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Matthew Arnold (1822–88).  The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867.  1909.
 
New Poems, 1867
Obermann once more
 
[First published 1867.]

        Savez-vous quelque bien qui console du regret d’un monde?
OBERMANN.

GLION?——Ah, twenty years, it cuts
All meaning from a name!
White houses prank where once were huts!
Glion! but not the same,
 
And yet I know not. All unchanged        5
The turf, the pines, the sky!
The hills in their old order ranged!
The lake, with Chillon by!
 
And ’neath those chestnut-trees, where stiff
And stony mounts the way,        10
Their crackling husk-heaps burn, as if
I left them yesterday.
 
Across the valley, on that slope.
The huts of Avant shine—
Its pines under their branches ope        15
Ways for the tinkling kine.
 
Full-foaming milk-pails, Alpine fare,
Sweet heaps of fresh-cut grass,
Invite to rest the traveller there
Before he climb the pass—        20
 
The gentian-flower’d pass, its crown 1
With yellow spires aflame,
Whence drops the path to Alliere down
And walls where Byron came, 2
 
By their green river who doth change        25
His birth-name just below—
Orchard, and croft, and full-stored grange
Nursed by his pastoral flow.
 
But stop!—to fetch back thoughts that stray
Beyond this gracious bound,        30
The cone of Jaman, pale and grey,
See, in the blue profound!
 
Ah, Jaman! delicately tall
Above his sun-warm’d firs—
What thoughts to me his rocks recall!        35
What memories he stirs!
 
And who but thou must be, in truth,
Obermann! with me here?
Thou master of my wandering youth,
But left this many a year!        40
 
Yes, I forget the world’s work wrought,
Its warfare waged with pain!
An eremite with thee, in thought
Once more I slip my chain
 
And to thy mountain-chalet come        45
And lie beside its door
And hear the wild bee’s Alpine hum
And thy sad, tranquil lore.
 
Again I feel its words inspire
Their mournful calm—serene,        50
Yet tinged with infinite desire
For all that might have been,
 
The harmony from which man swerved
Made his life’s rule once more!
The universal order served!        55
Earth happier than before!
 
While thus I mused, night gently ran
Down over hill and wood.
Then, still and sudden, Obermann
On the grass near me stood.        60
 
Those pensive features well I knew,
On my mind, years before,
Imaged so oft, imaged so true!
A shepherd’s garb he wore,
 
A mountain-flower was in his hand,        65
A book was in his breast;
Bent on my face, with gaze that scann’d
My soul, his eyes did rest.
 
‘And is it thou,’ he cried, ‘so long
Held by the world which we        70
Loved not, who turnest from the throng
Back to thy youth and me?
 
‘And from thy world, with heart opprest,
Choosest thou now to turn?—
Ah me, we anchorites knew it best!        75
Best can its course discern!
 
‘Thou fledd’st me when the ungenial earth,
Thou soughtest, lay in gloom.
Return’st thou in her hour of birth,
Of hopes and hearts in bloom?        80
 
‘Wellnigh two thousand years have brought
Their load, and gone away,
Since last on earth there lived and wrought
A world like ours to-day.
 
‘Like ours it look’d in outward air!        85
Its head was clear and true,
Sumptuous its clothing, rich its fare,
No pause its action knew;
 
‘Stout was its arm, each pulse and bone
Seem’d puissant and alive—        90
But, ah, its heart, its heart was stone,
And so it could not thrive!
 
‘On that hard Pagan world disgust
And secret loathing fell.
Deep weariness and sated lust        95
Made human life a hell.
 
‘In his cool hall, with haggard eyes,
The Roman noble lay;
He drove abroad, in furious guise.
Along the Appian way;        100
 
‘He made a feast, drank fierce and fast,
And crown’d his hair with flowers—
No easier nor no quicker pass’d
The impracticable hours.
 
‘The brooding East with awe beheld        105
Her impious younger world;
The Roman tempest swell’d and swell’d,
And on her head was hurl’d.
 
‘The East bow’d low before the blast,
In patient, deep disdain.        110
She let the legions thunder past.
And plunged in thought again.
 
