The poetical works of Matthew Arnold/Thyrsis

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THYRSIS.18

A Monody, to commemorate the author's friend,
Arthur Hugh Clough, who died at Florence, 1861.

How changed is here each spot man makes or fills!
 In the two Hinkseys nothing keeps the same;
 The village street its haunted mansion lacks,
 And from the sign is gone Sibylla's name,
 And from the roofs the twisted chimney-stacks.—
 Are ye too changed, ye hills?
 See, 'tis no foot of unfamiliar men
 To-night from Oxford up your pathway strays!
 Here came I often, often, in old days,—
 Thyrsis and I: we still had Thyrsis then.


Runs it not here, the track by Childsworth Farm,
 Past the high wood, to where the elm-tree crowns
 The hill behind whose ridge the sunset flames?
 The single-elm, that looks on Ilsley Downs,
 The Vale, the three lone wears, the youthful Thames?
 This winter-eve is warm;
 Humid the air; leafless, yet soft as spring,
 The tender purple spray on copse and briers;
 And that sweet city with her dreaming spires,
 She needs not June for beauty's heightening.


Lovely all times she lies, lovely to-night!—
 Only, methinks, some loss of habit's power
 Befalls me wandering through this upland dim.
 Once passed I blindfold here, at any hour;
 Now seldom come I, since I came with him.
 That single elm-tree bright
 Against the west—I miss it! is it gone?
 We prized it dearly; while it stood, we said,
 Our friend the Gypsy-Scholar was not dead;
 While the tree lived, he in these fields lived on.


Too rare, too rare, grow now my visits here,
 But once I knew each field, each flower, each stick;
 And with the country-folk acquaintance made
 By barn in threshing-time, by new-built rick.
 Here, too, our shepherd-pipes we first assayed.
 Ah me! this many a year
 My pipe is lost, my shepherd's-holiday!
 Needs must I lose them, needs with heavy heart
 Into the world and wave of men depart,
 But Thyrsis of his own will went away.


It irked him to be here, he could not rest.
 He loved each simple joy the country yields,
 He loved his mates; but yet he could not keep,
 For that a shadow lowered on the fields,
 Here with the shepherds and the silly sheep.
 Some life of men unblest
 He knew, which made him droop, and filled his head.
 He went; his piping took a troubled sound
 Of storms that rage outside our happy ground;
 He could not wait their passing; he is dead.


So, some tempestuous morn in early June,
 When the year's primal burst of bloom is o'er,
 Before the roses and the longest day,—
 When garden-walks, and all the grassy floor,
 With blossoms red and white of fallen May,
 And chestnut-flowers, are strewn,—
 So have I heard the cuckoo's parting cry,
 From the wet field, through the vexed garden-trees,
 Come with the volleying rain and tossing breeze:
 The bloom is gone, and with the bloom go I!


Too quick despairer, wherefore wilt thou go?
 Soon will the high midsummer pomps come on,
 Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
 Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
 Sweet-william with his homely cottage-smell,
 And stocks in fragrant blow;
 Roses that down the alleys shine afar,
 And open, jasmine-muffled lattices,
 And groups under the dreaming garden-trees,
 And the full moon, and the white evening-star.


He hearkens not! light comer, he is flown!
 What matters it? next year he will return,
 And we shall have him in the sweet spring-days,
 With whitening hedges, and uncrumpling fern,
 And bluebells trembling by the forest-ways,
 And scent of hay new-mown.
 But Thyrsis never more we swains shall see,—
 See him come back, and cut a smoother reed,
 And blow a strain the world at last shall heed;
 For Time, not Corydon, hath conquered thee!


Alack, for Corydon no rival now!—
 But when Sicilian shepherds lost a mate,
 Some good survivor with his flute would go,
 Piping a ditty sad for Bion's fate;
 And cross the unpermitted ferry's flow,
 And relax Pluto's brow,
 And make leap up with joy the beauteous head
 Of Proserpine, among whose crownèd hair
 Are flowers first opened on Sicilian air,
 And flute his friend, like Orpheus, from the dead.


Oh, easy access to the hearer's grace
 When Dorian shepherds sang to Proserpine!
 For she herself had trod Sicilian fields,
 She knew the Dorian water's gush divine,
 She knew each lily white which Enna yields,
 Each rose with blushing face;
 She loved the Dorian pipe, the Dorian strain.
 But ah! of our poor Thames she never heard;
 Her foot the Cumner cowslips never stirred;
 And we should tease her with our plaint in vain.


Well! wind-dispersed and vain the words will be;
 Yet, Thyrsis, let me give my grief its hour
 In the old haunt, and find our tree-topped hill!
 Who, if not I, for questing here hath power?
 I know the wood which hides the daffodil;
 I know the Fyfield tree;
 I know what white, what purple fritillaries
 The grassy harvest of the river-fields,
 Above by Ensham, down by Sandford, yields;
 And what sedged brooks are Thames's tributaries;


I know these slopes: who knows them if not I?
 But many a dingle on the loved hillside,
 With thorns once studded, old white-blossomed trees,
 Where thick the cowslips grew, and far descried
 High towered the spikes of purple orchises,
 Hath since our day put by
 The coronals of that forgotten time;
 Down each green bank hath gone the ploughboy's team,
 And only in the hidden brookside gleam
 Primroses, orphans of the flowery prime.


