Switzerland by Matthew Arnold

1. MEETING

Again I see my bliss at hand,
The town, the lake are here;
My Marguerite smiles upon the strand,[1]
Unalter’d with the year.

I know that graceful figure fair,
That cheek of languid hue;
I know that soft, enkerchief’d hair,
And those sweet eyes of blue.

Again I spring to make my choice;
Again in tones of ire
I hear a God’s tremendous voice:
“Be counsell’d, and retire.”

Ye guiding Powers who join and part,
What would ye have with me?
Ah, warn some more ambitious heart,
And let the peaceful be!

2. PARTING

Ye storm-winds of Autumn!
Who rush by, who shake
The window, and ruffle
The gleam-lighted lake;
Who cross to the hill-side
Thin-sprinkled with farms,
Where the high woods strip sadly
Their yellowing arms–
Ye are bound for the mountains!
Ah! with you let me go
Where your cold, distant barrier,
The vast range of snow,
Through the loose clouds lifts dimly
Its white peaks in air–
How deep is their stillness!
Ah, would I were there!

But on the stairs what voice is this I hear,
Buoyant as morning, and as morning clear?
Say, has some wet bird-haunted English lawn
Lent it the music of its trees at dawn?
Or was it from some sun-fleck’d mountain-brook
That the sweet voice its upland clearness took?
Ah! it comes nearer–
Sweet notes, this way!

Hark! fast by the window
The rushing winds go,
To the ice-cumber’d gorges,
The vast seas of snow!
There the torrents drive upward
Their rock-strangled hum;
There the avalanche thunders
The hoarse torrent dumb.
–I come, O ye mountains!
Ye torrents, I come!

But who is this, by the half-open’d door,
Whose figure casts a shadow on the floor?
The sweet blue eyes–the soft, ash-colour’d hair–
The cheeks that still their gentle paleness wear–
The lovely lips, with their arch smile that tells
The unconquer’d joy in which her spirit dwells–
Ah! they bend nearer–
Sweet lips, this way!

Hark! the wind rushes past us!
Ah! with that let me go
To the clear, waning hill-side,
Unspotted by snow,
There to watch, o’er the sunk vale,
The frore mountain-wall,
Where the niched snow-bed sprays down
Its powdery fall.
There its dusky blue clusters
The aconite spreads;
There the pines slope, the cloud-strips
Hung soft in their heads.
No life but, at moments,
The mountain-bee’s hum.
–I come, O ye mountains!
Ye pine-woods, I come!

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Forgive me! forgive me!
Ah, Marguerite, fain
Would these arms reach to clasp thee!
But see! ’tis in vain.

In the void air, towards thee,
My stretch’d arms are cast;
But a sea rolls between us–
Our different past!

To the lips, ah! of others
Those lips have been prest,
And others, ere I was,
Were strain’d to that breast;

Far, far from each other
Our spirits have grown;
And what heart knows another?
Ah! who knows his own?

Blow, ye winds! lift me with you!
I come to the wild.
Fold closely, O Nature!
Thine arms round thy child.

To thee only God granted
A heart ever new–
To all always open,
To all always true.

Ah! calm me, restore me;
And dry up my tears
On thy high mountain-platforms,
Where morn first appears;

Where the white mists, for ever,
Are spread and upfurl’d–
In the stir of the forces
Whence issued the world.

3. A FAREWELL

My horse’s feet beside the lake,
Where sweet the unbroken moonbeams lay,
Sent echoes through the night to wake
Each glistening strand, each heath-fringed bay.

The poplar avenue was pass’d,
And the roof’d bridge that spans the stream;
Up the steep street I hurried fast,
Led by thy taper’s starlike beam.

I came! I saw thee rise!–the blood
Pour’d flushing to thy languid cheek.
Lock’d in each other’s arms we stood,
In tears, with hearts too full to speak.

Days flew;–ah, soon I could discern
A trouble in thine alter’d air!
Thy hand lay languidly in mine,
Thy cheek was grave, thy speech grew rare.

I blame thee not!–this heart, I know,
To be long loved was never framed;
For something in its depths doth glow
Too strange, too restless, too untamed.

And women–things that live and move
Mined by the fever of the soul–
They seek to find in those they love
Stern strength, and promise of control.

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They ask not kindness, gentle ways–
These they themselves have tried and known;
They ask a soul which never sways
With the blind gusts that shake their own.

I too have felt the load I bore
In a too strong emotion’s sway;
I too have wish’d, no woman more,
This starting, feverish heart away.

I too have long’d for trenchant force,
And will like a dividing spear;
Have praised the keen, unscrupulous course,
Which knows no doubt, which feels no fear.

But in the world I learnt, what there
Thou too wilt surely one day prove,
That will, that energy, though rare,
Are yet far, far less rare than love.

Go, then!–till time and fate impress
This truth on thee, be mine no more!
They will!–for thou, I feel, not less
Than I, wast destined to this lore.

We school our manners, act our parts–
But He, who sees us through and through,
Knows that the bent of both our hearts
Was to be gentle, tranquil, true.

And though we wear out life, alas!
Distracted as a homeless wind,
In beating where we must not pass,
In seeking what we shall not find;

Yet we shall one day gain, life past,
Clear prospect o’er our being’s whole;
Shall see ourselves, and learn at last
Our true affinities of soul.

We shall not then deny a course
To every thought the mass ignore;
We shall not then call hardness force,
Nor lightness wisdom any more.

Then, in the eternal Father’s smile,
Our soothed, encouraged souls will dare
To seem as free from pride and guile,
As good, as generous, as they are.

Then we shall know our friends!–though much
Will have been lost–the help in strife,
The thousand sweet, still joys of such
As hand in hand face earthly life–

Though these be lost, there will be yet
A sympathy august and pure;
Ennobled by a vast regret,
And by contrition seal’d thrice sure.

