Resignation by Matthew Arnold


To die be given us, or attain!
Fierce work it were, to do again.
So pilgrims, bound for Mecca, pray’d
At burning noon; so warriors said,
Scarf’d with the cross, who watch’d the miles
Of dust which wreathed their struggling files
Down Lydian mountains; so, when snows
Round Alpine summits, eddying, rose,
The Goth, bound Rome-wards; so the Hun,
Crouch’d on his saddle, while the sun
Went lurid down o’er flooded plains
Through which the groaning Danube strains
To the drear Euxine;–so pray all,
Whom labours, self-ordain’d, enthrall;
Because they to themselves propose
On this side the all-common close
A goal which, gain’d, may give repose.
So pray they; and to stand again
Where they stood once, to them were pain;
Pain to thread back and to renew
Past straits, and currents long steer’d through.

But milder natures, and more free–
Whom an unblamed serenity
Hath freed from passions, and the state
Of struggle these necessitate;
Whom schooling of the stubborn mind
Hath made, or birth hath found, resign’d–
These mourn not, that their goings pay
Obedience to the passing day.
These claim not every laughing Hour
For handmaid to their striding power;
Each in her turn, with torch uprear’d,
To await their march; and when appear’d,
Through the cold gloom, with measured race,
To usher for a destined space
(Her own sweet errands all forgone)
The too imperious traveller on.
These, Fausta, ask not this; nor thou,
Time’s chafing prisoner, ask it now!

We left, just ten years since, you say,
That wayside inn we left to-day.[5]
Our jovial host, as forth we fare,
Shouts greeting from his easy chair.
High on a bank our leader stands,
Reviews and ranks his motley bands,
Makes clear our goal to every eye–
The valley’s western boundary.
A gate swings to! our tide hath flow’d
Already from the silent road.
The valley-pastures, one by one,
Are threaded, quiet in the sun;
And now beyond the rude stone bridge
Slopes gracious up the western ridge.
Its woody border, and the last
Of its dark upland farms is past–
Cool farms, with open-lying stores,
Under their burnish’d sycamores;
All past! and through the trees we glide,
Emerging on the green hill-side.
There climbing hangs, a far-seen sign,
Our wavering, many-colour’d line;
There winds, upstreaming slowly still
Over the summit of the hill.
And now, in front, behold outspread
Those upper regions we must tread!
Mild hollows, and clear heathy swells,
The cheerful silence of the fells.
Some two hours’ march with serious air,
Through the deep noontide heats we fare;
The red-grouse, springing at our sound,
Skims, now and then, the shining ground;
No life, save his and ours, intrudes
Upon these breathless solitudes.
O joy! again the farms appear.
Cool shade is there, and rustic cheer;
There springs the brook will guide us down,
Bright comrade, to the noisy town.
Lingering, we follow down; we gain
The town, the highway, and the plain.
And many a mile of dusty way,
Parch’d and road-worn, we made that day;
But, Fausta, I remember well,
That as the balmy darkness fell
We bathed our hands with speechless glee,
That night, in the wide-glimmering sea.

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Once more we tread this self-same road,
Fausta, which ten years since we trod;
Alone we tread it, you and I,
Ghosts of that boisterous company.
Here, where the brook shines, near its head,
In its clear, shallow, turf-fringed bed;
Here, whence the eye first sees, far down,
Capp’d with faint smoke, the noisy town;
Here sit we, and again unroll,
Though slowly, the familiar whole.
The solemn wastes of heathy hill
Sleep in the July sunshine still;
The self-same shadows now, as then,
Play through this grassy upland glen;
The loose dark stones on the green way
Lie strewn, it seems, where then they lay;
On this mild bank above the stream,
(You crush them!) the blue gentians gleam.
Still this wild brook, the rushes cool,
The sailing foam, the shining pool!
These are not changed; and we, you say,
Are scarce more changed, in truth, than they.

The gipsies, whom we met below,
They, too, have long roam’d to and fro;
They ramble, leaving, where they pass,
Their fragments on the cumber’d grass.
And often to some kindly place
Chance guides the migratory race,
Where, though long wanderings intervene,
They recognise a former scene.
The dingy tents are pitch’d; the fires
Give to the wind their wavering spires;
In dark knots crouch round the wild flame
Their children, as when first they came;
They see their shackled beasts again
Move, browsing, up the gray-wall’d lane.
Signs are not wanting, which might raise
The ghost in them of former days–
Signs are not wanting, if they would;
Suggestions to disquietude.
For them, for all, time’s busy touch,
While it mends little, troubles much.
Their joints grow stiffer–but the year
Runs his old round of dubious cheer;
Chilly they grow–yet winds in March,
Still, sharp as ever, freeze and parch;
They must live still–and yet, God knows,
Crowded and keen the country grows;
It seems as if, in their decay,
The law grew stronger every day.
So might they reason, so compare,
Fausta, times past with times that are.
But no!–they rubb’d through yesterday
In their hereditary way,
And they will rub through, if they can,
To-morrow on the self-same plan,
Till death arrive to supersede,
For them, vicissitude and need.

