Stanzas In Memory Of The Author Of 'Obermann'

A poem by Matthew Arnold

In front the awful Alpine track
Crawls up its rocky stair;
The autumn storm-winds drive the rack,
Close o'er it, in the air.

Behind are the abandoned baths
Mute in their meadows lone;
The leaves are on the valley-paths,
The mists are on the Rhone

The white mists rolling like a sea!
I hear the torrents roar.
Yes, Obermann, all speaks of thee;
I feel thee near once more.

I turn thy leaves! I feel their breath
Once more upon me roll;
That air of languor, cold, and death,
Which brooded o'er thy soul.

Fly hence, poor wretch, whoe'er thou art,
Condemned to cast about,
All shipwreck in thy own weak heart,
For comfort from without!

A fever in these pages burns
Beneath the calm they feign;
A wounded human spirit turns,
Here, on its bed of pain.

Yes, though the virgin mountain-air
Fresh through these pages blows;
Though to these leaves the glaciers spare
The soul of their mute snows;

Though here a mountain-murmur swells
Of many a dark-boughed pine;
Though, as you read, you hear the bells
Of the high-pasturing kine

Yet, through the hum of torrent lone,
And brooding mountain-bee,
There sobs I know not what ground-tone
Of human agony.

Is it for this, because the sound
Is fraught too deep with pain,
That, Obermann! the world around
So little loves thy strain?

And then we turn, thou sadder sage,
To thee! we feel thy spell!
The hopeless tangle of our age,
Thou too hast scanned it well!

Immovable thou sittest, still
As death, composed to bear!
Thy head is clear, thy feeling chill,
And icy thy despair.

He who hath watched, not shared, the strife,
Knows how the day hath gone.
He only lives with the world's life
Who hath renounced his own.

To thee we come, then! Clouds are rolled
Where thou, O seer! art set;
Thy realm of thought is drear and cold
The world is colder yet!

And thou hast pleasures, too, to share
With those who come to thee
Balms floating on thy mountain-air,
And healing sights to see.

How often, where the slopes are green
On Jaman, hast thou sate
By some high chalet-door, and seen
The summer-day grow late;

And darkness steal o'er the wet grass
With the pale crocus starr'd,
And reach that glimmering sheet of glass
Beneath the piny sward,

Lake Leman's waters, far below!
And watched the rosy light
Fade from the distant peaks of snow;
And on the air of night

Heard accents of the eternal tongue
Through the pine branches play
Listened and felt thyself grow young!
Listened, and wept Away!

Away the dreams that but deceive!
And thou, sad guide, adieu!
I go, fate drives me; but I leave
Half of my life with you.

We, in some unknown Power's employ,
Move on a rigorous line;
Can neither, when we will, enjoy,
Nor, when we will, resign.

I in the world must live; but thou,
Thou melancholy shade!
Wilt not, if thou can'st see me now,
Condemn me, nor upbraid.

For thou art gone away from earth,
And place with those dost claim,
The Children of the Second Birth,
Whom the world could not tame.

Farewell! Whether thou now liest near
That much-loved inland sea,
The ripples of whose blue waves cheer
Vevey and Meillerie;

And in that gracious region bland,
Where with clear-rustling wave
The scented pines of Switzerland
Stand dark round thy green grave,

Between the dusty vineyard-walls
Issuing on that green place,
The early peasant still recalls
The pensive stranger's face,

And stoops to clear thy moss-grown date
Ere he plods on again;
Or whether, by maligner fate,
Among the swarms of men,

Where between granite terraces
The blue Seine rolls her wave,
The Capital of Pleasures sees
Thy hardly-heard-of grave;

Farewell! Under the sky we part,
In this stern Alpine dell.
O unstrung will! O broken heart!
A last, a last farewell!
The Sick King In Bokhara

O most just Vizier, send away
The cloth-merchants, and let them be,
Them and their dues, this day! The King
Is ill at ease, and calls for thee.

The Vizier

O merchants, tarry yet a day
Here in Bokhara! but at noon,
To-morrow, come, and ye shall pay
Each fortieth web of cloth to me,
As the law is, and go your way.

O Hussein, lead me to The King!
Thou teller of sweet tales, thine own,
Ferdousi's, and the others', lead!
How is it with my lord?


Ever since prayer-time, he doth wait,
O Vizier! without lying down,
In the great window of the gate,
Looking into the Registan,
Where through the sellers' booths the slaves
Are this way bringing the dead man.
O Vizier, here is The King's door!

The King

O Vizier, I may bury him?

The Vizier

O King, thou know'st, I have been sick
These many days, and heard no thing
(For Allah shut my ears and mind),
Not even what thou dost, O King!
Wherefore, that I may counsel thee,
Let Hussein, if thou wilt, make haste
To speak in order what hath chanced.

The King

O Vizier, be it as thou say'st!


Three days since, at the time of prayer,
A certain Moollah, with his robe
All rent, and dust upon his hair,
Watched my lord's coming forth, and pushed
The golden mace-bearers aside,
And fell at The King's feet, and cried:

"Justice, O King, and on myself!
On this great sinner, who did break
The law, and by the law must die!
Vengeance, O King!"

But The King spake:
"What fool is this, that hurts our ears
With folly? or what drunken slave?
My guards, what, prick him with your spears!
Prick me the fellow from the path!"

As The King said, so was it done,
And to the mosque my lord passed on.

But on the morrow when The King
Went forth again, the holy book
Carried before him, as his right,
And through the square his way he took,

My man comes running, flecked with blood
From yesterday, and falling down
Cries out most earnestly: "O King,
My lord, O King, do right, I pray!

