Stanzas Composed At Carnac

A poem by Matthew Arnold

Far on its rocky knoll descried
Saint Michael’s chapel cuts the sky.
I climb’d; beneath me, bright and wide,
Lay the lone coast of Brittany.

Bright in the sunset, weird and still,
It lay beside the Atlantic wave,
As if the wizard Merlin’s will
Yet charm’d it from his forest grave.

Behind me on their grassy sweep,
Bearded with lichen, scrawl’d and grey,
The giant stones of Carnac sleep,
In the mild evening of the May.

No priestly stern procession now
Streams through their rows of pillars old;
No victims bleed, no Druids bow;
Sheep make the furze-grown aisles their fold.

From bush to bush the cuckoo flies,
The orchis red gleams everywhere;
Gold broom with furze in blossom vies,
The blue-bells perfume all the air.

And o’er the glistening, lonely land,
Rise up, all round, the Christian spires.
The church of Carnac, by the strand,
Catches the westering sun’s last fires.

And there across the watery way,
See, low above the tide at flood,
The sickle-sweep of Quiberon bay
Whose beach once ran with loyal blood!

And beyond that, the Atlantic wide!
All round, no soul, no boat, no hail!
But, on the horizon’s verge descried,
Hangs, touch’d with light, one snowy sail!

Ah, where is he, who should have come
Where that far sail is passing now,
Past the Loire’s mouth, and by the foam
Of Finistère’s unquiet brow,

Home, round into the English wave?
He tarries where the Rock of Spain
Mediterranean waters lave;
He enters not the Atlantic main.

Oh, could he once have reach’d this air
Freshen’d by plunging tides, by showers!
Have felt this breath he loved, of fair
Cool northern fields, and grass, and flowers!

He long’d for it, press’d on! In vain.
At the Straits fail’d that spirit brave.
The South was parent of his pain,
The South is mistress of his grave.

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