The New Sirens - A Palinode

A poem by Matthew Arnold

In the cedar shadow sleeping,
Where cool grass and fragrant glooms
Oft at noon have lur’d me, creeping
From your darken’d palace rooms:
I, who in your train at morning
Stroll’d and sang with joyful mind,
Heard, at evening, sounds of warning;
Heard the hoarse boughs labour in the wind.

Who are they, O pensive Graces,
For I dream’d they wore your forms
Who on shores and sea-wash’d places
Scoop the shelves and fret the storms?
Who, when ships are that way tending,
Troop across the flushing sands.
To all reefs and narrows wending,
With blown tresses, and with beckoning hands

Yet I see, the howling levels
Of the deep are not your lair;
And your tragic-vaunted revels
Are less lonely than they were.
In a Tyrian galley steering
From the golden springs of dawn,
Troops, like Eastern kings, appearing,
Stream all day through your enchanted lawn.

And we too, from upland valleys,
Where some Muse, with half-curv’d frown,
Leans her ear to your mad sallies
Which the charm’d winds never drown;
By faint music guided, ranging
The scar’d glens, we wander’d on:
Left our awful laurels hanging,
And came heap’d with myrtles to your throne.

From the dragon-warder’d fountains
Where the springs of knowledge are:
From the watchers on the mountains,
And the bright and morning star:
We are exiles, we are falling,
We have lost them at your call.
O ye false ones, at your calling
Seeking ceilèd chambers and a palace hall.

Are the accents of your luring
More melodious than of yore?
Are those frail forms more enduring
Than the charms Ulysses bore?
That we sought you with rejoicings
Till at evening we descry
At a pause of Siren voicings
These vext branches and this howling sky?

Oh! your pardon. The uncouthness
Of that primal age is gone:
And the skin of dazzling smoothness
Screens not now a heart of stone.
Love has flush’d those cruel faces;
And your slacken’d arms forego
The delight of fierce embraces:
And those whitening bone-mounds do not grow.

‘Come,’ you say; ‘the large appearance
Of man’s labour is but vain:
And we plead as firm adherence
Due to pleasure as to pain.’
Pointing to some world-worn creatures,
‘Come,’ you murmur with a sigh:
‘Ah! we own diviner features.
Loftier bearing, and a prouder eye.

‘Come,’ you say, ‘the hours are dreary:
Life is long, and will not fade:
Time is lame, and we grow weary
In this slumbrous cedarn shade.
Round our hearts, with long caresses,
With low sighs hath Silence stole;
And her load of steaming tresses
Weighs, like Ossa, on the aery soul.

‘Come,’ you say, ‘the Soul is fainting
Till she search, and learn her own:
And the wisdom of man’s painting
Leaves her riddle half unknown.
Come,’ you say, ‘the brain is seeking,
When the princely heart is dead:
Yet this glean’d, when Gods were speaking,
Rarer secrets than the toiling head.

‘Come,’ you say, ‘opinion trembles,
Judgement shifts, convictions go:
Life dries up, the heart dissembles:
Only, what we feel, we know.
Hath your wisdom known emotions?
Will it weep our burning tears?
Hath it drunk of our love-potions
Crowning moments with the weight of years?

I am dumb. Alas! too soon, all
Man’s grave reasons disappear:
Yet, I think, at God’s tribunal
Some large answer you shall hear.
But for me, my thoughts are straying
Where at sunrise, through the vines,
On these lawns I saw you playing,
Hanging garlands on the odorous pines.

When your showering locks enwound you.
And your heavenly eyes shone through:
When the pine-boughs yielded round you,
And your brows were starr’d with dew:
And immortal forms to meet you
Down the statued alleys came:
And through golden horns, to greet you.
Blew such music as a God may frame.

Yes, I muse:And, if the dawning
Into daylight never grew
If the glistering wings of morning
On the dry noon shook their dew
If the fits of joy were longer
Or the day were sooner done
Or, perhaps, if Hope were stronger
No weak nursling of an earthly sun . . .
Pluck, pluck cypress. O pale maidens,
Dusk the hall with yew!

But a bound was set to meetings,
And the sombre day dragg’d on:
And the burst of joyful greetings.
And the joyful dawn, were gone:
For the eye was fill’d with gazing,
And on raptures follow calms:
And those warm locks men were praising
Droop’d, unbraided, on your listless arms.

Storms unsmooth’d your folded valleys,
And made all your cedars frown;
Leaves are whirling in the alleys
Which your lovers wander’d down.
Sitting cheerless in your bowers,
The hands propping the sunk head,
Do they gall you, the long hours?
And the hungry thought, that must be fed?

Is the pleasure that is tasted
Patient of a long review?
Will the fire joy hath wasted,
Mus’d on, warm the heart anew?
Or, are those old thoughts returning,
Guests the dull sense never knew,
Stars, set deep, yet inly burning,
Germs, your untrimm’d Passion overgrew?