"How canst thou, ere thou hear, discern
If I speak folly? but a king,
Whether a thing be great or small,
Like Allah, hears and judges all.

"Wherefore hear thou! Thou know'st how fierce
In these last days the sun hath burned;
That the green water in the tanks
Is to a putrid puddle turned;
And the canal, that from the stream
Of Samarcand is brought this way,
Wastes, and runs thinner every day.

"Now I at nightfall had gone forth
Alone, and in a darksome place
Under some mulberry trees I found
A little pool; and in short space
With all the water that was there
I filled my pitcher, and stole home
Unseen; and having drink to spare,
I hid the can behind the door,
And went up on the roof to sleep.

"But in the night, which was with wind
And burning dust, again I creep
Down, having fever, for a drink.

"Now meanwhile had my brethren found
The water-pitcher, where it stood
Behind the door upon the ground,
And called my mother; and they all,
As they were thirsty, and the night
Most sultry, drained the pitcher there;
That they sate with it, in my sight,
Their lips still wet, when I came down.

"Now mark! I, being fevered, sick
(Most unblest also), at that sight
Brake forth, and cursed them dost thou hear?
One was my mother Now, do right!"

But my lord mused a space, and said:
"Send him away, sirs, and make on!
It is some madman!" The King said.
As The King bade, so was it done.

The morrow, at the self-same hour,
In The King's path, behold, the man,
Not kneeling, sternly fixed! he stood
Right opposite, and thus began,

Frowning grim down: "Thou wicked King,
Most deaf where thou shouldst most give ear!
What, must I howl in the next world,
Because thou wilt not listen here?

"What, wilt thou pray, and get thee grace,
And all grace shall to me be grudged?
Nay, but I swear, from this thy path
I will not stir till I be judged!"

Then they who stood about The King
Drew close together and conferred;
Till that The King stood forth and said,
"Before the priests thou shalt be heard."

But when the Ulemas were met,
And the thing heard, they doubted not;
But sentenced him, as the law is,
To die by stoning on the spot.

Now The King charged us secretly:
"Stoned must he be, the law stands so.
Yet, if he seek to fly, give way;
Hinder him not, but let him go."

So saying, The King took a stone,
And cast it softly; but the man,
With a great joy upon his face,
Kneeled down, and cried not, neither ran.

So they, whose lot it was, cast stones,
That they flew thick and bruised him sore,
But he praised Allah with loud voice,
And remained kneeling as before.

My lord had covered up his face;
But when one told him, "He is dead,"
Turning him quickly to go in,
"Bring thou to me his corpse," he said.

And truly while I speak, O King,
I hear the bearers on the stair;
Wilt thou they straightway bring him in?
Ho! enter ye who tarry there!

The Vizier

O King, in this I praise thee not.
Now must I call thy grief not wise,
Is he thy friend, or of thy blood,
To find such favor in thine eyes?

Nay, were he thine own mother's son,
Still, thou art king, and the law stands.
It were not meet the balance swerved,
The sword were broken in thy hands.

But being nothing, as he is,
Why for no cause make sad thy face?
Lo, I am old! Three kings, ere thee,
Have I seen reigning in this place.

But who, through all this length of time,
Could bear the burden of his years,
If he for strangers pained his heart
Not less than those who merit tears?

Fathers we must have, wife and child,
And grievous is the grief for these;
This pain alone, which must be borne,
Makes the head white, and bows the knees.

But other loads than this his own
One man is not well made to bear.
Besides, to each are his own friends,
To mourn with him, and show him care.

Look, this is but one single place,
Though it be great; all the earth round,
If a man bear to have it so,
Things which might vex him shall be found.

All these have sorrow, and keep still,
Whilst other men make cheer, and sing,
Wilt thou have pity on all these?
No, nor on this dead dog, O King!

The King

O Vizier, thou art old, I young!
Clear in these things I cannot see.
My head is burning, and a heat
Is in my skin which angers me.

But hear ye this, ye sons of men!
They that bear rule, and are obeyed,
Unto a rule more strong than theirs
Are in their turn obedient made.

In vain therefore, with wistful eyes
Gazing up hither, the poor man
Who loiters by the high-heaped booths,
Below there in the Registan,

Says: "Happy he, who lodges there!
With silken raiment, store of rice,
And for this drought, all kinds of fruits,
Grape-syrup, squares of colored ice,

With cherries served in drifts of snow."
In vain hath a king power to build
Houses, arcades, enameled mosques;
And to make orchard-closes, filled

With curious fruit-trees brought from far;
With cisterns for the winter rain;
And in the desert, spacious inns
In divers places if that pain

Is not more lightened, which he feels,
If his will be not satisfied;
And that it be not, from all time
The law is planted, to abide.

Thou wast a sinner, thou poor man!
Thou wast athirst, and didst not see
That, though we take what we desire,
We must not snatch it eagerly.

And I have meat and drink at will,
And rooms of treasures, not a few,
But I am sick, nor heed I these;
And what I would, I cannot do.

Even the great honor which I have,
When I am dead, will soon grow still;
So have I neither joy nor fame
But what I can do, that I will.

I have a fretted brickwork tomb
Upon a hill on the right hand,
Hard by a close of apricots,
Upon the road of Samarcand;

Thither, O Vizier, will I bear
This man my pity could not save,
And plucking up the marble flags,
There lay his body in my grave.

Bring water, nard, and linen rolls!
Wash off all blood, set smooth each limb!
Then say: "He was not wholly vile,
Because a king shall bury him."

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