The Future

Original Text: 
Matthew Arnold, Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems (London: B. Fellowes, 1852). B-11 2384 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
1A wanderer is man from his birth.
2He was born in a ship
3On the breast of the river of Time;
4Brimming with wonder and joy
5He spreads out his arms to the light,
6Rivets his gaze on the banks of the stream.
7As what he sees is, so have his thoughts been.
8Whether he wakes,
9Where the snowy mountainous pass,
10Echoing the screams of the eagles,
11Hems in its gorges the bed
12Of the new-born clear-flowing stream;
13Whether he first sees light
14Where the river in gleaming rings
15Sluggishly winds through the plain;
16Whether in sound of the swallowing sea--
17As is the world on the banks,
18So is the mind of the man.
19     Vainly does each, as he glides,
20Fable and dream
21Of the lands which the river of Time
22Had left ere he woke on its breast,
23Or shall reach when his eyes have been closed.
24Only the tract where he sails
25He wots of; only the thoughts,
26Raised by the objects he passes, are his.
27Who can see the green earth any more
28As she was by the sources of Time?
29Who imagines her fields as they lay
30In the sunshine, unworn by the plough?
31Who thinks as they thought,
32The tribes who then roam'd on her breast,
33Her vigorous, primitive sons?
34What girl
35Now reads in her bosom as clear
37At eve by the palm-shaded well?
38Who guards in her breast
39As deep, as pellucid a spring
40Of feeling, as tranquil, as sure?
41     What bard,
42At the height of his vision, can deem
43Of God, of the world, of the soul,
44With a plainness as near,
45As flashing as Moses felt
46When he lay in the night by his flock
47On the starlit Arabian waste?
49The beck of the Spirit like him?
50This tract which the river of Time
51Now flows through with us, is the plain.
52Gone is the calm of its earlier shore.
53Border'd by cities and hoarse
54With a thousand cries is its stream.
55And we on its breast, our minds
56Are confused as the cries which we hear,
57Changing and shot as the sights which we see.
58And we say that repose has fled
59For ever the course of the river of Time.
60That cities will crowd to its edge
61In a blacker, incessanter line;
62That the din will be more on its banks,
63Denser the trade on its stream,
64Flatter the plain where it flows,
65Fiercer the sun overhead.
66That never will those on its breast
67See an ennobling sight,
68Drink of the feeling of quiet again.
69But what was before us we know not,
70And we know not what shall succeed.
71Haply, the river of Time--
72As it grows, as the towns on its marge
73Fling their wavering lights
74On a wider, statelier stream--
75May acquire, if not the calm
76Of its early mountainous shore,
77Yet a solemn peace of its own.
78And the width of the waters, the hush
79Of the grey expanse where he floats,
80Freshening its current and spotted with foam
81As it draws to the Ocean, may strike
82Peace to the soul of the man on its breast--
83As the pale waste widens around him,
84As the banks fade dimmer away,
85As the stars come out, and the night-wind
86Brings up the stream
87Murmurs and scents of the infinite sea.

Notes

36] Rebekah: see Genesis 24 for the story. Back to Line
48] See Exodus 3 and 4. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1852
RPO poem Editors: 
H. Kerpneck
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.204.