Once, like me, you took your station
Watchers for a purer fire:
But you droop’d in expectation,
And you wearied in desire.
When the first rose flush was steeping
All the frore peak’s awful crown,
Shepherds say, they found you sleeping
In a windless valley, further down.

Then you wept, and slowly raising
Your doz’d eyelids, sought again,
Half in doubt, they say, and gazing
Sadly back, the seats of men.
Snatch’d an earthly inspiration
From some transient human Sun,
And proclaim’d your vain ovation
For the mimic raptures you had won.
Pluck, pluck cypress, O pale maidens,
Dusk the hall with yew!

With a sad, majestic motion
With a stately, slow surprise
From their earthward-bound devotion
Lifting up your languid eyes:
Would you freeze my louder boldness
Dumbly smiling as you go?
One faint frown of distant coldness
Flitting fast across each marble brow?

Do I brighten at your sorrow
O sweet Pleaders? doth my lot
Find assurance in to-morrow
Of one joy, which you have not?
O speak once! and let my sadness,
And this sobbing Phrygian strain,
Sham’d and baffled by your gladness,
Blame the music of your feasts in vain.

Scent, and song, and light, and flowers
Gust on gust, the hoarse winds blow.
Come, bind up those ringlet showers!
Roses for that dreaming brow!
Come, once more that ancient lightness,
Glancing feet, and eager eyes!
Let your broad lamps flash the brightness
Which the sorrow-stricken day denies!

Through black depths of serried shadows,
Up cold aisles of buried glade;
In the mist of river meadows
Where the looming kine are laid;
From your dazzled windows streaming,
From the humming festal room,
Deep and far, a broken gleaming
Reels and shivers on the ruffled gloom.

Where I stand, the grass is glowing:
Doubtless, you are passing fair:
But I hear the north wind blowing;
And I feel the cold night-air.
Can I look on your sweet faces,
And your proud heads backward thrown,
From this dusk of leaf-strewn places
With the dumb woods and the night alone?

But, indeed, this flux of guesses
Mad delight, and frozen calms
Mirth to-day and vine-bound tresses,
And to-morrow, folded palms
Is this all? this balanc’d measure?
Could life run no easier way
Happy at the noon of pleasure,
Passive, at the midnight of dismay?

But, indeed, this proud possession
This far-reaching magic chain,
Linking in a mad succession
Fits of joy and fits of pain:
Have you seen it at the closing?
Have you track’d its clouded ways?
Can your eyes, while fools are dozing,
Drop, with mine, adown life’s latter days?

When a dreary light is wading
Through this waste of sunless greens
When the flashing lights are fading
On the peerless cheek of queens
When the mean shall no more sorrow
And the proudest no more smile
While the dawning of the morrow
Widens slowly westward all that while?

Then, when change itself is over,
When the slow tide sets one way,
Shall you find the radiant lover,
Even by moments, of to-day?
The eye wanders, faith is failing:
O, loose hands, and let it be!
Proudly, like a king bewailing.
O, let fall one tear, and set us free!

All true speech and large avowal
Which the jealous soul concedes:
All man’s heart, which brooks bestowal:
All frank faith, which passion breeds:
These we had, and we gave truly:
Doubt not, what we had, we gave:
False we were not, nor unruly:
Lodgers in the forest and the cave.

Long we wander’d with you, feeding
Our sad souls on your replies:
In a wistful silence reading
All the meaning of your eyes:
By moss-border’d statues sitting,
By well-heads, in summer days.
But we turn, our eyes are flitting.
See, the white east, and the morning rays!

And you too, O weeping Graces,
Sylvan Gods of this fair shade!
Is there doubt on divine faces?
Are the happy Gods dismay’d?
Can men worship the wan features,
The sunk eyes, the wailing tone,
Of unspher’d discrownèd creatures,
Souls as little godlike as their own?

Come, loose hands! The wingèd fleetness
Of immortal feet is gone.
And your scents have shed their sweetness,
And your flowers are overblown.
And your jewell’d gauds surrender
Half their glories to the day:
Freely did they flash their splendour,
Freely gave it, but it dies away.

In the pines the thrush is waking
Lo, yon orient hill in flames:
Scores of true love knots are breaking
At divorce which it proclaims.
When the lamps are pal’d at morning,
Heart quits heart, and hand quits hand.
Cold it, that unlovely dawning,
Loveless, rayless, joyless you shall stand.

Strew no more red roses, maidens,
Leave the lilies in their dew:
Pluck. pluck cypress, O pale maidens!
Dusk, O dusk the hall with yew!
Shall I seek, that I may scorn her,
Her I lov’d at eventide?
Shall I ask, what faded mourner
Stands, at daybreak, weeping by my side?
Pluck, pluck cypress, O pale maidens!
Dusk the hall with yew!

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'The New Sirens - A Palinode' by Matthew Arnold

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy