Mycerinus

Original Text: 
Matthew Arnold, The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems (London: B. Fellowes, 1849). B-11 2382 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
1  "Not by the justice that my father spurn'd,
2Not for the thousands whom my father slew,
3Altars unfed and temples overturn'd,
4Cold hearts and thankless tongues, where thanks are due;
5Fell this dread voice from lips that cannot lie,
6Stern sentence of the Powers of Destiny.
7  "I will unfold my sentence and my crime.
8My crime--that, rapt in reverential awe,
9I sate obedient, in the fiery prime
10Of youth, self-govern'd, at the feet of Law;
11Ennobling this dull pomp, the life of kings,
12By contemplation of diviner things.
13  "My father loved injustice, and lived long;
14Crown'd with grey hairs he died, and full of sway.
15I loved the good he scorn'd, and hated wrong--
16The Gods declare my recompense to-day.
17I look'd for life more lasting, rule more high;
18And when six years are measured, lo, I die!
19  "Yet surely, O my people, did I deem
20Man's justice from the all-just Gods was given;
21A light that from some upper fount did beam,
22Some better archetype, whose seat was heaven;
23A light that, shining from the blest abodes,
24Did shadow somewhat of the life of Gods.
25  "Mere phantoms of man's self-tormenting heart,
26Which on the sweets that woo it dares not feed!
27Vain dreams, which quench our pleasures, then depart
28When the duped soul, self-master'd, claims its meed;
29When, on the strenuous just man, Heaven bestows,
30Crown of his struggling life, an unjust close!
31  "Seems it so light a thing, then, austere Powers,
32To spurn man's common lure, life's pleasant things?
33Seems there no joy in dances crown'd with flowers,
34Love, free to range, and regal banquetings?
35Bend ye on these, indeed, an unmoved eye,
36Not Gods but ghosts, in frozen apathy?
37  "Or is it that some Force, too wise, too strong,
38Even for yourselves to conquer or beguile,
39Sweeps earth, and heaven, and men, and Gods along,
40Like the broad volume of the insurgent Nile?
41And the great powers we serve, themselves may be
42Slaves of a tyrannous necessity?
43  "Or in mid-heaven, perhaps, your golden cars,
44Where earthly voice climbs never, wing their flight,
45And in wild hunt, through mazy tracts of stars,
46Sweep in the sounding stillness of the night?
47Or in deaf ease, on thrones of dazzling sheen,
48Drinking deep draughts of joy, ye dwell serene?
49  "Oh, wherefore cheat our youth, if thus it be,
50Of one short joy, one lust, one pleasant dream?
51Stringing vain words of powers we cannot see,
52Blind divinations of a will supreme;
53Lost labour! when the circumambient gloom
54But hides, if Gods, Gods careless of our doom?
55  "The rest I give to joy. Even while I speak,
56My sand runs short; and--as yon star-shot ray,
57Hemm'd by two banks of cloud, peers pale and weak,
58Now, as the barrier closes, dies away--
59Even so do past and future intertwine,
60Blotting this six years' space, which yet is mine.
61  "Six years--six little years--six drops of time!
62Yet suns shall rise, and many moons shall wane,
63And old men die, and young men pass their prime,
64And languid pleasure fade and flower again,
65And the dull Gods behold, ere these are flown,
66Revels more deep, joy keener than their own.
67  "Into the silence of the groves and woods
68I will go forth; though something would I say--
69Something--yet what, I know not; for the Gods
70The doom they pass revoke not, nor delay;
71And prayers, and gifts, and tears, are fruitless all,
72And the night waxes, and the shadows fall.
73  "Ye men of Egypt, ye have heard your king!
74I go, and I return not. But the will
75Of the great Gods is plain; and ye must bring
76Ill deeds, ill passions, zealous to fulfil
77Their pleasure, to their feet; and reap their praise,
78The praise of Gods, rich boon! and length of days."
79  --So spake he, half in anger, half in scorn;
80And one loud cry of grief and of amaze
81Broke from his sorrowing people; so he spake,
82And turning, left them there; and with brief pause,
83Girt with a throng of revellers, bent his way
84To the cool region of the groves he loved.
85There by the river-banks he wander'd on,
86From palm-grove on to palm-grove, happy trees,
87Their smooth tops shining sunward, and beneath
88Burying their unsunn'd stems in grass and flowers;
89Where in one dream the feverish time of youth
90Might fade in slumber, and the feet of joy
91Might wander all day long and never tire.
92Here came the king, holding high feast, at morn,
93Rose-crown'd; and ever, when the sun went down,
94A hundred lamps beam'd in the tranquil gloom,
95From tree to tree all through the twinkling grove,
96Revealing all the tumult of the feast--
97Flush'd guests, and golden goblets foam'd with wine;
98While the deep-burnish'd foliage overhead
99Splinter'd the silver arrows of the moon.
100     It may be that sometimes his wondering soul
101From the loud joyful laughter of his lips
102Might shrink half startled, like a guilty man
103Who wrestles with his dream; as some pale shape
104Gliding half hidden through the dusky stems,
105Would thrust a hand before the lifted bowl,
106Whispering: A little space, and thou art mine!
107It may be on that joyless feast his eye
108Dwelt with mere outward seeming; he, within,
109Took measure of his soul, and knew its strength,
110And by that silent knowledge, day by day,
111Was calm'd, ennobled, comforted, sustain'd.
112It may be; but not less his brow was smooth,
113And his clear laugh fled ringing through the gloom,
114And his mirth quail'd not at the mild reproof
115Sigh'd out by winter's sad tranquillity;
116Nor, pall'd with its own fulness, ebb'd and died
117In the rich languor of long summer-days;
118Nor wither'd when the palm-tree plumes, that roof'd
119With their mild dark his grassy banquet-hall,
120Bent to the cold winds of the showerless spring;
121No, nor grew dark when autumn brought the clouds.
122     So six long years he revell'd, night and day.
123And when the mirth wax'd loudest, with dull sound
124Sometimes from the grove's centre echoes came,
125To tell his wondering people of their king;
126In the still night, across the steaming flats,
127Mix'd with the murmur of the moving Nile.
Publication Start Year: 
1849
RPO poem Editors: 
J. D. Robins
RPO Edition: 
2RP 2.491.