The Buried Life

Original Text: 
Matthew Arnold, Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems (London: B. Fellowes, 1852). B-11 2384 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
1Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,
2Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!
3I feel a nameless sadness o'er me roll.
4Yes, yes, we know that we can jest,
5We know, we know that we can smile!
6But there's a something in this breast,
7To which thy light words bring no rest,
8And thy gay smiles no anodyne.
9Give me thy hand, and hush awhile,
10And turn those limpid eyes on mine,
11And let me read there, love! thy inmost soul.
12Alas! is even love too weak
13To unlock the heart, and let it speak?
14Are even lovers powerless to reveal
15To one another what indeed they feel?
16I knew the mass of men conceal'd
17Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal'd
18They would by other men be met
19With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;
20I knew they lived and moved
21Trick'd in disguises, alien to the rest
22Of men, and alien to themselves--and yet
23The same heart beats in every human breast!
24But we, my love!--doth a like spell benumb
25Our hearts, our voices?--must we too be dumb?
27Even for a moment, can get free
28Our heart, and have our lips unchain'd;
29For that which seals them hath been deep-ordain'd!
30Fate, which foresaw
31How frivolous a baby man would be--
32By what distractions he would be possess'd,
33How he would pour himself in every strife,
34And well-nigh change his own identity--
35That it might keep from his capricious play
36His genuine self, and force him to obey
37Even in his own despite his being's law,
38Bade through the deep recesses of our breast
39The unregarded river of our life
40Pursue with indiscernible flow its way;
41And that we should not see
42The buried stream, and seem to be
43Eddying at large in blind uncertainty,
44Though driving on with it eternally.
45But often, in the world's most crowded streets,
46But often, in the din of strife,
47There rises an unspeakable desire
48After the knowledge of our buried life;
49A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
50In tracking out our true, original course;
51A longing to inquire
52Into the mystery of this heart which beats
53So wild, so deep in us--to know
54Whence our lives come and where they go.
55And many a man in his own breast then delves,
56But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
58And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
59But hardly have we, for one little hour,
60Been on our own line, have we been ourselves--
61Hardly had skill to utter one of all
62The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
63But they course on for ever unexpress'd.
64And long we try in vain to speak and act
65Our hidden self, and what we say and do
66Is eloquent, is well--but 't is not true!
67And then we will no more be rack'd
68With inward striving, and demand
69Of all the thousand nothings of the hour
70Their stupefying power;
71Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!
72Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
73From the soul's subterranean depth upborne
74As from an infinitely distant land,
75Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
76A melancholy into all our day.
77Only--but this is rare--
78When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,
79When, jaded with the rush and glare
80Of the interminable hours,
81Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear,
82When our world-deafen'd ear
83Is by the tones of a loved voice caress'd--
84A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
85And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
86The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
87And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
88A man becomes aware of his life's flow,
89And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
90The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.
91And there arrives a lull in the hot race
92Wherein he doth for ever chase
93That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
94An air of coolness plays upon his face,
95And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
96And then he thinks he knows
97The hills where his life rose,
98And the sea where it goes.


26] Cf. To Marguerite: Continued for the expression of a similar thought. Back to Line
57] See The Scholar-Gypsy (especially lines 166 ff.) for another statement of this idea. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
H. Kerpneck
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.209.