The New Sirens by Matthew Arnold

In the cedarn shadow sleeping,
Where cool grass and fragrant glooms
Forth at noon had lured me, creeping
From your darken’d palace rooms–
I, who in your train at morning
Stroll’d and sang with joyful mind,
Heard, in slumber, sounds of warning;
Heard the hoarse boughs labour in the wind.

Who are they, O pensive Graces,
–For I dream’d they wore your forms–
Who on shores and sea-wash’d places
Scoop the shelves and fret the storms?
Who, when ships are that way tending,
Troop across the flushing sands,
To all reefs and narrows wending,
With blown tresses, and with beckoning hands?

Yet I see, the howling levels
Of the deep are not your lair;
And your tragic-vaunted revels
Are less lonely than they were.
Like those Kings with treasure steering
From the jewell’d lands of dawn,
Troops, with gold and gifts, appearing,
Stream all day through your enchanted lawn.

And we too, from upland valleys,
Where some Muse with half-curved frown
Leans her ear to your mad sallies
Which the charm’d winds never drown;
By faint music guided, ranging
The scared glens, we wander’d on,
Left our awful laurels hanging,
And came heap’d with myrtles to your throne.

From the dragon-warder’d fountains
Where the springs of knowledge are,
From the watchers on the mountains,
And the bright and morning star;
We are exiles, we are falling,
We have lost them at your call–
O ye false ones, at your calling
Seeking ceiled chambers and a palace-hall!

Are the accents of your luring
More melodious than of yore?
Are those frail forms more enduring
Than the charms Ulysses bore?
That we sought you with rejoicings,
Till at evening we descry
At a pause of Siren voicings
These vext branches and this howling sky?…

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* * * * *

Oh, your pardon! The uncouthness
Of that primal age is gone,
And the skin of dazzling smoothness
Screens not now a heart of stone.
Love has flush’d those cruel faces;
And those slacken’d arms forgo
The delight of death-embraces,
And yon whitening bone-mounds do not grow.

“Ah,” you say; “the large appearance
Of man’s labour is but vain,
And we plead as staunch adherence
Due to pleasure as to pain.”
Pointing to earth’s careworn creatures,
“Come,” you murmur with a sigh:
“Ah! we own diviner features,
Loftier bearing, and a prouder eye.

“Come,” you say, “the hours were dreary;
Dull did life in torpor fade;
Time is lame, and we grew weary
In the slumbrous cedarn shade.
Round our hearts with long caresses,
With low sighings, Silence stole,
And her load of steaming tresses
Fell, like Ossa, on the climbing soul.

“Come,” you say, “the soul is fainting
Till she search and learn her own,
And the wisdom of man’s painting
Leaves her riddle half unknown.
Come,” you say, “the brain is seeking,
While the sovran heart is dead;
Yet this glean’d, when Gods were speaking,
Rarer secrets than the toiling head.

“Come,” you say, “opinion trembles,
Judgment shifts, convictions go;
Life dries up, the heart dissembles–
Only, what we feel, we know.
Hath your wisdom felt emotions?
Will it weep our burning tears?
Hath it drunk of our love-potions
Crowning moments with the wealth of years?”

–I am dumb. Alas, too soon all
Man’s grave reasons disappear!
Yet, I think, at God’s tribunal
Some large answer you shall hear.
But, for me, my thoughts are straying
Where at sunrise, through your vines,
On these lawns I saw you playing,
Hanging garlands on your odorous pines;
When your showering locks enwound you,
And your heavenly eyes shone through;
When the pine-boughs yielded round you,
And your brows were starr’d with dew;
And immortal forms, to meet you,
Down the statued alleys came,
And through golden horns, to greet you,
Blew such music as a God may frame.

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Yes, I muse! And if the dawning
Into daylight never grew,
If the glistering wings of morning
On the dry noon shook their dew,
If the fits of joy were longer,
Or the day were sooner done,
Or, perhaps, if hope were stronger,
No weak nursling of an earthly sun …
Pluck, pluck cypress, O pale maidens,
Dusk the hall with yew!

* * * * *

For a bound was set to meetings,
And the sombre day dragg’d on;
And the burst of joyful greetings,
And the joyful dawn, were gone.
For the eye grows fill’d with gazing,
And on raptures follow calms;
And those warm locks men were praising,
Droop’d, unbraided, on your listless arms.

Storms unsmooth’d your folded valleys,
And made all your cedars frown;
Leaves were whirling in the alleys
Which your lovers wander’d down.
–Sitting cheerless in your bowers,
The hands propping the sunk head,
Still they gall you, the long hours,
And the hungry thought, that must be fed!

Is the pleasure that is tasted
Patient of a long review?
Will the fire joy hath wasted,
Mused on, warm the heart anew?
–Or, are those old thoughts returning,
Guests the dull sense never knew,
Stars, set deep, yet inly burning,
Germs, your untrimm’d passion overgrew?

