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Matthew Arnold (1822–88).  The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867.  1909.
 
The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems
Stanzas on a Gipsy Child by the Sea-shore
 
DOUGLAS, ISLE OF MAN
[First published 1849. Reprinted 1855.]

WHO taught this pleading to unpractis’d eyes?
Who hid such import in an infant’s gloom?
Who lent thee, child, this meditative guise?
What clouds thy forehead, and fore-dates thy doom? 1
 
Lo! sails that gleam a moment and are gone;        5
The swinging waters, and the cluster’d pier.
Not idly Earth and Ocean labour on,
Nor idly do these sea-birds hover near.
 
But thou, whom superfluity of joy
Wafts not from thine own thoughts, nor longings vain,        10
Nor weariness, the full-fed soul’s annoy;
Remaining in thy hunger and thy pain:
 
Thou, drugging pain by patience; half averse
From thine own mother’s breast, that knows not thee;
With eyes that sought thine eyes thou didst converse,        15
And that soul-searching vision fell on me.
 
Glooms that go deep as thine I have not known:
Moods of fantastic sadness, nothing worth.
Thy sorrow and thy calmness are thine own:
Glooms that enhance and glorify this earth.        20
 
What mood wears like complexion to thy woe?—
His, who in mountain glens, at noon of day,
Sits rapt, and hears the battle break below?—
Ah! thine was not the shelter, but the fray.
 
What exile’s, changing bitter thoughts with glad?        25
What seraph’s, in some alien planet born?—
No exile’s dream was ever half so sad,
Nor any angel’s sorrow so forlorn.
 
Is the calm thine of stoic souls, who weigh
Life well, and find it wanting, nor deplore:        30
But in disdainful silence turn away,
Stand mute, self-centred, stern, and dream no more?
 
Or do I wait, to hear some grey-hair’d king
Unravel all his many-colour’d lore:
Whose mind hath known all arts of governing,        35
Mus’d much, lov’d life a little, loath’d it more?
 
Down the pale cheek long lines of shadow slope
Which years, and curious thought, and suffering give—
Thou hast foreknown the vanity of hope,
Foreseen thy harvest—yet proceed’st to live.        40
 
O meek anticipant of that sure pain
Whose sureness grey-hair’d scholars hardly learn!
What wonder shall time breed, to swell thy strain?
What heavens, what earth, what suns shalt thou discern?
 
Ere the long night, whose stillness brooks no star,        45
Match that funereal aspect with her pall,
I think, thou wilt have fathom’d life too far,
Have known too much—or else forgotten all.
 
The Guide of our dark steps a triple veil
Betwixt our senses and our sorrow keeps:        50
Hath sown with cloudless passages the tale
Of grief, and eas’d us with a thousand sleeps.
 
Ah! not the nectarous poppy lovers use,
Not daily labour’s dull, Lethaean spring,
Oblivion in lost angels can infuse        55
Of the soil’d glory, and the trailing wing;
 
And though thou glean, what strenuous gleaners may,
In the throng’d fields where winning comes by strife;
And though the just sun gild, as all men pray,
Some reaches of thy storm-vext stream of life;        60
 
Though that blank sunshine blind thee: though the cloud
That sever’d the world’s march and thine, is gone:
Though ease dulls grace, and Wisdom be too proud
To halve a lodging that was all her own:
 
Once, ere the day decline, thou shalt discern,        65
Oh once, ere night, in thy success, thy chain.
Ere the long evening close, thou shalt return,
And wear this majesty of grief again.
 
Note 1. Who mass’d, round that slight brow, these clouds of doom? 1849. Arnold in later editions reverted to the 1849 form of this line. In a letter dated June 26, 1869, he writes: ‘I suppose I must change back the “Gipsy Child” to its old form, as no one seems to like the new one.’ [back]
 
 
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