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  1. #1

    Switzerland, by Matthew Arnold

    Matthew Arnold (1822 – 1888) was an English essayist, literary and cultural critic, and poet. He wrote mainly poetry when he was younger, but shifted to literary and later cultural criticism as he grew older, his poetic gifts slowly waning. His poetry is notable for its unsentimental and occasionally cynical content and its melancholy tone. The poems included here discuss the transient nature of love, the natural bent of the author to freedom and bachelorhood, the desire of women for submissiveness and their dislike of nice guys, the fading of affections, the repercussions of letting your emotions get the better of you, and the undesirability of women beyond their prime, having hit the wall and grown out of their vitality.

    The poems are part of the Switzerland sequence: effusions on a relationship Arnold had with Marguerite, a woman from Switzerland, while he went on holiday there. Though the sequence is one of his most impressive achievements, it is rarely appreciated. The Matthew Arnold scholar Nicholas Murray, in his biography of Matthew Arnold, theorizes that the poems' "failure to establish themselves higher in the affection of Arnold's readers is probably due to their being rather uncommon love poems, celebrating neither unalloyed passion nor the conventional tropes of disappointed love. The failure of the affair they dramatise is due neither to a hard-hearted mistress nor to the cruelty of fate." The problems here discussed are far more mature and realistic. In the third poem of the sequence (and the first included here) Arnold meets his lover and hugs her warmly, but both sides know their love is doomed; Arnold discerns he was not made for love: "this heart, I know, / To be long loved was never framed; / For something in its depths doth glow / Too strange, too restless, too untamed." He realizes he cannot offer what women want, which is "not kindness, gentle ways", but "Stern strength, and promise of control." The fourth and fifth poems are remarkable from a poet with romantic inclinations: Arnold retreats to his earlier solitude and chides himself for letting himself be too swayed by his emotions. He emphasizes how the promise of companionship is futile: "Yes! in the sea of life enisled, / With echoing straits between us thrown, / Dotting the shoreless watery wild, / We mortal millions live alone." The final poem of the sequence -- and the most remarkably modern -- was composed ten years after the previous one. Arnold imagines meeting her again, but quickly realizes this would be undesirable, essentially not only the death of the old passion but also her having hit the wall, beyond her physical prime. The poetic picture of The Wall which he presents is moving and accurate: "Doth riotous laughter now replace / Thy smile; and rouge, with stony glare, / Thy cheek's soft hue;" "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". He ends by affirming the affair is now truly over -- her he "shall see no more."

    Poems from Switzerland

    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.

    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.

    ...

    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.

    ...

    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 spheréd 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.

    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.

    7. The Terrrace 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?

    ...

    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.

    Copied from the Project Gutenberg eBook of The Poetical Works of Matthew Arnold, where the entire sequence can be found.
    And when her lips so sweetly move
    The soul such height attain,
    You're free, yet would no longer rove
    But lay you down in chains.

  2. #2
    Senior Member BeijaFlor's Avatar
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    Re: Switzerland, by Matthew Arnold

    You chose your name wisely, sir, and with genius. Truly you bring us glimpses of ancient sunlight and forgotten truth.
    "The Red Pill is the start of the journey, not the end." - Chairborne

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  3. #3

    Re: Switzerland, by Matthew Arnold

    Ah, thank you! I took the wonderful phrase from Henry Williamson's 15-novel cycle A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, though it appears it is more well known from The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, a book on environmental issues and their sources in the depravities of the human spirit.
    And when her lips so sweetly move
    The soul such height attain,
    You're free, yet would no longer rove
    But lay you down in chains.


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