‘So well she mused, a morning broke
Across her spirit grey.
A conquering, new-born joy awoke,        115
And fill’d her life with day.
 
‘“Poor world,” she cried, “so deep accurst!
That runn’st from pole to pole
To seek a draught to slake thy thirst—
Go, seek it in thy soul!”        120
 
‘She heard it, the victorious West!
In crown and sword array’d.
She felt the void which mined her breast,
She shiver’d and obey’d.
 
‘She veil’d her eagles, snapp’d her sword,        125
And laid her sceptre down;
Her stately purple she abhorr’d,
And her imperial crown;
 
‘She broke her flutes, she stopp’d her sports,
Her artists could not please;        130
She tore her books, she shut her courts,
She fled her palaces;
 
‘Lust of the eye and pride of life
She left it all behind,
And hurried, torn with inward strife,        135
The wilderness to find.
 
‘Tears wash’d the trouble from her face!
She changed into a child.
’Mid weeds and wrecks she stood—a place
Of ruin—but she smiled!        140
 
‘Oh, had I lived in that great day,
How had its glory new
Fill’d earth and heaven, and caught away
My ravish’d spirit too!
 
‘No cloister-floor of humid stone        145
Had been too cold for me;
For me no Eastern desert lone
Had been too far to flee.
 
‘No thoughts that to the world belong
Had stood against the wave        150
Of love which set so deep and strong
From Christ’s then open grave.
 
‘No lonely life had pass’d too slow
When I could hourly see
That wan, nail’d Form, with head droop’d low,        155
Upon the bitter tree;
 
‘Could see the Mother with the Child
Whose tender winning arts
Have to his little arms beguiled
So many wounded hearts!        160
 
‘And centuries came, and ran their course,
And unspent all that time
Still, still went forth that Child’s dear force,
And still was at its prime.
 
‘Ay, ages long endured his span        165
Of life, ’tis true received,
That gracious Child, that thorn-crown’d Man!
He lived while we believed.
 
‘While we believed, on earth he went,
And open stood his grave.        170
Men call’d from chamber, church, and tent,
And Christ was by to save.
 
‘Now he is dead. Far hence he lies
In the lorn Syrian town,
And on his grave, with shining eyes,        175
The Syrian stars look down.
 
‘In vain men still, with hoping new,
Regard his death-place dumb,
And say the stone is not yet to,
And wait for words to come.        180
 
‘Ah, from that silent sacred land,
Of sun, and arid stone,
And crumbling wall, and sultry sand,
Comes now one word alone!
 
‘From David’s lips this word did roll,        185
’Tis true and living yet:
No man can save his brother’s soul,
Nor pay his brother’s debt.
 
‘Alone, self-poised, henceforward man
Must labour; must resign        190
His all too human creeds, and scan
Simply the way divine.
 
‘But slow that tide of common thought,
Which bathed our life, retired.
Slow, slow the old world wore to naught,        195
And pulse by pulse expired.
 
‘Its frame yet stood without a breach
When blood and warmth were fled;
And still it spake its wonted speech—
But every word was dead.        200
 
‘And oh, we cried, that on this corse
Might fall a freshening storm!
Rive its dry bones, and with new force
A new-sprung world inform!
 
‘Down came the storm! In ruin fell        205
The outworn world we knew.
It pass’d, that elemental swell!
Again appear’d the blue.
 
‘The sun shone in the new-wash’d sky—
And what from heaven saw he?        210
Blocks of the past, like icebergs high,
Float in a rolling sea.
 
‘Upon them ply the race of man
All they before endeavour’d;
They come and go, they work and plan,        215
And know not they are sever’d.
 
‘Poor fragments of a broken world
Whereon we pitch our tent!
Why were ye too to death not hurl’d
When your world’s day was spent?        220
 
‘The glow of central fire is done
Which with its fusing flame
Knit all your parts, and kept you one;—
But ye, ye are the same!
 
‘The past, its mask of union on,        225
Had ceased to live and thrive.
The past, its mask of union gone,
Say, is it more alive?
 
‘Your creeds are dead, your rites are dead,
Your social order too.        230
Where tarries he, the power who said:
See, I make all things new?
 
