Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
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Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
 
Thyrsis
By Matthew Arnold (1822–1888)
 
        [A monody to commemorate the author’s friend, Arthur Hugh Clough, who died at Florence, 1861.]

HOW changed is here each spot man makes or fills!
In the two Hinkseys nothing keeps the same;
  The village-street its haunted mansion lacks,
And from the sign is gone Sibylla’s name,
  And from the roofs the twisted chimney-stacks.        5
    Are ye, too, changed, ye hills?
See, ’tis no foot of unfamiliar men
  To-night from Oxford up your pathway strays!
  Here came I often, often, in old days;
Thyrsis and I; we still had Thyrsis then.        10
 
Runs it not here, the track by Childsworth Farm,
Up past the wood, to where the elm-tree crowns
  The hill behind whose ridge the sunset flames?
The Signal-Elm, that looks on Ilsley Downs,
  The Vale, the three lone wears, the youthful Thames?—        15
    This winter-eve is warm,
Humid the air; leafless, yet soft as spring,
  The tender purple spray on copse and briers;
  And that sweet City with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening.        20
 
Lovely all times she lies, lovely to-night.
Only, methinks, some loss of habit’s power
  Befalls me wandering through this upland dim.
Once passed I blindfold here, at any hour,
  Now seldom come I, since I came with him.        25
    That single elm-tree bright
Against the west—I miss it! is it gone?
  We prized it dearly; while it stood, we said,
  Our friend, the Scholar-Gypsy, was not dead;
While the tree lived, he in these fields lived on.        30
 
Too rare, too rare, grow now my visits here!
But once I knew each field, each flower, each stick,
  And with the country-folk acquaintance made
By barn in threshing-time, by new-built rick.
  Here, too, our shepherd-pipes we first assayed.        35
    Ah me! this many a year
My pipe is lost, my shepherd’s holiday.
  Needs must I lose them, needs with heavy heart
  Into the world and wave of men depart;
But Thyrsis of his own will went away.        40
 
It irked him to be here, he could not rest.
He loved each simple joy the country yields,
  He loved his mates; but yet he could not keep,
For that a shadow lowered on the fields,
  Here with the shepherds and the silly sheep.        45
    Some life of men unblest
He knew, which made him droop, and filled his head.
  He went; his piping took a troubled sound
  Of storms that rage outside our happy ground;
He could not wait their passing, he is dead.        50
 
So, some tempestuous morn in early June,
When the year’s primal burst of bloom is o’er,
  Before the roses and the longest day—
When garden-walks, and all the grassy floor,
  With blossoms, red and white, of fallen May,        55
    And chestnut-flowers, are strewn—
So have I heard the cuckoo’s parting cry,
  From the wet field, through the vexed garden-trees,
  Come with the volleying rain and tossing breeze:
The bloom is gone, and with the bloom go I.        60
 
Too quick despairer, wherefore wilt thou go?
Soon will the high Midsummer pomps come on,
  Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
  Sweet-William with its homely cottage-smell,        65
    And stocks in fragrant blow;
Roses that down the alleys shine afar,
  And open, jasmine-muffled lattices,
  And groups under the dreaming garden-trees,
And the full moon, and the white evening-star.        70
 
He hearkens not! light comer, he is gone!
What matters it? next year he will return,
  And we shall have him in the sweet spring-days,
With whitening hedges, and uncrumpling fern,
  And blue-bells trembling by the forest-ways,        75
    And scent of hay new-mown.
But Thyrsis never more we swains shall see;
  See him come back, and cut a smoother reed,
  And blow a strain the world at last shall heed,—
For Time, not Corydon, hath conquered thee.        80
 
Alack, for Corydon no rival now!
But when Sicilian shepherds lost a mate,
  Some good survivor with his flute would go,
Piping a ditty sad for Bion’s fate,
  And cross the unpermitted ferry’s flow,        85
    And unbend Pluto’s brow,
And make leap up with joy the beauteous head
  Of Proserpine, among whose crownèd hair
  Are flowers, first opened on Sicilian air;
And flute his friend, like Orpheus, from the dead.        90
 
O easy access to the hearer’s grace,
When Dorian shepherds sang to Proserpine!
  For she herself had trod Sicilian fields,
She knew the Dorian water’s gush divine,
  She knew each lily white which Enna yields,        95
    Each rose with blushing face;
She loved the Dorian pipe, the Dorian strain.
  But ah, of our poor Thames she never heard!
  Her foot the Cumner cowslips never stirred;
And we should tease her with our plaint in vain.        100
 
Well! wind-dispersed and vain the words will be,
Yet, Thyrsis, let me give my grief its hour
  In the old haunt, and find our tree-topped hill!
Who, if not I, for questing here hath power?
  I know the wood which hides the daffodil,        105
    I know the Fyfield tree,
I know what white, what purple fritillaries
  The grassy harvest of the river-fields,
  Above by Ensham, down by Sandford, yields;
And what sedged brooks are Thames’s tributaries;        110
 
I know these slopes; who knows them if not I?—
But many a dingle on the loved hillside,
  With thorns once studded, old, white-blossomed trees,
Where thick the cowslips grew, and, far descried,
  High towered the spikes of purple orchises,        115
    Hath since our day put by
The coronals of that forgotten time;
  Down each green bank hath gone the ploughboy’s team,
  And only in the hidden brookside gleam
Primroses, orphans of the flowery prime.        120
 
