Verse > Matthew Arnold > Poems
Matthew Arnold (1822–88).  The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867.  1909.
Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems
[First published 1852. Reprinted 1855.]

  IN 1 front the awful Alpine track
Crawls up its rocky stair;
The autumn storm-winds drive the rack
Close o’er it, in the air.
  Behind are the abandon’d baths        5
Mute in their meadows lone;
The leaves are on the valley paths;
The mists are on the Rhone—
  The white mists rolling like a sea.
I hear the torrents roar.        10
—Yes, Obermann, all speaks of thee!
I feel thee near once more.
  I turn thy leaves: I feel their breath
Once more upon me roll;
That air of languor, cold, and death,        15
Which brooded o’er thy soul.
  Fly hence, poor Wretch, whoe’er thou art,
Condemn’d to cast about,
All shipwreck in thy own weak heart,
For comfort from without:        20
  A fever in these pages burns
Beneath the calm they feign;
A wounded human spirit turns
Here, on its bed of pain.
  Yes, though the virgin mountain air        25
Fresh through these pages blows,
Though to these leaves the glaciers spare
The soul of their white 2 snows,
  Though here a mountain murmur swells
Of many a dark-bough’d pine,        30
Though, as you read, you hear the bells
Of the high-pasturing kine—
  Yet, through the hum of torrent lone,
And brooding mountain bee,
There sobs I know not what ground tone        35
Of human agony.
  Is it for this, because the sound
Is fraught too deep with pain,
That, Obermann! the world around
So little loves thy strain?        40
  Some secrets may the poet tell,
For the world loves new ways.
To tell too deep ones is not well;
It knows not what he says.
  Yet of the spirits who have reign’d        45
In this our troubled day,
I know but two, who have attain’d,
Save thee, to see their way.
  By England’s lakes, in grey old age,
His quiet home one keeps; 3        50
And one, the strong much-toiling Sage,
In German Weimar sleeps.
  But Wordsworth’s eyes avert their ken
From half of human fate;
And Goethe’s course few sons of men        55
May think to emulate.
  For he pursued a lonely road,
His eyes on Nature’s plan;
Neither made man too much a God,
Nor God too much a man.        60
  Strong was he, with a spirit free
From mists, and sane, and clear;
Clearer, how much! than ours: yet we
Have a worse course to steer.
  For though his manhood bore the blast        65
Of Europe’s stormiest 4 time,
Yet in a tranquil world was pass’d
His tenderer youthful prime.
  But we, brought forth and rear’d in hours
Of change, alarm, surprise—        70
What shelter to grow ripe is ours?
What leisure to grow wise?
  Like children bathing on the shore,
Buried a wave beneath,
The second wave succeeds, before        75
We have had time to breathe.
  Too fast we live, too much are tried,
Too harass’d, to attain
Wordsworth’s sweet calm, or Goethe’s wide
And luminous view to gain.        80
  And then we turn, thou sadder Sage!
To thee: we feel thy spell.
The hopeless tangle of our age—
Thou too hast scann’d it well.
  Immovable thou sittest; still        85
As death; compos’d to bear.
Thy head is clear, thy feeling chill—
And icy thy despair.
  Yes, as the Son of Thetis 5 said,
One hears thee saying now—        90
Greater by far than thou are dead:
Strive not: die also thou.
  Ah! Two desires toss about
The poet’s feverish blood.
One drives him to the world without,        95
And one to solitude.
  The glow, he cries, the thrill of life 6
Where, where do these abound?
Not in the world, not in the strife
Of men, shall they be found.        100
  He who hath watch’d, not shar’d, the strife,
Knows how the day hath gone;
He only lives with the world’s life
Who hath renounc’d his own.
  To thee we come, then. Clouds are roll’d        105
Where thou, O Seer, art set;
Thy realm of thought is drear and cold—
The world is colder yet!
  And thou hast pleasures too to share
With those who come to thee:        110
Balms floating on thy mountain air,
And healing sights to see.
  How often, where the slopes are green
On Jaman, hast thou sate
By some high chalet door, and seen        115
The summer day grow late,
  And darkness steal o’er the wet grass
With the pale crocus starr’d,
And reach that glimmering sheet of glass
Beneath the piny sward,        120
  Lake Leman’s waters, far below:
And watch’d the rosy light
Fade from the distant peaks of snow:
And on the air of night
  Heard accents of the eternal tongue        125
Through the pine branches play:
Listen’d, and felt thyself grow young;
Listen’d, and wept——Away!
  Away the dreams that but deceive!
And thou, sad Guide, adieu!        130
I go; Fate drives me: but I leave
Half of my life with you.
  We, in some unknown Power’s employ,
Move on a rigorous line:
Can neither, when we will, enjoy;        135
Nor, when we will, resign.
  I in the world must live:—but thou,
Thou melancholy Shade!
Wilt not, if thou canst see me now,
Condemn me, nor upbraid.        140
  For thou art gone away from earth,
And place with those dost claim,
The Children of the Second Birth
Whom the world could not tame;
  And with that small transfigur’d Band,        145
Whom many a different way
Conducted to their common land,
Thou learn’st to think as they.
  Christian and pagan, king and slave,
Soldier and anchorite,        150
Distinctions we esteem so grave,
Are nothing in their sight.
  They do not ask, who pin’d unseen,
Who was on action hurl’d,
Whose one bond is that all have been        155
Unspotted by the world.
  There without anger thou wilt see
Him who obeys thy spell
No more, so he but rest, like thee,
Unsoil’d:—and so, Farewell!        160
  Farewell!—Whether thou now liest near
That much-lov’d inland sea,
The ripples of whose blue waves cheer
Vevey and Meillerie,
  And in that gracious region bland,        165
Where with clear-rustling wave
The scented pines of Switzerland
Stand dark round thy green grave,
  Between the dusty vineyard walls
Issuing on that green place        170
The early peasant still recalls
The pensive stranger’s face,
  And stoops to clear thy moss-grown date
Ere he plods on again;—
Or whether, by maligner Fate,        175
Among the swarms of men,
  Where between granite terraces
The blue Seine rolls 7 her wave,
The Capital of Pleasure sees
Thy hardly-heard-of grave—        180
  Farewell! Under the sky we part,
In this stern Alpine dell.
O unstrung will! O broken heart!
A last, a last farewell!
Note 1. OBERMANN: Senancour (1770–1846) was the author of Obermann, ‘a collection of letters from Switzerland treating almost entirely of nature and of the human soul’ [Arnold.]. He also wrote Rêveries sur la Nature primitive de l’ Homme and Libers Méditations d’un Solitaire Inconnu.
  Obermann Title] Stanzas in memory of the author of ‘Obermann’ 1852. [back]
Note 2. white] mute 1852. [back]
Note 3. Written in November, 1849. [back]
Note 4. 66 Europe’s stormiest] a tremendous 1852. [back]
Note 5. 89–91. Son of Thetis: Achilles. The reference is to Achilles’ words to Lycaon in Iliad, xxi. 106 et seqq. [back]
Note 6. The glow of thought, the thrill of life—1852. [back]
Note 7. blue Seine rolls] Seine conducts 1852. [back]

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