Matthew Arnold (1822–88). The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867. 1909.Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems
The Youth of Man
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 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!’
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.
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, 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.
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.
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 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!