Rugby Chapel

Original Text: 
Matthew Arnold, New Poems (London: Macmillan, 1867). B-10 2583 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
2The autumn-evening. The field
3Strewn with its dank yellow drifts
4Of wither'd leaves, and the elms,
5Fade into dimness apace,
6Silent;--hardly a shout
7From a few boys late at their play!
8The lights come out in the street,
9In the school-room windows;--but cold,
10Solemn, unlighted, austere,
11Through the gathering darkness, arise
12The chapel-walls, in whose bound
13Thou, my father! art laid.
14There thou dost lie, in the gloom
15Of the autumn evening. But ah!
16That word, gloom, to my mind
17Brings thee back, in the light
18Of thy radiant vigour, again;
19In the gloom of November we pass'd
20Days not dark at thy side;
21Seasons impair'd not the ray
22Of thy buoyant cheerfulness clear.
23Such thou wast! and I stand
24In the autumn evening, and think
25Of bygone autumns with thee.
26Fifteen years have gone round
27Since thou arosest to tread,
28In the summer-morning, the road
29Of death, at a call unforeseen,
30Sudden. For fifteen years,
31We who till then in thy shade
32Rested as under the boughs
33Of a mighty oak, have endured
34Sunshine and rain as we might,
35Bare, unshaded, alone,
36Lacking the shelter of thee.
37O strong soul, by what shore
38Tarriest thou now? For that force,
39Surely, has not been left vain!
40Somewhere, surely afar,
41In the sounding labour-house vast
42Of being, is practised that strength,
43Zealous, beneficent, firm!
44Yes, in some far-shining sphere,
45Conscious or not of the past,
46Still thou performest the word
47Of the Spirit in whom thou dost live--
48Prompt, unwearied, as here!
49Still thou upraisest with zeal
50The humble good from the ground,
51Sternly repressest the bad!
52Still, like a trumpet, dost rouse
53Those who with half-open eyes
54Tread the border-land dim
55'Twixt vice and virtue; reviv'st,
56Succourest!--this was thy work,
57This was thy life upon earth.
58What is the course of the life
59Of mortal men on the earth?--
60Most men eddy about
61Here and there--eat and drink,
62Chatter and love and hate,
63Gather and squander, are raised
64Aloft, are hurl'd in the dust,
65Striving blindly, achieving
66Nothing; and then they die--
67Perish;--and no one asks
68Who or what they have been,
69More than he asks what waves,
70In the moonlit solitudes mild
71Of the midmost Ocean, have swell'd,
72Foam'd for a moment, and gone.
73And there are some, whom a thirst
74Ardent, unquenchable, fires,
75Not with the crowd to be spent,
76Not without aim to go round
77In an eddy of purposeless dust,
78Effort unmeaning and vain.
79Ah yes! some of us strive
80Not without action to die
81Fruitless, but something to snatch
82From dull oblivion, nor all
83Glut the devouring grave!
84We, we have chosen our path--
85Path to a clear-purposed goal,
86Path of advance!--but it leads
87A long, steep journey, through sunk
88Gorges, o'er mountains in snow.
89Cheerful, with friends, we set forth--
90Then on the height, comes the storm.
91Thunder crashes from rock
92To rock, the cataracts reply,
93Lightnings dazzle our eyes.
94Roaring torrents have breach'd
95The track, the stream-bed descends
96In the place where the wayfarer once
97Planted his footstep--the spray
98Boils o'er its borders! aloft
99The unseen snow-beds dislodge
100Their hanging ruin; alas,
101Havoc is made in our train!
102Friends, who set forth at our side,
103Falter, are lost in the storm.
104We, we only are left!
105With frowning foreheads, with lips
106Sternly compress'd, we strain on,
107On--and at nightfall at last
108Come to the end of our way,
109To the lonely inn 'mid the rocks;
110Where the gaunt and taciturn host
111Stands on the threshold, the wind
112Shaking his thin white hairs--
113Holds his lantern to scan
114Our storm-beat figures, and asks:
115Whom in our party we bring?
116Whom we have left in the snow?
117Sadly we answer: We bring
118Only ourselves! we lost
119Sight of the rest in the storm.
120Hardly ourselves we fought through,
121Stripp'd, without friends, as we are.
122Friends, companions, and train,
123The avalanche swept from our side.
124But thou woulds't not alone
125Be saved, my father! alone
126Conquer and come to thy goal,
127Leaving the rest in the wild.
128We were weary, and we
129Fearful, and we in our march
130Fain to drop down and to die.
131Still thou turnedst, and still
132Beckonedst the trembler, and still
133Gavest the weary thy hand.
134If, in the paths of the world,
135Stones might have wounded thy feet,
136Toil or dejection have tried
137Thy spirit, of that we saw
138Nothing--to us thou wage still
139Cheerful, and helpful, and firm!
140Therefore to thee it was given
141Many to save with thyself;
142And, at the end of thy day,
143O faithful shepherd! to come,
144Bringing thy sheep in thy hand.
145And through thee I believe
146In the noble and great who are gone;
147Pure souls honour'd and blest
148By former ages, who else--
149Such, so soulless, so poor,
150Is the race of men whom I see--
151Seem'd but a dream of the heart,
152Seem'd but a cry of desire.
153Yes! I believe that there lived
154Others like thee in the past,
155Not like the men of the crowd
156Who all round me to-day
157Bluster or cringe, and make life
158Hideous, and arid, and vile;
159But souls temper'd with fire,
160Fervent, heroic, and good,
161Helpers and friends of mankind.
162Servants of God!--or sons
163Shall I not call you? Because
164Not as servants ye knew
165Your Father's innermost mind,
166His, who unwillingly sees
167One of his little ones lost--
168Yours is the praise, if mankind
169Hath not as yet in its march
170Fainted, and fallen, and died!
171See! In the rocks of the world
172Marches the host of mankind,
173A feeble, wavering line.
175Marshall'd them, gave them their goal.
176Ah, but the way is so long!
177Years they have been in the wild!
178Sore thirst plagues them, the rocks
179Rising all round, overawe;
180Factions divide them, their host
181Threatens to break, to dissolve.
182--Ah, keep, keep them combined!
183Else, of the myriads who fill
184That army, not one shall arrive;
185Sole they shall stray; in the rocks
186Stagger for ever in vain,
187Die one by one in the waste.
188Then, in such hour of need
189Of your fainting, dispirited race,
190Ye, like angels, appear,
191Radiant with ardour divine!
192Beacons of hope, ye appear!
193Languor is not in your heart,
194Weakness is not in your word,
195Weariness not on your brow.
196Ye alight in our van! at your voice,
197Panic, despair, flee away.
198Ye move through the ranks, recall
199The stragglers, refresh the outworn,
200Praise, re-inspire the brave!
201Order, courage, return.
202Eyes rekindling, and prayers,
203Follow your steps as ye go.
204Ye fill up the gaps in our files,
205Strengthen the wavering line,
206Stablish, continue our march,
207On, to the bound of the waste,
208On, to the City of God.

Notes

1] Dr. Thomas Arnold, father of the poet, greatest of English schoolmasters, died very suddenly in June 1842, at the age of forty-seven, and was buried in the school chapel. He is widely known through Tom Brown's Schooldays. Arnold was impelled to write the poem by an Edinburgh Review article by Virginia Woolf's uncle describing his father as a "narrow bustling fanatic." Back to Line
174] Cf. To Marguerite: Continued. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1867
RPO poem Editors: 
H. Kerpneck
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.256.