Verse > Anthologies > The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse > 128. From ‘Empedocles on Aetna’
Nicholson & Lee, eds.  The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.
128. From ‘Empedocles on Aetna’
By Matthew Arnold  (1822–1888)
TO the elements it came from
Everything will return.
Our bodies to earth,
Our blood to water,
Heat to fire,        5
Breath to air.
They were well born, they will be well entomb’d!
But mind?…
And we might gladly share the fruitful stir
Down in our mother earth’s miraculous womb!       10
Well might it be
With what roll’d of us in the stormy main!
We might have joy, blent with the all-bathing air,
Or with the nimble radiant life of fire!
But mind—but thought—       15
If these have been the master part of us—
Where will they find their parent element?
What will receive them, who will call them home?
But we shall still be in them, and they in us,
And we shall be the strangers of the world,       20
And they will be our lords, as they are now;
And keep us prisoners of our consciousness,
And never let us clasp and feel the All
But through their forms, and modes, and stifling veils.
And we shall be unsatisfied as now;       25
And we shall feel the agony of thirst,
The ineffable longing for the life of life
Baffled for ever: and still thought and mind
Will hurry us with them on their homeless march,
Over the unallied unopening earth,       30
Over the unrecognizing sea; while air
Will blow us fiercely back to sea and earth,
And fire repel us from its living waves
And then we shall unwillingly return
Back to this meadow of calamity,       35
This uncongenial place, this human life;
And in our individual human state
Go through the sad probation all again,
To see if we will poise our life at last,
To see if we will now at last be true       40
To our own only true, deep-buried selves,
Being one with which we are one with the whole world;
Or whether we will once more fall away
Into some bondage of the flesh or mind,
Some slough of sense, or some fantastic maze       45
Forg’d by the imperious lonely thinking-power.
And each succeeding age in which we are born
Will have more peril for us than the last;
Will goad our senses with a sharper spur,
Will fret our minds to an intenser play,       50
Will make ourselves harder to be discern’d.
And we shall struggle awhile, gasp and rebel;
And we shall fly for refuge to past times,
Their soul of unworn youth, their breath of greatness;
And the reality will pluck us back,       55
Knead us in its hot hand, and change our nature.
And we shall feel our powers of effort flag,
And rally them for one last fight, and fail;
And we shall sink in the impossible strife,
And be astray for ever.       60
    Slave of sense
I have in no wise been; but slave of thought?—
And who can say: I have been always free,
Lived ever in the light of my own soul?—
I cannot! I have lived in wrath and gloom,       65
Fierce, disputatious, ever at war with man,
Far from my own soul, far from warmth and light.
But I have not grown easy in these bonds—
But I have not denied what bonds these were!
Yea, I take myself to witness,       70
That I have loved no darkness,
Sophisticated no truth,
Nursed no delusion,
Allow’d no fear!
And therefore, O ye elements, I know—       75
Ye know it too—it hath been granted me
Not to die wholly, not to be all enslav’d.
I feel it in this hour! The numbing cloud
Mounts off my soul; I feel it, I breathe free!
Is it but for a moment?       80
Ah, boil up, ye vapours!
Leap and roar, thou sea of fire!
My soul glows to meet you.
Ere it flag, ere the mists
Of despondency and gloom       85
Rush over it again,
Receive me! Save me!

(He plunges into the crater.)



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