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

The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems

The New Sirens

[First published 1849.]

IN the cedar shadow sleeping,

Where cool grass and fragrant glooms

Oft at noon have lur’d me, creeping

From your darken’d palace rooms:

I, who in your train at morning

Stroll’d and sang with joyful mind,

Heard, at evening, sounds of warning;

Heard the hoarse boughs labour in the wind.

Who are they, O pensive Graces,

—For I dream’d they wore your forms—

Who on shores and sea-wash’d places

Scoop the shelves and fret the storms?

Who, when ships are that way tending,

Troop across the flushing sands,

To all reefs and narrows wending,

With blown tresses, and with beckoning hands?

Yet I see, the howling levels

Of the deep are not your lair;

And your tragic-vaunted revels

Are less lonely than they were.

In a Tyrian galley steering

From the golden springs of dawn,

Troops, like Eastern kings, appearing,

Stream all day through your enchanted lawn.

And we too, from upland valleys,

Where some Muse, with half-curv’d frown,

Leans her ear to your mad sallies

Which the charm’d winds never drown;

By faint music guided, ranging

The scar’d glens, we wander’d on:

Left our awful laurels hanging,

And came heap’d with myrtles to your throne.

From the dragon-warder’d fountains

Where the springs of knowledge are:

From the watchers on the mountains,

And the bright and morning star:

We are exiles, we are falling,

We have lost them at your call.

O ye false ones, at your calling

Seeking ceilèd chambers and a palace hall.

Are the accents of your luring

More melodious than of yore?

Are those frail forms more enduring

Than the charms Ulysses bore?

That we sought you with rejoicings

Till at evening we descry

At a pause of Siren voicings

These vext branches and this howling sky?

Oh! your pardon. The uncouthness

Of that primal age is gone:

And the skin of dazzling smoothness

Screens not now a heart of stone.

Love has flush’d those cruel faces;

And your slacken’d arms forego

The delight of fierce embraces:

And those whitening bone-mounds do not grow.

‘Come,’ you say; ‘the large appearance

Of man’s labour is but vain:

And we plead as firm adherence

Due to pleasure as to pain.’

Pointing to some world-worn creatures,

‘Come,’ you murmur with a sigh:

‘Ah! we own diviner features,

Loftier bearing, and a prouder eye.

‘Come,’ you say, ‘the hours are dreary:

Life is long, and will not fade:

Time is lame, and we grow weary

In this slumbrous cedarn shade.

Round our hearts, with long caresses,

With low sighs hath Silence stole;

And her load of steaming tresses

Weighs, like Ossa, on the aery soul.

‘Come,’ you say, ‘the Soul is fainting

Till she search, and learn her own:

And the wisdom of man’s painting

Leaves her riddle half unknown.

Come,’ you say, ‘the brain is seeking,

When the princely heart is dead:

Yet this glean’d, when Gods were speaking,

Rarer secrets than the toiling head.

‘Come,’ you say, ‘opinion trembles,

Judgement shifts, convictions go:

Life dries up, the heart dissembles:

Only, what we feel, we know.

Hath your wisdom known emotions?

Will it weep our burning tears?

Hath it drunk of our love-potions

Crowning moments with the weight of years?’

I am dumb. Alas! too soon, all

Man’s grave reasons disappear:

Yet, I think, at God’s tribunal

Some large answer you shall hear.

But for me, my thoughts are straying

Where at sunrise, through the vines,

On these lawns I saw you playing,

Hanging garlands on the odorous pines.

When your showering locks enwound you,

And your heavenly eyes shone through:

When the pine-boughs yielded round you,

And your brows were starr’d with dew:

And immortal forms to meet you

Down the statued alleys came:

And through golden horns, to greet you,

Blew such music as a God may frame.

Yes—I muse:—And, if the dawning

Into daylight never grew—

If the glistering wings of morning

On the dry noon shook their dew—

If the fits of joy were longer—

Or the day were sooner done—

Or, perhaps, if Hope were stronger—

No weak nursling of an earthly sun …

Pluck, pluck cypress, O pale maidens,

Dusk the hall with yew!

But a bound was set to meetings,

And the sombre day dragg’d on:

And the burst of joyful greetings,

And the joyful dawn, were gone:

For the eye was fill’d with gazing,

And on raptures follow calms:—

And those warm locks men were praising

Droop’d, unbraided, on your listless arms.

Storms unsmooth’d your folded valleys,

And made all your cedars frown;

Leaves are whirling in the alleys

Which your lovers wander’d down.

—Sitting cheerless in your bowers,

The hands propping the sunk head,

Do they gall you, the long hours?

And the hungry thought, that must be fed?

Is the pleasure that is tasted

Patient of a long review?

Will the fire joy hath wasted,

Mus’d on, warm the heart anew?

—Or, are those old thoughts returning,

Guests the dull sense never knew,

Stars, set deep, yet inly burning,

Germs, your untrimm’d Passion overgrew?

