This week’s Featured Poem comes from Matthew Arnold, who was born 192 years ago this week. He is often noted as the “third great Victorian poet” alongside Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning, and his work showcases a mood of reflection rather than emotion, with his philosophy in life being that happiness came from within.
The Buried Life is a wonderful example of the contrast Arnold outlined between the ‘hot race’ of the ‘crowded streets’ and a search for a deeper meaning that lies within us. It seems no more relevant than now, as the last minute whirlwind before the festive season is in full gear, to search for moments that allow us to feel a ‘lost pulse of feeling’ – and it is through this great poem where we can feel it most of all.
from The Buried Life
But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us—to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
But hardly have we, for one little hour,
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves—
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress’d.
And long we try in vain to speak and act
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is well—but ‘t is not true!
And then we will no more be rack’d
With inward striving, and demand
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour
Their stupefying power;
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne
As from an infinitely distant land,
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day.
Only—but this is rare—
When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen’d ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress’d—
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.
And there arrives a lull in the hot race
Wherein he doth for ever chase
That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose, and the sea where it goes.
As the festive season approaches even closer, as well as the shortest day of the year, we’re keeping things seasonal with this week’s Featured Poem from Robert Louis Stevenson. We’ve already enjoyed tons of Christmassy fun with the Santa’s Grotto, Merry Music and Christmas Craft Fair at Calderstones Mansion House, and with the promise of lots more cheer to come with the Ha’Penny Readings and Penny Readings this weekend, this poem should work wonders to keep you in the seasonal spirit.
Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.
Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.
Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.
When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.
Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.
Robert Louis Stevenson
The last week has seen a definite chill in the air, and no doubt the temperatures will drop even further as the month goes on. As we bundle up in extra layers to ward off the bite of the winter wind, enjoy this poem – a classic from our bank of poetry by John Keats – with some reassurances not just against the arctic colds.
O Thou Whose Face Hath Felt the Winter’s Wind
O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind,
Whose eye has seen the snow-clouds hung in mist
And the black elm tops ‘mong the freezing stars,
To thee the spring will be a harvest-time.
O thou, whose only book has been the light
Of supreme darkness which thou feddest on
Night after night when Phoebus was away,
To thee the Spring shall be a triple morn.
O fret not after knowledge- I have none,
And yet my song comes native with the warmth.
O fret not after knowledge- I have none,
And yet the Evening listens. He who saddens
At thought of idleness cannot be idle,
And he’s awake who thinks himself asleep.