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Matthew Arnold (1822–88).  The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867.  1909.
 
Poems from Magazines, 1860–1866
A Southern Night
 
[First published in The Victoria Regia, 1861. Reprinted 1867.]

THE SANDY spits, the shore-lock’d lakes,
  Melt into open, moonlit sea;
The soft Mediterranean breaks
      At my feet, free.
 
Dotting the fields of corn and vine        5
  Like ghosts, the huge, gnarl’d olives stand;
Behind, that lovely mountain-line!
      While by the strand
 
Cette, with its glistening houses white,
  Curves with the curving beach away        10
To where the lighthouse beacons bright
      Far in the bay.
 
Ah, such a night, so soft, so lone,
  So moonlit, saw me once of yore
Wander unquiet, and my own        15
      Vext heart deplore!
 
But now that trouble is forgot;
  Thy memory, thy pain, to-night,
My brother! and thine early lot, 1
      Possess me quite.        20
 
The murmur of this Midland deep
  Is heard to-night around thy grave
There where Gibraltar’s cannon’d steep
      O’erfrowns the wave.
 
For there, with bodily anguish keen,        25
  With Indian heats 2 at last fordone,
With public toil and private teen,
      Thou sank’st, alone.
 
Slow to a stop, at morning grey,
  I see the smoke-crown’d vessel come;        30
Slow round her paddles dies away
      The seething foam.
 
A boat is lower’d from her side;
  Ah, gently place him on the bench!
That spirit—if all have not yet died—        35
      A breath might quench.
 
Is this the eye, the footstep fast, 3
  The mien of youth we used to see,
Poor, gallant boy!—for such thou wast, 4
      Still art, to me.        40
 
The limbs their wonted tasks refuse,
  The eyes are glazed, thou canst not speak;
And whiter than thy white burnous
      That wasted check!
 
Enough! The boat, with quiet shock,        45
  Unto its haven coming nigh,
Touches, and on Gibraltar’s rock
      Lands thee, to die.
 
Ah me! Gibraltar’s strand is far,
  But farther yet across the brine        50
Thy dear wife’s ashes buried are,
      Remote from thine.
 
For there where Morning’s sacred fount
  Its golden rain on earth confers,
The snowy Himalayan Mount        55
      O’ershadows hers.
 
Strange irony of Fate, alas,
  Which for two jaded English saves,
When from their dusty life they pass,
      Such peaceful graves!        60
 
In cities should we English lie,
  Where cries are rising ever new,
And men’s incessant stream goes by;
      We who pursue
 
Our business with unslackening stride,        65
  Traverse in troops, with care-fill’d breast,
The soft Mediterranean side,
      The Nile, the East,
 
And see all sights from pole to pole,
  And glance, and nod, and bustle by;        70
And never once possess our soul
      Before we die.
 
Not by those hoary Indian hills,
  Not by this gracious Midland sea
Whose floor to-night sweet moonshine fills,        75
      Should our graves be!
 
Some sage, to whom the world was dead,
  And men were specks, and life a play;
Who made the roots of trees his bed,
      And once a day        80
 
With staff and gourd his way did bend
  To villages and homes 5 of man,
For food to keep him till he end
      His mortal span,
 
And the pure goal of Being reach;        85
  Grey-headed, wrinkled, clad in white,
Without companion, without speech,
      By day and night
 
Pondering God’s mysteries untold,
  And tranquil as the glacier snows—        90
He by those Indian mountains old
      Might well repose!
 
Some grey crusading knight austere
  Who bore Saint Louis company
And came home hurt to death and here        95
      Landed 6 to die;
 
Some youthful troubadour whose tongue
  Fill’d Europe once with his love-pain,
Who here outwearied sunk, and sung
      His 7 dying strain;        100
 
Some girl who here from castle-bower, 8
  With furtive step and cheek of flame,
’Twixt myrtle-hedges all in flower
      By moonlight came
 
To meet her pirate-lover’s ship,        105
  And from the wave-kiss’d marble stair
Beckon’d him on, with quivering lip
      And unbound 9 hair,
 
And lived some moons in happy trance,
  Then learnt his death, and pined away—        110
Such by these waters of romance
      ’Twas meet to lay!
 
But you—a grave for knight 10 or sage,
  Romantic, solitary, still,
O spent ones of a work-day age!        115
      Befits you ill.
 
So sang I; but the midnight breeze
  Down to the brimm’d moon-charmed main
Comes softly through the olive-trees,
      And checks my strain.        120
 
I think of her, whose gentle tongue
  All plaint in her own cause controll’d;
Of thee I think, my brother! young
      In heart, high-soul’d;
 
That comely face, that cluster’d brow,        125
  That cordial hand, that bearing free,
I see them still, I see them now,
      Shall always see!
 
And what but gentleness untired,
  And what but noble feeling warm,        130
Wherever shown, howe’er attired,
      Is grace, is charm?
 
What else is all these waters are,
  What else is steep’d in lucid sheen,
What else is bright, 11 what else is fair,        135
      What else serene?
 
Mild o’er her grave, ye mountains, shine!
  Gently by his, ye waters, glide!
To that in you which is divine
      They were allied.        140
 
Note 1. My brother! and thine early lot. The Author’s brother, William Delafield Arnold, Director of Public Instruction in the Punjab, and author of Oakfield, or Fellowship in the East, died at Gibraltar, on his way home from India, April the 9th, 1859. [Arnold.] [back]
Note 2. heats] suns 1861. [back]
Note 3. footstep fast] form alert 1861. [back]
Note 4. wast] wert 1861. [back]
Note 5. homes] haunts 1861. [back]
Note 6. Landed] Touch’d shore 1861. [back]
Note 7. His] A 1861. [back]
Note 8. castle-bower] palace-bower 1861. [back]
Note 9. unbound] floating 1861. [back]
Note 10. knight] Girl 1861. [back]
Note 11. bright] good 1861. [back]
 
 
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