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

Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems

The Youth of Man

[First published 1852. Two fragments 1853. Reprinted in its complete form, as below, 1855.]

WE, O Nature, depart:

Thou survivest us: this,

This, I know, is the law.

Yes, but more than this,

Thou who seest us die

Seest us change while we live;

Seest our dreams one by one,

Seest our errors depart:

Watchest us, Nature, throughout,

Mild and inscrutably calm.

Well for us that we change!

Well for us that the Power

Which in our morning prime

Saw the mistakes of our youth,

Sweet, and forgiving, and good,

Sees the contrition of age!

Behold, O Nature, this pair!

See them to-night where they stand,

Not with the halo of youth

Crowning their brows with its light,

Not with the sunshine of hope,

Not with the rapture of spring,

Which they had of old, when they stood

Years ago at my side

In this self-same garden, and said;—

‘We are young, and the world is ours,

For man is the king of the world.

Fools that these mystics are

Who prate of Nature! but she

Has neither beauty, nor warmth,

Nor life, nor emotion, nor power.

But Man has a thousand gifts,

And the generous dreamer invests

The senseless world with them all.

Nature is nothing! her charm

Lives in our eyes which can paint,

Lives in our hearts which can feel!’

Thou, O Nature, wert mute,

Mute as of old: days flew,

Days and years; and Time

With the ceaseless stroke of his wings

Brush’d off the bloom from their soul.

Clouded and dim grew their eye;

Languid their heart; for Youth

Quicken’d its pulses no more.

Slowly within the walls

Of an ever-narrowing world

They droop’d, they grew blind, they grew old.

Thee and their Youth in thee,

Nature, they saw no more.

Murmur of living!

Stir of existence!

Soul of the world!

Make, oh make yourselves felt

To the dying spirit of Youth.

Come, like the breath of the spring.

Leave not a human soul

To grow old in darkness and pain.

Only the living can feel you:

But leave us not while we live.

Here they stand to-night—

Here, where this grey balustrade

Crowns the still valley: behind

Is the castled house with its woods

Which shelter’d their childhood, the sun

On its ivied windows: a scent

From the grey-wall’d gardens, a breath

Of the fragrant stock and the pink,

Perfumes the evening air.

Their children play on the lawns.

They stand and listen: they hear

The children’s shouts, and, at times,

Faintly, the bark of a dog

From a distant farm in the hills:—

Nothing besides: in front

The wide, wide valley outspreads

To the dim horizon, repos’d

In the twilight, and bath’d in dew,

Corn-field and hamlet and copse

Darkening fast; but a light,

Far off, a glory of day,

Still plays on the city spires:

And there in the dusk by the walls,

With the grey mist marking its course

Through the silent flowery land,

On, to the plains, to the sea,

Floats the Imperial Stream.

Well I know what they feel.

They gaze, and the evening wind

Plays on their faces: they gaze;

Airs from the Eden of Youth

Awake and stir in their soul:

The Past returns; they feel

What they are, alas! what they were.

They, not Nature, are chang’d.

Well I know what they feel.

Hush! for tears

Begin to steal to their eyes.

Hush! for fruit

Grows from such sorrow as theirs.

And they remember

With piercing untold anguish

The proud boasting of their youth.

And the mists how Nature was fair.

And the mists of delusion,

And the scales of habit,

Fall away from their eyes.

And they see, for a moment,

Stretching out, like the Desert

In its weary, unprofitable length,

Their faded, ignoble lives.

While the locks are yet brown on thy head,

While the soul still looks through thine eyes,

While the heart still pours

The mantling blood to thy cheek,

Sink, O Youth, in thy soul!

Yearn to the greatness of Nature!

Rally the good in the depths of thyself!