‘The millions suffer still, and grieve;
And what can helpers heal
With old-world cures men half believe        235
For woes they wholly feel?
 
‘And yet they have such need of joy!
And joy whose grounds are true!
And joy that should all hearts employ
As when the past was new!        240
 
‘Ah, not the emotion of that past,
Its common hope, were vain!
A new such hope must dawn at last,
Or man must toss in pain.
 
‘But now the past is out of date,        245
The future not yet born—
And who can be alone elate,
While the world lies forlorn?
 
‘Then to the wilderness I fled.
There among Alpine snows        250
And pastoral huts I hid my head,
And sought and found repose.
 
‘It was not yet the appointed hour.
Sad, patient, and resign’d,
I watch’d the crocus fade and flower,        255
I felt the sun and wind.
 
‘The day I lived in was not mine—
Man gets no second day.
In dreams I saw the future shine,
But ah, I could not stay!        260
 
‘Action I had not, followers, fame.
I pass’d obscure, alone.
The after-world forgets my name,
Nor do I wish it known.
 
‘Gloom-wrapt within, I lived and died,        265
And knew my life was vain.
With fate I murmur not, nor chide;
At Sèvres by the Seine
 
‘(If Paris that brief flight allow)
My humble tomb explore;        270
It bears: Eternity, be thou
My refuge! and no more.
 
‘But thou, whom fellowship of mood
Did make from haunts of strife
Come to my mountain solitude        275
And learn my frustrate life;
 
‘O thou, who, ere thy flying span
Was past of cheerful youth,
Didst seek the solitary man
And love his cheerless truth—        280
 
‘Despair not thou as I despair’d,
Nor be cold gloom thy prison!
Forward the gracious hours have fared,
And see! the sun is risen.
 
‘He melts the icebergs of the past,        285
A green, new earth appears.
Millions, whose life in ice lay fast,
Have thoughts, and smiles, and tears.
 
‘The world’s great order dawns in sheen
After long darkness rude,        290
Divinelier imaged, clearer seen,
With happier zeal pursued.
 
‘With hope extinct and brow composed
I mark’d the present die;
Its term of life was nearly closed,        295
Yet it had more than I.
 
‘But thou, thought to the world’s new hour
Thou come with aspect marr’d,
Shorn of the joy, the bloom, the power,
Which best beseem its bard;        300
 
‘Though more than half thy years be past,
And spent thy youthful prime;
Though, round thy firmer manhood cast,
Hang weeds of our sad time,
 
‘Whereof thy youth felt all the spell,        305
And traversed all the shade—
Though late, though dimm’d, though weak, yet tell
Hope to a world new-made!
 
‘Help it to reach our deep desire,
The dream which fill’d our brain,        310
Fix’d in our soul a thirst like fire
Immedicable pain!
 
‘Which to the wilderness drove out
Our life, to Alpine snow;
And palsied all our deed with doubt        315
And all our word with woe—
 
‘What still of strength is left, employ,
That end to help men gain:
One mighty wave of thought and joy
Lifting mankind amain!        320
 
The vision ended; I awoke
As out of sleep, and no
Voice moved—only the torrent broke
The silence, far below.
 
Soft darkness on the turf did lie;        325
Solemn, o’er hut and wood,
In the yet star-sown nightly sky,
The peak of Jaman stood.
 
Still in my soul the voice I heard
Of Obermann—away        330
I turn’d; by some vague impulse stirr’d,
Along the rocks of Naye
 
And Sonchaud’s piny flanks I gaze
And the blanch’d summit bare
Of Malatrait, to where in haze        335
The Valais opens fair,
 
And the domed Velan with his snows
Behind the upcrowding hills
Doth all the heavenly opening close
Which the Rhone’s murmur fills—        340
 
And glorious there, without a sound,
Across the glimmering lake,
High in the Valais depth profound,
I saw the morning break.
 
Note 1. The gentian-flower’d pass, its crown. The Gentiana lutea of the Alps. [Arnold.] [back]
Note 2. And walls where Byron came. Montbovon. See Byron’s Journal, in his Works, vol. iii, p. 258. The river Saane becomes the Sarine below Montbovon. [Arnold.] [back]
 
 
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