And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

lørdag 16. mars 2013

Three poems on longing - a selection of Matthew Arnold's poetry

Recently I've been thinking quite a lot about Oxford. I've started re-watching Lewis, one of my favourite TV-series of all time, and I've spent much time on one of my favourite blogs, written by a brilliant clerk of Oxford which contains a great variety of information pertaining to this city. One result of this preoccupation is a growing interest in the man who coined the city's much-loved and much-quoted sobriquet "city of dreaming spires". The man in question is of course Matthew Arnold (1822-88), whom I came in contact with through Derek Walcott, who used a stanza from his To Marguerite as an epigraph in his autobiographical poem Another Life. It is evident why Arnold's poem was chosen for this purpose, as both poets display a conspicuous and deep-seated fascination with wandering, absence, estrangement and longing - themes which resonate with me very well because of my nostalgic nature.

Matthew Arnold, c.1883

The poems in this blogpost were all first published in 1852, written during Arnold's poetically most productive part of life, namely his twenties. The latter two are written to the mysterious dedicatee Marguerite, whom scholars throughout the ages have striven to identify. Arnold is perhaps most known for his longer poems such as Balder Dead or Empedocles on Etna, dramatic and narrative works which are ill-suited for presentation in the blog format, so the poems here are all short and lyrical. I have come to greatly enjoy these two qualities in poetry, and I find it is easier to explore a poet by starting at his shorter work. This is perhaps especially the case with a Victorian poet such as Arnold, whose style may seem laboured to our modern eyes, although this is chiefly a result of the numerous elisions employed throughout the verse lines.

Too Late

Each on his own strict line we move,
And some find death ere they find love.
So far apart their lives are thrown
From the twin soul that halves their own.

And sometimes, by still harder fate,
The lovers meet, but meet too late.
- Thy heart is mine! - True, true! ah true!
- Then, love, thy hand! - Ah no! adieu!

To Marguerite

Yes: in the sea of life enisled,
With echoing straits between us thrown.
Dotting the shoreless watery wild,
We mortal millions live alone.
The islands feel the enclasping flow,
And then their endless bounds they know.

But when the moon their hollows lights,
And they are swept by balms of spring,
And in their glens, on starry nights,
The nightingales divinely sing;
And lovely notes, from shore to shore,
Across the sounds and channels pour;

O then a longing like despair
Is to their farthest caverns sent!
For surely once, they feel, we were
Parts of a single continent.
Now round us spreads the watery plain—
O might our marges meet again!

Who order'd that their longing's fire
Should be, as soon as kindled, cool'd?
Who renders vain their deep desire?—
A God, a God their severance ruled;
And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea.


In this fair stranger's eyes of grey
Thine eyes, my love, I see.
I shudder: for the passing day
Had borne me far from thee.

This is the curse of life: that not
A nobler calmer train
Of wiser thougths and feeelings blot
Our passions from our brain;

But each day brings its petty dust
Our soon-chok'd souls to fill,
And we forget because we must,
And not because we will.

I struggle towards the light; and ye,
Once-long'd-for storms of love!
If with the light ye cannot be,
I bear that ye remove.

I struggle towards the light; but oh,
While yet the night is chill,
Upon Time's barren,stormy flow,
Stay with me, Marguerite, still!

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