Once, like me, you took your station

Watchers for a purer fire:

But you droop’d in expectation,

And you wearied in desire.

When the first rose flush was steeping

All the frore peak’s awful crown,

Shepherds say, they found you sleeping

In a windless valley, further down.

Then you wept, and slowly raising

Your doz’d eyelids, sought again,

Half in doubt, they say, and gazing

Sadly back, the seats of men.

Snatch’d an earthly inspiration

From some transient human Sun,

And proclaim’d your vain ovation

For the mimic raptures you had won.

Pluck, pluck cypress, O pale maidens,

Dusk the hall with yew!

With a sad, majestic motion—

With a stately, slow surprise—

From their earthward-bound devotion

Lifting up your languid eyes:

Would you freeze my louder boldness

Dumbly smiling as you go?

One faint frown of distant coldness

Flitting fast across each marble brow?

Do I brighten at your sorrow

O sweet Pleaders? doth my lot

Find assurance in to-morrow

Of one joy, which you have not?

O speak once! and let my sadness,

And this sobbing Phrygian strain,

Sham’d and baffled by your gladness,

Blame the music of your feasts in vain.

Scent, and song, and light, and flowers—

Gust on gust, the hoarse winds blow.

Come, bind up those ringlet showers!

Roses for that dreaming brow!

Come, once more that ancient lightness,

Glancing feet, and eager eyes!

Let your broad lamps flash the brightness

Which the sorrow-stricken day denies!

Through black depths of serried shadows,

Up cold aisles of buried glade;

In the mist of river meadows

Where the looming kine are laid;

From your dazzled windows streaming,

From the humming festal room,

Deep and far, a broken gleaming

Reels and shivers on the ruffled gloom.

Where I stand, the grass is glowing:

Doubtless, you are passing fair:

But I hear the north wind blowing;

And I feel the cold night-air.

Can I look on your sweet faces,

And your proud heads backward thrown,

From this dusk of leaf-strewn places

With the dumb woods and the night alone?

But, indeed, this flux of guesses—

Mad delight, and frozen calms—

Mirth to-day and vine-bound tresses,

And to-morrow—folded palms—

Is this all? this balanc’d measure?

Could life run no easier way?

Happy at the noon of pleasure,

Passive, at the midnight of dismay?

But, indeed, this proud possession—

This far-reaching magic chain,

Linking in a mad succession

Fits of joy and fits of pain:

Have you seen it at the closing?

Have you track’d its clouded ways?

Can your eyes, while fools are dozing,

Drop, with mine, adown life’s latter days?

When a dreary light is wading

Through this waste of sunless greens—

When the flashing lights are fading

On the peerless cheek of queens—

When the mean shall no more sorrow

And the proudest no more smile—

While the dawning of the morrow

Widens slowly westward all that while?

Then, when change itself is over,

When the slow tide sets one way,

Shall you find the radiant lover,

Even by moments, of to-day?

The eye wanders, faith is failing:

O, loose hands, and let it be!

Proudly, like a king bewailing,

O, let fall one tear, and set us free!

All true speech and large avowal

Which the jealous soul concedes:

All man’s heart—which brooks bestowal:

All frank faith—which passion breeds:

These we had, and we gave truly:

Doubt not, what we had, we gave:

False we were not, nor unruly:

Lodgers in the forest and the cave.

Long we wander’d with you, feeding

Our sad souls on your replies:

In a wistful silence reading

All the meaning of your eyes:

By moss-border’d statues sitting,

By well-heads, in summer days.

But we turn, our eyes are flitting.

See, the white east, and the morning rays!

And you too, O weeping Graces,

Sylvan Gods of this fair shade!

Is there doubt on divine faces?

Are the happy Gods dismay’d?

Can men worship the wan features,

The sunk eyes, the wailing tone,

Of unspher’d discrowned creatures,

Souls as little godlike as their own?

Come, loose hands! The wingèd fleetness

Of immortal feet is gone.

And your scents have shed their sweetness,

And your flowers are overblown.

And your jewell’d gauds surrender

Half their glories to the day:

Freely did they flash their splendour,

Freely gave it—but it dies away.

In the pines the thrush is waking—

Lo, yon orient hill in flames:

Scores of true love knots are breaking

At divorce which it proclaims.

When the lamps are pal’d at morning,

Heart quits heart, and hand quits hand.

—Cold in that unlovely dawning,

Loveless, rayless, joyless you shall stand.

Strew no more red roses, maidens,

Leave the lilies in their dew:

Pluck, pluck cypress, O pale maidens!

Dusk, O dusk the hall with yew!

—Shall I seek, that I may scorn her,

Her I lov’d at eventide?

Shall I ask, what faded mourner

Stands, at daybreak, weeping by my side?

Pluck, pluck cypress, O pale maidens!

Dusk the hall with yew!