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The poet, to whose mighty heart
Heaven doth a quicker pulse impart,
Subdues that energy to scan
Not his own course, but that of man.
Though he move mountains, though his day
Be pass’d on the proud heights of sway,
Though he hath loosed a thousand chains,
Though he hath borne immortal pains,
Action and suffering though he know–
He hath not lived, if he lives so.
He sees, in some great-historied land,
A ruler of the people stand,
Sees his strong thought in fiery flood
Roll through the heaving multitude
Exults–yet for no moment’s space
Envies the all-regarded place.
Beautiful eyes meet his–and he
Bears to admire uncravingly;
They pass–he, mingled with the crowd,
Is in their far-off triumphs proud.
From some high station he looks down,
At sunset, on a populous town;
Surveys each happy group, which fleets,
Toil ended, through the shining streets,
Each with some errand of its own–
And does not say: I am alone.
He sees the gentle stir of birth
When morning purifies the earth;
He leans upon a gate and sees
The pastures, and the quiet trees.
Low, woody hill, with gracious bound,
Folds the still valley almost round;
The cuckoo, loud on some high lawn,
Is answer’d from the depth of dawn;
In the hedge straggling to the stream,
Pale, dew-drench’d, half-shut roses gleam;
But, where the farther side slopes down,
He sees the drowsy new-waked clown
In his white quaint-embroider’d frock
Make, whistling, tow’rd his mist-wreathed flock–
Slowly, behind his heavy tread,
The wet, flower’d grass heaves up its head.
Lean’d on his gate, he gazes–tears
Are in his eyes, and in his ears
The murmur of a thousand years.
Before him he sees life unroll,
A placid and continuous whole–
That general life, which does not cease,
Whose secret is not joy, but peace;
That life, whose dumb wish is not miss’d
If birth proceeds, if things subsist;
The life of plants, and stones, and rain,
The life he craves–if not in vain
Fate gave, what chance shall not control,
His sad lucidity of soul.

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You listen–but that wandering smile,
Fausta, betrays you cold the while!
Your eyes pursue the bells of foam
Wash’d, eddying, from this bank, their home.
Those gipsies, so your thoughts I scan,
Are less, the poet more, than man.
They feel not, though they move and see;
Deeper the poet feels; but he
Breathes, when he will, immortal air,
Where Orpheus and where Homer are.
In the day’s life, whose iron round
Hems us all in, he is not bound;
He leaves his kind, o’erleaps their pen,
And flees the common life of men.
He escapes thence, but we abide–
Not deep the poet sees, but wide.

* * * * *

The world in which we live and move
Outlasts aversion, outlasts love,
Outlasts each effort, interest, hope,
Remorse, grief, joy;–and were the scope
Of these affections wider made,
Man still would see, and see dismay’d,
Beyond his passion’s widest range,
Far regions of eternal change.
Nay, and since death, which wipes out man,
Finds him with many an unsolved plan,
With much unknown, and much untried,
Wonder not dead, and thirst not dried,
Still gazing on the ever full
Eternal mundane spectacle–
This world in which we draw our breath,
In some sense, Fausta, outlasts death.
Blame thou not, therefore, him who dares
Judge vain beforehand human cares;
Whose natural insight can discern
What through experience others learn;
Who needs not love and power, to know
Love transient, power an unreal show;
Who treads at ease life’s uncheer’d ways–
Him blame not, Fausta, rather praise!
Rather thyself for some aim pray
Nobler than this, to fill the day;
Rather that heart, which burns in thee,
Ask, not to amuse, but to set free;
Be passionate hopes not ill resign’d
For quiet, and a fearless mind.
And though fate grudge to thee and me
The poet’s rapt security,
Yet they, believe me, who await
No gifts from chance, have conquer’d fate.
They, winning room to see and hear,
And to men’s business not too near,
Through clouds of individual strife
Draw homeward to the general life.
Like leaves by suns not yet uncurl’d;
To the wise, foolish; to the world,
Weak;–yet not weak, I might reply,
Not foolish, Fausta, in His eye,
To whom each moment in its race,
Crowd as we will its neutral space,
Is but a quiet watershed
Whence, equally, the seas of life and death are fed.

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Enough, we live!–and if a life,
With large results so little rife,
Though bearable, seem hardly worth
This pomp of worlds, this pain of birth;
Yet, Fausta, the mute turf we tread,
The solemn hills around us spread,
This stream which falls incessantly,
The strange-scrawl’d rocks, the lonely sky,
If I might lend their life a voice,
Seem to bear rather than rejoice.
And even could the intemperate prayer
Man iterates, while these forbear,
For movement, for an ampler sphere,
Pierce Fate’s impenetrable ear;
Not milder is the general lot
Because our spirits have forgot,
In action’s dizzying eddy whirl’d,
The something that infects the world.

[Footnote 5:

That wayside inn we left to-day.

Those who have been long familiar with the English Lake-Country will find no difficulty in recalling, from the description in the text, the roadside inn at Wythburn on the descent from Dunmail Raise towards Keswick; its sedentary landlord of thirty years ago, and the passage over the Wythburn Fells to Watendlath.]

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