Thursday, November 25, 2010


"Not by the justice that my father spurned,
Not for the thousands whom my father slew,
Alters unfed and temples overturned,
Cold hearts and thankless tongues, where thanks are due;
Fell this dread voice from lips that cannot lie,
Stern sentenced of the Powers of Destiny.

"I will unfold my sentence and my crime.
My crime, - that, wrapt in reverential awe,
I sate obedient, in the tiery prime
Of youth, self-governed, at the feet of Law;
Ennobling this dull pomp, the life of kings,
By contemplation of diviner things.

" My father loved injustice, and lived long;
Crowned with gray hairs he died, and full of sway,
I loved the good he scorned, and hated wrong -
The gods declare my recom pense to-day.
I looked for life more lasting, rule more high;
And when six years are measured, lo, I die!

"Yet surely, O my people, did I deem
Man's justice from the all-just gods was given;
A light that from some upper fount did beam,
Some better architype, whose seat was heaven;
A light that, shining from the blest abodes,
Did shadow somewhat of the life of gods.

"Mere phantoms of man's self-tormenting heart,
Which on the sweets that woo it dares not feed!
Vain dreams, which quench our pleasures, then depart,
When the duped soul, self-mastered, claims its meed:
When, on the strenuous just man, Heaven bestows,
Crown of his struggling life, an unjust close!

"Seems it so light a thing, then, austere powers,
To spurn man's common lure, life's pleasant things?
Seems there no joy in dances crowned with flowers,
Love free to range, and regal banquetings?
Bend ye on these indeed an unmoved eye,
Not gods, but ghosts, in frozen apathy?

"Or is it that some force, too stern, too strong,
Even for yourselves to conquer or beguile,
Bears earth and heaven and men and gods along,
Like the broad volume of the insurgent Nile?
And the great powers we serve, themselves may be
Slaves of a tyrannous necessity?

"Or in mid-heaven, perhaps, your golden ears,
Where earthly voice climbs never, wing their flight,
And in wild hunt, through mazy tracts of stars,
Sweep in the sounding stillness of the night?
Or in deaf ease, on thrones of dazzling sheen,
Drinking deep drafts of joy, ye dwell serene?

"Oh, wherefor cheat our youth, if thus it be,
Of one short joy, one lust, one pleasant dream?
Stringing vain words of powers we cannot see,
Blind divination of a will supreme;
Lost labor! when the circumambient gloom
But hides, if gods, gods careless of our doom?

"The rest I give to joy. Even while I speak,
My sand runs short; and as yon star-shot ray,
Hemmed by two banks of cloud, peers pale and weak,
Now, as the barrier closes, dies away, -
Even so do past and future intertwine,
Blotting this six years' space, which yet is mine.

"Six years, - six little years, - six drops of time!
Yet suns shall rise, and many moons shall wane,
And old men die, and young men pass their prime,
And languid pleasure fade and flower again,
And the dull gods behold, ere these are flown,
Revels more deep, joy keener than their own.

"Into the silence of the groves and woods
I will go forth; though something would I say, -
Something, - yet what, I know not: for the gods
The doom they pass revoke not nor delay;
And prayers and gifts and tears are fruitless all,
And the night waxes, and the shadows fall.

"Ye men of Egypt, ye have heard your king!
I go, and I return not. But the will
Of the great gods is plain; and ye must bring
Ill deeds, ill passions, zealous to fulfill
Their pleasure, to their feet; and reap their praise, -
The praise of gods, rich boon! and length of days."

-So spake he, half in anger, half in scorn;
And one loud cry of grief and of amaze
Broke from his sorrowing people; so he spake,
And turning, left them there: and with brief pause.
Girt with a throng of revelers, bent his way
To the cool region of the groves he loved....

  So six long years he reveled, night and day.
And when the mirth waxed loudest, with dull sound
Sometimes from the groves center echoes came,
To tell his wondering people of their king;
In the still night, across the steaming flats,
Mixed with the murmur of the moving Nile.

Matthew Arnold
Professor of poetry at Oxford, 1857-1867

Source: The Universal Anthology, Richard Garnett, Clark and Company, Limited, London, 1899, pg's 158-160

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