And we, whose ways were unlike here,
May then more neighbouring courses ply;
May to each other be brought near,
And greet across infinity.

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How sweet, unreach’d by earthly jars,
My sister! to maintain with thee
The hush among the shining stars,
The calm upon the moonlit sea!

How sweet to feel, on the boon air,
All our unquiet pulses cease!
To feel that nothing can impair
The gentleness, the thirst for peace–

The gentleness too rudely hurl’d
On this wild earth of hate and fear;
The thirst for peace a raving world
Would never let us satiate here.

4. ISOLATION. TO MARGUERITE

We were apart; yet, day by day,
I bade my heart more constant be.
I bade it keep the world away,
And grow a home for only thee;
Nor fear’d but thy love likewise grew,
Like mine, each day, more tried, more true.

The fault was grave! I might have known,
What far too soon, alas! I learn’d–
The heart can bind itself alone,
And faith may oft be unreturn’d.
Self-sway’d our feelings ebb and swell–
Thou lov’st no more;–Farewell! Farewell!

Farewell!–and thou, thou lonely heart,
Which never yet without remorse
Even for a moment didst depart
From thy remote and sphered course
To haunt the place where passions reign–
Back to thy solitude again!

Back! with the conscious thrill of shame
Which Luna felt, that summer-night,
Flash through her pure immortal frame,
When she forsook the starry height
To hang over Endymion’s sleep
Upon the pine-grown Latmian steep.

Yet she, chaste queen, had never proved
How vain a thing is mortal love,
Wandering in Heaven, far removed.
But thou hast long had place to prove
This truth–to prove, and make thine own:
“Thou hast been, shalt be, art, alone.”

Or, if not quite alone, yet they
Which touch thee are unmating things–
Ocean and clouds and night and day;
Lorn autumns and triumphant springs;
And life, and others’ joy and pain,
And love, if love, of happier men.

Of happier men–for they, at least,
Have dream’d two human hearts might blend
In one, and were through faith released
From isolation without end
Prolong’d; nor knew, although not less
Alone than thou, their loneliness.

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5. TO MARGUERITE–CONTINUED

Yes! in the sea of life enisled,
With echoing straits between us thrown,
Dotting the shoreless watery wild,
We mortal millions live alone.
The islands feel the enclasping flow,
And then their endless bounds they know.

But when the moon their hollows lights,
And they are swept by balms of spring,
And in their glens, on starry nights,
The nightingales divinely sing;
And lovely notes, from shore to shore,
Across the sounds and channels pour–

Oh! then a longing like despair
Is to their farthest caverns sent;
For surely once, they feel, we were
Parts of a single continent!
Now round us spreads the watery plain–
Oh might our marges meet again!

Who order’d, that their longing’s fire
Should be, as soon as kindled, cool’d?
Who renders vain their deep desire?–
God, a God their severance ruled!
And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumb’d, salt, estranging sea.

6. ABSENCE

In this fair stranger’s eyes of grey
Thine eyes, my love! I see.
I shiver; for the passing day
Had borne me far from thee.

This is the curse of life! that not
A nobler, calmer train
Of wiser thoughts and feelings blot
Our passions from our brain;

But each day brings its petty dust
Our soon-choked souls to fill,
And we forget because we must
And not because we will.

I struggle towards the light; and ye,
Once-long’d-for storms of love!
If with the light ye cannot be,
I bear that ye remove.

I struggle towards the light–but oh,
While yet the night is chill,
Upon time’s barren, stormy flow,
Stay with me, Marguerite, still!

7. THE TERRACE AT BERNE

(COMPOSED TEN YEARS AFTER THE PRECEDING)

Ten years!–and to my waking eye
Once more the roofs of Berne appear;
The rocky banks, the terrace high,
The stream!–and do I linger here?

The clouds are on the Oberland,
The Jungfrau snows look faint and far;
But bright are those green fields at hand,
And through those fields comes down the Aar,

And from the blue twin-lakes it comes,
Flows by the town, the churchyard fair;
And ‘neath the garden-walk it hums,
The house!–and is my Marguerite there?

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Ah, shall I see thee, while a flush
Of startled pleasure floods thy brow,
Quick through the oleanders brush,
And clap thy hands, and cry: ‘Tis thou!

Or hast thou long since wander’d back,
Daughter of France! to France, thy home;
And flitted down the flowery track
Where feet like thine too lightly come?

Doth riotous laughter now replace
Thy smile; and rouge, with stony glare,
Thy cheek’s soft hue; and fluttering lace
The kerchief that enwound thy hair?

Or is it over? art thou dead?–
Dead!–and no warning shiver ran
Across my heart, to say thy thread
Of life was cut, and closed thy span!

Could from earth’s ways that figure slight
Be lost, and I not feel ’twas so?
Of that fresh voice the gay delight
Fail from earth’s air, and I not know?

Or shall I find thee still, but changed,
But not the Marguerite of thy prime?
With all thy being re-arranged,
Pass’d through the crucible of time;

With spirit vanish’d, beauty waned,
And hardly yet a glance, a tone,
A gesture–anything–retain’d
Of all that was my Marguerite’s own?

I will not know! For wherefore try,
To things by mortal course that live,
A shadowy durability,
For which they were not meant, to give?

Like driftwood spars, which meet and pass
Upon the boundless ocean-plain,
So on the sea of life, alas!
Man meets man–meets, and quits again.

I knew it when my life was young;
I feel it still, now youth is o’er.
–The mists are on the mountain hung,
And Marguerite I shall see no more.

[Footnote 1:

My Marguerite smiles upon the strand.

See, among “Early Poems,” the poem called A Memory-Picture.]

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