Verse > Anthologies > The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse > 126. From ‘The Buried Life’
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Nicholson & Lee, eds.  The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.
  
126. From ‘The Buried Life’
By Matthew Arnold  (1822–1888)
  
FATE, which foresaw
How frivolous a baby man would be,
By what distractions he would be possess’d,
How he would pour himself in every strife,
And well-nigh change his own identity—        5
That it might keep from his capricious play
His genuine self, and force him to obey
Even in his own despite, his being’s law,
Bade through the deep recesses of our breast
The unregarded River of our Life       10
Pursue with indiscernible flow its way;
And that we should not see
The buried stream, and seem to be
Eddying about in blind uncertainty,
Though driving on with it eternally.       15
 
    But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life,
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force       20
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart that beats
So wild, so deep in us, to know
Whence our thoughts come and where they go.       25
And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas, none ever mines!
And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power,
But hardly have we, for one little hour,       30
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves;
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress’d.
And long we try in vain to speak and act       35
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is well—but ’tis not true!
  And then we will no more be rack’d
With inward striving, and demand
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour       40
Their stupefying power;
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call:
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne
As from an infinitely distant land,       45
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day.
 
Only—but this is rare—
When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare       50
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen’d ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress’d—
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,       55
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again:
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,
And hears its winding murmur, and he sees       60
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.
 
And there arrives a lull in the hot race
Wherein he doth for ever chase
That flying and elusive shadow, Rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,       65
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The Hills where his life rose,
And the Sea where it goes.

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