Stanzas In Memory Of The Author Of “Obermann” by Matthew Arnold

[1]

NOVEMBER, 1849

In front the awful Alpine track
Crawls up its rocky stair;
The autumn storm-winds drive the rack,
Close o’er it, in the air.

Behind are the abandon’d baths[26]
Mute in their meadows lone;
The leaves are on the valley-paths,
The mists are on the Rhone–

The white mists rolling like a sea!
I hear the torrents roar.
–Yes, Obermann, all speaks of thee;
I feel thee near once more!

I turn thy leaves! I feel their breath
Once more upon me roll;
That air of languor, cold, and death,
Which brooded o’er thy soul.

Fly hence, poor wretch, whoe’er thou art,
Condemn’d to cast about,
All shipwreck in thy own weak heart,
For comfort from without!

A fever in these pages burns
Beneath the calm they feign;
A wounded human spirit turns,
Here, on its bed of pain.

Yes, though the virgin mountain-air
Fresh through these pages blows;
Though to these leaves the glaciers spare
The soul of their white snows;

Though here a mountain-murmur swells
Of many a dark-bough’d pine;
Though, as you read, you hear the bells
Of the high-pasturing kine–

Yet, through the hum of torrent lone,
And brooding mountain-bee,
There sobs I know not what ground-tone
Of human agony.

Is it for this, because the sound
Is fraught too deep with pain,
That, Obermann! the world around
So little loves thy strain?

Some secrets may the poet tell,
For the world loves new ways;
To tell too deep ones is not well–
It knows not what he says.

Yet, of the spirits who have reign’d
In this our troubled day,
I know but two, who have attain’d,
Save thee, to see their way.

By England’s lakes, in grey old age,
His quiet home one keeps;
And one, the strong much-toiling sage,
In German Weimar sleeps.

But Wordsworth’s eyes avert their ken
From half of human fate;
And Goethe’s course few sons of men
May think to emulate.

For he pursued a lonely road,
His eyes on Nature’s plan;
Neither made man too much a God,
Nor God too much a man.

Strong was he, with a spirit free
From mists, and sane, and clear;
Clearer, how much! than ours–yet we
Have a worse course to steer.

For though his manhood bore the blast
Of a tremendous time,
Yet in a tranquil world was pass’d
His tenderer youthful prime.

But we, brought forth and rear’d in hours
Of change, alarm, surprise–
What shelter to grow ripe is ours?
What leisure to grow wise?

Like children bathing on the shore,
Buried a wave beneath,
The second wave succeeds, before
We have had time to breathe.

Too fast we live, too much are tried,
Too harass’d, to attain
Wordsworth’s sweet calm, or Goethe’s wide
And luminous view to gain.

And then we turn, thou sadder sage,
To thee! we feel thy spell!
–The hopeless tangle of our age,
Thou too hast scann’d it well!

Immoveable thou sittest, still
As death, composed to bear!
Thy head is clear, thy feeling chill,
And icy thy despair.

Yes, as the son of Thetis said,
I hear thee saying now:
Greater by far than thou art dead;
Strive not! die also thou!

Ah! two desires toss about
The poet’s feverish blood.
One drives him to the world without,
And one to solitude.

The glow, he cries, the thrill of life,
Where, where do these abound?
Not in the world, not in the strife
Of men, shall they be found.

He who hath watch’d, not shared, the strife,
Knows how the day hath gone.
He only lives with the world’s life,
Who hath renounced his own.

To thee we come, then! Clouds are roll’d
Where thou, O seer! art set;
Thy realm of thought is drear and cold–
The world is colder yet!

And thou hast pleasures, too, to share
With those who come to thee–
Balms floating on thy mountain-air,
And healing sights to see.

How often, where the slopes are green
On Jaman, hast thou sate
By some high chalet-door, and seen
The summer-day grow late;
And darkness steal o’er the wet grass
With the pale crocus starr’d,
And reach that glimmering sheet of glass
Beneath the piny sward,

Lake Leman’s waters, far below!
And watch’d the rosy light
Fade from the distant peaks of snow;
And on the air of night

Heard accents of the eternal tongue
Through the pine branches play–
Listen’d, and felt thyself grow young!
Listen’d and wept—-Away!

