Fragment Of An “Antigone” by Matthew Arnold

The Chorus

Well hath he done who hath seized happiness!
For little do the all-containing hours,
Though opulent, freely give.
Who, weighing that life well
Fortune presents unpray’d,
Declines her ministry, and carves his own;
And, justice not infringed,
Makes his own welfare his unswerved-from law.

He does well too, who keeps that clue the mild
Birth-Goddess and the austere Fates first gave.
For from the day when these
Bring him, a weeping child,
First to the light, and mark
A country for him, kinsfolk, and a home,
Unguided he remains,
Till the Fates come again, this time with death.

In little companies,
And, our own place once left,
Ignorant where to stand, or whom to avoid,
By city and household group’d, we live; and many shocks
Our order heaven-ordain’d
Must every day endure:
Voyages, exiles, hates, dissensions, wars.

Besides what waste he makes,
The all-hated, order-breaking,
Without friend, city, or home,
Death, who dissevers all.

Him then I praise, who dares
To self-selected good
Prefer obedience to the primal law,
Which consecrates the ties of blood; for these, indeed,
Are to the Gods a care;
That touches but himself.
For every day man may be link’d and loosed
With strangers; but the bond
Original, deep-inwound,
Of blood, can he not bind,
Nor, if Fate binds, not bear.

But hush! Haemon, whom Antigone,
Robbing herself of life in burying,
Against Creon’s law, Polynices,
Robs of a loved bride–pale, imploring,
Waiting her passage,
Forth from the palace hitherward comes.

Haemon

No, no, old men, Creon, I curse not!
I weep, Thebans,
One than Creon crueller far!
For he, he, at least, by slaying her,
August laws doth mightily vindicate;
But them, too-bold, headstrong, pitiless!
Ah me!–honourest more than thy lover,
O Antigone!
A dead, ignorant, thankless corpse.

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The Chorus

Nor was the love untrue
Which the Dawn-Goddess bore
To that fair youth she erst,
Leaving the salt sea-beds
And coming flush’d over the stormy frith
Of loud Euripus, saw–
Saw and snatch’d, wild with love,
From the pine-dotted spurs
Of Parnes, where thy waves,
Asopus! gleam rock-hemm’d–
The Hunter of the Tanagraean Field.[1]

But him, in his sweet prime,
By severance immature,
By Artemis’ soft shafts,
She, though a Goddess born,
Saw in the rocky isle of Delos die.
Such end o’ertook that love.
For she desired to make
Immortal mortal man,
And blend his happy life,
Far from the Gods, with hers;
To him postponing an eternal law.

Haemon

But like me, she, wroth, complaining,
Succumb’d to the envy of unkind Gods;
And, her beautiful arms unclasping,
Her fair youth unwillingly gave.

The Chorus

Nor, though enthroned too high
To fear assault of envious Gods,
His beloved Argive seer would Zeus retain
From his appointed end

In this our Thebes; but when
His flying steeds came near
To cross the steep Ismenian glen,
The broad earth open’d, and whelm’d them and him;
And through the void air sang
At large his enemy’s spear.

And fain would Zeus have saved his tired son
Beholding him where the Two Pillars stand
O’er the sun-redden’d western straits,[2]
Or at his work in that dim lower world.
Fain would he have recall’d
The fraudulent oath which bound
To a much feebler wight the heroic man.

But he preferr’d Fate to his strong desire.
Nor did there need less than the burning pile
Under the towering Trachis crags,
And the Spercheios vale, shaken with groans,
And the roused Maliac gulph,
And scared OEtaean snows,
To achieve his son’s deliverance, O my child!

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[Footnote 1:

The Hunter of the Tanagraean Field.

Orion, the Wild Huntsman of Greek legend, and in this capacity appearing in both earth and sky.]

[Footnote 2:

O’er the sun-redden’d western straits.

Erytheia, the legendary region around the Pillars of Hercules, probably took its name from the redness of the West under which the Greeks saw it.]

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