Home  »  The Poems of Matthew Arnold  »  The Second Best

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

Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems

The Second Best

[First published 1852. Reprinted 1867.]

MODERATE tasks and moderate leisure,

Quiet living, strict-kept measure

Both in suffering and in pleasure—

’Tis for this thy nature yearns.

But so many books thou readest,

But so many schemes thou breedest,

But so many wishes feedest,

That thy poor head almost turns.

And (the world’s so madly jangled,

Human things so fast entangled)

Nature’s wish must now be strangled

For that best which she discerns.

So it must be! yet, while leading

A strain’d life, while overfeeding,

Like the rest, his wit with reading,

No small profit that man earns,

Who through all he meets can steer him,

Can reject what cannot clear him,

Cling to what can truly cheer him!

Who each day more surely learns

That an impulse, from the distance

Of his deepest, best existence,

To the words ‘Hope, Light, Persistence,’

Strongly stirs and truly burns!