Where is the girl, who, by the boatman’s door,
Above the locks, above the boating throng,
  Unmoored our skiff, when, through the Wytham flats,
Red loosestrife and blond meadow-sweet among,
  And darting swallows, and light water-gnats,        125
    We tracked the shy Thames shore?
Where are the mowers, who, as the tiny swell
  Of our boat passing heaved the river-grass,
  Stood with suspended scythe to see us pass?
They all are gone, and thou art gone as well.        130
 
Yes, thou art gone, and round me too the Night
In ever-nearing circle weaves her shade.
  I see her veil draw soft across the day,
I feel her slowly chilling breath invade
  The cheek grown thin, the brown hair sprent with gray;        135
    I feel her finger light
Laid pausefully upon life’s headlong train;
  The foot less prompt to meet the morning dew,
  The heart less bounding at emotion new,
And hope, once crushed, less quick to spring again.        140
 
And long the way appears, which seemed so short
To the unpractised eye of sanguine youth;
  And high the mountain-tops, in cloudy air,
The mountain-tops where is the throne of Truth,
  Tops in life’s morning-sun so bright and bare.        145
    Unbreachable the fort
Of the long-battered world uplifts its wall;
  And strange and vain the earthly turmoil grows,
  And near and real the charm of thy repose,
And Night as welcome as a friend would fall.        150
 
But hush! the upland hath a sudden loss
Of quiet. Look! adown the dusk hillside
  A troop of Oxford hunters going home,
As in old days, jovial and talking, ride.
  From hunting with the Berkshire hounds they come.        155
    Quick! let me fly, and cross
Into yon further field. ’Tis done; and see,
  Backed by the sunset, which doth glorify
  The orange and pale violet evening-sky,
Bare on its lonely ridge, the Tree! the Tree!        160
 
I take the omen! Eve lets down her veil,
The white fog creeps from bush to bush about,
  The west unflushes, the high stars grow bright,
And in the scattered farms the lights come out.
  I cannot reach the Signal-Tree to-night,        165
    Yet, happy omen, hail!
Hear it from thy broad lucent Arno vale,
  (For there thine earth-forgetting eyelids keep
  The morningless and unawakening sleep
Under the flowery oleanders pale,)        170
 
Hear it, O Thyrsis, still our Tree is there!—
Ah, vain! These English fields, this upland dim,
  These brambles pale with mist engarlanded,
That lone, sky-pointing Tree, are not for him.
  To a boon southern country he is fled,        175
    And now in happier air,
Wandering with the great Mother’s train divine
  (And purer or more subtle soul than thee,
  I trow, the mighty Mother doth not see!)
Within a folding of the Apennine,        180
 
Thou hearest the immortal strains of old.
Putting his sickle to the perilous grain,
  In the hot corn-field of the Phrygian king,
For thee the Lityerses song again
  Young Daphnis with his silver voice doth sing;        185
    Sings his Sicilian fold,
His sheep, his hapless love, his blinded eyes;
  And how a call celestial round him rang,
  And heavenward from the fountain-brink he sprang,
And all the marvel of the golden skies.        190
 
There thou art gone, and me thou leavest here,
Sole in these fields; yet will I not despair.
  Despair I will not, while I yet descry
’Neath the soft canopy of English air
  That lonely Tree against the western sky.        195
    Still, still these slopes, ’tis clear,
Our Gypsy Scholar haunts, outliving thee!
  Fields where the sheep from cages pull the hay,
  Woods with anemones in flower till May,
Know him a wanderer still; then why not me?        200
 
A fugitive and gracious light he seeks,
Shy to illumine; and I seek it too.
  This does not come with houses or with gold,
With place, with honor, and a flattering crew;
  ’Tis not in the world’s market bought and sold.        205
    But the smooth-slipping weeks
Drop by, and leave its seeker still untired.
  Out of the heed of mortals is he gone,
  He wends unfollowed, he must house alone;
Yet on he fares, by his own heart inspired.        210
 
Thou too, O Thyrsis, on this quest wert bound,
Thou wanderedst with me for a little hour.
  Men gave thee nothing; but this happy quest,
If men esteemed thee feeble, gave thee power,
  If men procured thee trouble, gave thee rest.        215
    And this rude Cumner ground,
Its fir-topped Hurst, its farms, its quiet fields,
  Here cam’st thou in thy jocund youthful time,
  Here was thine height of strength, thy golden prime,
And still the haunt beloved a virtue yields.        220
 
What though the music of thy rustic flute
Kept not for long its happy country tone;
  Lost it too soon, and learnt a stormy note
Of men contention-tost, of men who groan,
  Which tasked thy pipe too sore, and tired thy throat—        225
    It failed, and thou wert mute.
Yet hadst thou alway visions of our light,
  And long with men of care thou couldst not stay,
  And soon thy foot resumed its wandering way,
Left human haunt, and on alone till night.        230
 
Too rare, too rare, grow now my visits here!
’Mid city noise, not, as with thee of yore,
  Thyrsis, in reach of sheep-bells is my home.
Then through the great town’s harsh, heart-wearying roar,
  Let in thy voice a whisper often come,        235
    To chase fatigue and fear:
Why faintest thou? I wandered till I died.
  Roam on; the light we sought is shining still.
  Dost thou ask proof? Our Tree yet crowns the hill,
Our Scholar travels yet the loved hillside.        240
 
 
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