Once, like us, you took your station
Watchers for a purer fire;
But you droop’d in expectation,
And you wearied in desire.
When the first rose flush was steeping
All the frore peak’s awful crown,
Shepherds say, they found you sleeping
In some windless valley, farther down.

Then you wept, and slowly raising
Your dozed eyelids, sought again,
Half in doubt, they say, and gazing
Sadly back, the seats of men;–
Snatch’d a turbid inspiration
From some transient earthly sun,
And proclaim’d your vain ovation
For those mimic raptures you had won….

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* * * * *

With a sad, majestic motion,
With a stately, slow surprise,
From their earthward-bound devotion
Lifting up your languid eyes–
Would you freeze my too loud boldness,
Dumbly smiling as you go,
One faint frown of distant coldness
Flitting fast across each marble brow?

Do I brighten at your sorrow,
O sweet Pleaders?–doth my lot
Find assurance in to-morrow
Of one joy, which you have not?
O, speak once, and shame my sadness!
Let this sobbing, Phrygian strain,
Mock’d and baffled by your gladness,
Mar the music of your feasts in vain!

* * * * *

Scent, and song, and light, and flowers!
Gust on gust, the harsh winds blow–
Come, bind up those ringlet showers!
Roses for that dreaming brow!
Come, once more that ancient lightness,
Glancing feet, and eager eyes!
Let your broad lamps flash the brightness
Which the sorrow-stricken day denies!

Through black depths of serried shadows,
Up cold aisles of buried glade;
In the midst of river-meadows
Where the looming kine are laid;
From your dazzled windows streaming,
From your humming festal room,
Deep and far, a broken gleaming
Reels and shivers on the ruffled gloom.

Where I stand, the grass is glowing;
Doubtless you are passing fair!
But I hear the north wind blowing,
And I feel the cold night-air.
Can I look on your sweet faces,
And your proud heads backward thrown,
From this dusk of leaf-strewn places
With the dumb woods and the night alone?

Yet, indeed, this flux of guesses–
Mad delight, and frozen calms–
Mirth to-day and vine-bound tresses,
And to-morrow–folded palms;
Is this all? this balanced measure?
Could life run no happier way?
Joyous, at the height of pleasure,
Passive at the nadir of dismay?

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But, indeed, this proud possession,
This far-reaching, magic chain,
Linking in a mad succession
Fits of joy and fits of pain–
Have you seen it at the closing?
Have you track’d its clouded ways?
Can your eyes, while fools are dozing,
Drop, with mine, adown life’s latter days?

When a dreary dawn is wading
Through this waste of sunless greens,
When the flushing hues are fading
On the peerless cheek of queens;
When the mean shall no more sorrow,
And the proudest no more smile;
As old age, youth’s fatal morrow,
Spreads its cold light wider all that while?

Then, when change itself is over,
When the slow tide sets one way,
Shall you find the radiant lover,
Even by moments, of to-day?
The eye wanders, faith is failing–
O, loose hands, and let it be!
Proudly, like a king bewailing,
O, let fall one tear, and set us free!

All true speech and large avowal
Which the jealous soul concedes;
All man’s heart which brooks bestowal,
All frank faith which passion breeds–
These we had, and we gave truly;
Doubt not, what we had, we gave!
False we were not, nor unruly;
Lodgers in the forest and the cave.

Long we wander’d with you, feeding
Our rapt souls on your replies,
In a wistful silence reading
All the meaning of your eyes.
By moss-border’d statues sitting,
By well-heads, in summer days.
But we turn, our eyes are flitting–
See, the white east, and the morning rays!

And you too, O worshipp’d Graces,
Sylvan Gods of this fair shade!
Is there doubt on divine faces?
Are the blessed Gods dismay’d?
Can men worship the wan features,
The sunk eyes, the wailing tone,
Of unsphered, discrowned creatures,
Souls as little godlike as their own?

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Come, loose hands! The winged fleetness
Of immortal feet is gone;
And your scents have shed their sweetness,
And your flowers are overblown.
And your jewell’d gauds surrender
Half their glories to the day;
Freely did they flash their splendour,
Freely gave it–but it dies away.

In the pines the thrush is waking–
Lo, yon orient hill in flames!
Scores of true love knots are breaking
At divorce which it proclaims.
When the lamps are paled at morning,
Heart quits heart and hand quits hand.
Cold in that unlovely dawning,
Loveless, rayless, joyless you shall stand!

Pluck no more red roses, maidens,
Leave the lilies in their dew–
Pluck, pluck cypress, O pale maidens,
Dusk, oh, dusk the hall with yew!
–Shall I seek, that I may scorn her,
Her I loved at eventide?
Shall I ask, what faded mourner
Stands, at daybreak, weeping by my side?
Pluck, pluck cypress, O pale maidens!
Dusk the hall with yew!

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