Where is the girl who by the boatman's door,
 Above the locks, above the boating throng,
 Unmoored our skiff when through the Wytham flats,
 Red loosestrife and blond meadow-sweet among,
 And darting swallows and light water-gnats,
 We tracked the shy Thames shore?
 Where are the mowers, who, as the tiny swell
 Of our boat passing heaved the river-grass,
 Stood with suspended scythe to see us pass?—
 They all are gone, and thou art gone as well!


Yes, thou art gone! and round me too the night
 In ever-nearing circle weaves her shade.
 I see her veil draw soft across the day,
 I feel her slowly chilling breath invade
 The cheek grown thin, the brown hair sprent with gray;
 I feel her finger light
 Laid pausefully upon life's headlong train,—
 The foot less prompt to meet the morning dew,
 The heart less bounding at emotion new,
 And hope, once crushed, less quick to spring again.


And long the way appears, which seemed so short
 To the less-practised eye of sanguine youth;
 And high the mountain tops, in cloudy air,—
 The mountain tops where is the throne of Truth,
 Tops in life's morning-sun so bright and bare!
 Unbreachable the fort
 Of the long-battered world uplifts its wall;
 And strange and vain the earthly turmoil grows,
 And near and real the charm of thy repose,
 And night as welcome as a friend would fall.


But hush! the upland hath a sudden loss
 Of quiet! Look, adown the dusk hillside,
 A troop of Oxford hunters going home,
 As in old days, jovial and talking, ride!
 From hunting with the Berkshire hounds they come.
 Quick! let me fly, and cross
 Into yon farther field! 'Tis done; and see,
 Backed by the sunset, which doth glorify
 The orange and pale violet evening-sky,
 Bare on its lonely ridge, the Tree! the Tree!


I take the omen! Eve lets down her veil,
 The white fog creeps from bush to bush about,
 The west unflushes, the high stars grow bright,
 And in the scattered farms the lights come out.
 I cannot reach the signal-tree to-night,
 Yet, happy omen, hail!
 Hear it from thy broad lucent Arno-vale
 (For there thine earth-forgetting eyelids keep
 The morningless and unawakening sleep
 Under the flowery oleanders pale);


Hear it, O Thyrsis, still our tree is there!—
 Ah, vain! These English fields, this upland dim,
 These brambles pale with mist engarlanded,
 That lone, sky-pointing tree, are not for him:
 To a boon southern country he is fled,
 And now in happier air,
 Wandering with the great Mother's train divine
 (And purer or more subtile soul than thee,
 I trow the mighty Mother doth not see)
 Within a folding of the Apennine,—


Thou hearest the immortal chants of old!
 Putting his sickle to the perilous grain
 In the hot cornfield of the Phrygian king,
 For thee the Lityerses-song again
 Young Daphnis with his silver voice doth sing;19
 Sings his Sicilian fold,
 His sheep, his hapless love, his blinded eyes;
 And how a call celestial round him rang,
 And heavenward from the fountain-brink he sprang,
 And all the marvel of the golden skies.


There thou art gone, and me thou leavest here
 Sole in these fields! yet will I not despair.
 Despair I will not, while I yet descry
 'Neath the soft canopy of English air
 That lonely tree against the western sky.
 Still, still these slopes, 'tis clear,
 Our Gypsy-Scholar haunts, outliving thee!
 Fields where soft sheep from cages pull the hay,
 Woods with anemones in flower till May,
 Know him a wanderer still; then why not me?


A fugitive and gracious light he seeks,
 Shy to illumine; and I seek it too.
 This does not come with houses or with gold,
 With place, with honor, and a flattering crew;
 'Tis not in the world's market bought and sold;
 But the smooth-slipping weeks
 Drop by, and leave its seeker still untired;
 Out of the heed of mortals he is gone,
 He wends unfollowed, he must house alone;
 Yet on he fares, by his own heart inspired.


Thou too, O Thyrsis, on like quest wast bound!
 Thou wanderedst with me for a little hour.
 Men gave thee nothing; but this happy quest,
 If men esteemed thee feeble, gave thee power,
 If men procured thee trouble, gave thee rest.
 And this rude Cumner ground,
 Its fir-topped Hurst, its farms, its quiet fields,
 Here cam'st thou in thy jocund youthful time,
 Here was thine height of strength, thy golden prime!
 And still the haunt beloved a virtue yields.


What though the music of thy rustic flute
 Kept not for long its happy, country tone;
 Lost it too soon, and learnt a stormy note
 Of men contention-tost, of men who groan,
 Which tasked thy pipe too sore, and tired thy throat—
 It failed, and thou wast mute!
 Yet hadst thou alway visions of our light,
 And long with men of care thou couldst not stay,
 And soon thy foot resumed its wandering way,
 Left human haunt, and on alone till night.


Too rare, too rare, grow now my visits here!
 'Mid city-noise, not, as with thee of yore,
 Thyrsis! in reach of sheep-bells is my home.
 —Then through the great town's harsh, heart-wearying roar,
 Let in thy voice a whisper often come,
 To chase fatigue and fear:
 Why faintest thou? I wandered till I died.
 Roam on! The light we sought is shining still.
 Dost thou ask proof? Our tree yet crowns the hill,
 Our Scholar travels yet the loved hillside.