By Matthew Arnold
We cannot kindle when we will
The fire which in the heart resides;
The spirit bloweth and is still,
In mystery our soul abides.
But tasks in hours of insight will’d
Can be through hours of gloom fulfill’d.
With aching hands and bleeding feet
We dig and heap, lay stone on stone;
We bear the burden and the heat
Of the long day, and wish ’twere done.
Not till the hours of light return,
All we have built do we discern.
Then, when the clouds are off the soul,
When thou dost bask in Nature’s eye,
Ask, how she view’d thy self-control,
Thy struggling, task’d morality—
Nature, whose free, light, cheerful air,
Oft made thee, in thy gloom, despair.
And she, whose censure thou dost dread,
Whose eye thou wast afraid to seek,
See, on her face a glow is spread,
A strong emotion on her cheek!
“Ah, child!” she cries, “that strife divine,
Whence was it, for it is not mine?
“There is no effort on my brow—
I do not strive, I do not weep;
I rush with the swift spheres and glow
In joy, and when I will, I sleep.
Yet that severe, that earnest air,
I saw, I felt it once—but where?
“I knew not yet the gauge of time,
Nor wore the manacles of space;
I felt it in some other clime,
I saw it in some other place.
‘Twas when the heavenly house I trod,
And lay upon the breast of God.”
Matthew Arnold (1822 – 1888) was an English poet, essayist, and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools. He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1857, and he was the first in this position to deliver his lectures in English rather than in Latin. On Translating Homer (1861) and the initial thoughts that Arnold would transform into Culture and Anarchy were among the fruits of the Oxford lectures.
“Matthew Arnold,” wrote G. W. E. Russell in Portraits of the Seventies, is “a man of the world entirely free from worldliness and a man of letters without the faintest trace of pedantry”. Arnold was a familiar figure at the Athenaeum Club, a frequent diner-out and guest at great country houses, charming, fond of fishing (but not of shooting), and a lively conversationalist.
He read constantly, widely, and deeply, and in the intervals of supporting himself and his family by the quiet drudgery of school inspecting, filled notebook after notebook with meditations of an almost monastic tone. In his writings, he often baffled and sometimes annoyed his contemporaries by the apparent contradiction between his urbane, even frivolous manner in controversy, and the “high seriousness” of his critical views and the melancholy, almost plaintive note of much of his poetry. “A voice poking fun in the wilderness” was T. H. Warren’s description of him.
This brief biographical sketch of Matthew Arnold was adapted from Wikipedia, and may be reprinted under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License.