Away the dreams that but deceive
And thou, sad guide, adieu!
I go, fate drives me; but I leave
Half of my life with you.

We, in some unknown Power’s employ,
Move on a rigorous line;
Can neither, when we will, enjoy,
Nor, when we will, resign.

I in the world must live; but thou,
Thou melancholy shade!
Wilt not, if thou canst see me now,
Condemn me, nor upbraid.

For thou art gone away from earth,
And place with those dost claim,
The Children of the Second Birth,
Whom the world could not tame;
And with that small, transfigured band,
Whom many a different way
Conducted to their common land,
Thou learn’st to think as they.

Christian and pagan, king and slave,
Soldier and anchorite,
Distinctions we esteem so grave,
Are nothing in their sight.

They do not ask, who pined unseen,
Who was on action hurl’d,
Whose one bond is, that all have been
Unspotted by the world.

There without anger thou wilt see
Him who obeys thy spell
No more, so he but rest, like thee,
Unsoil’d!–and so, farewell.

Farewell!–Whether thou now liest near
That much-loved inland sea,
The ripples of whose blue waves cheer
Vevey and Meillerie:

And in that gracious region bland,
Where with clear-rustling wave
The scented pines of Switzerland
Stand dark round thy green grave,

Between the dusty vineyard-walls
Issuing on that green place
The early peasant still recalls
The pensive stranger’s face,
And stoops to clear thy moss-grown date
Ere he plods on again;–
Or whether, by maligner fate,
Among the swarms of men,

Where between granite terraces
The blue Seine rolls her wave,
The Capital of Pleasure sees
The hardly heard-of grave;–

Farewell! Under the sky we part,
In the stern Alpine dell.
O unstrung will! O broken heart!
A last, a last farewell!

[Footnote 2:

The author of Obermann, Etienne Pivert de Senancour, has little celebrity in France, his own country; and out of France he is almost unknown. But the profound inwardness, the austere sincerity, of his principal work, Obermann, the delicate feeling for nature which it exhibits, and the melancholy eloquence of many passages of it, have attracted and charmed some of the most remarkable spirits of this century, such as George Sand and Sainte-Beuve, and will probably always find a certain number of spirits whom they touch and interest.

Senancour was born in 1770. He was educated for the priesthood, and passed some time in the seminary of St. Sulpice; broke away from the Seminary and from France itself, and passed some years in Switzerland, where he married; returned to France in middle life, and followed thenceforward the career of a man of letters, but with hardly any fame or success. He died an old man in 1846, desiring that on his grave might be placed these words only: Eternite, deviens mon asile!

The influence of Rousseau, and certain affinities with more famous and fortunate authors of his own day,–Chateaubriand and Madame de Stael,–are everywhere visible in Senancour. But though, like these eminent personages, he may be called a sentimental writer, and though Obermann, a collection of letters from Switzerland treating almost entirely of nature and of the human soul, may be called a work of sentiment, Senancour has a gravity and severity which distinguish him from all other writers of the sentimental school. The world is with him in his solitude far less than it is with them; of all writers he is the most perfectly isolated and the least attitudinising. His chief work, too, has a value and power of its own, apart from these merits of its author. The stir of all the main forces, by which modern life is and has been impelled, lives in the letters of Obermann; the dissolving agencies of the eighteenth century, the fiery storm of the French Revolution, the first faint promise and dawn of that new world which our own time is but now more fully bringing to light,–all these are to be felt, almost to be touched, there. To me, indeed, it will always seem that the impressiveness of this production can hardly be rated too high.

Besides Obermann there is one other of Senancour’s works which, for those spirits who feel his attraction, is very interesting; its title is, Libres Meditations d’un Solitaire Inconnu.]

[Footnote 2:

Behind are the abandon’d baths.

The Baths of Leuk. This poem was conceived, and partly composed, in the
valley going down from the foot of the Gemmi Pass towards the Rhone.]

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