oh, could he once have reach’d this air

Freshen’d by plunging tides, by showers!

Have felt this breath he loved, of fair

Cool northern fields, and grass, and flowers!

He long’d for it—press’d on!—In vain.

At the Straits fail’d that spirit brave.

The South was parent of his pain,

The South is mistress of his grave.