Matthew Arnold

Here you will find the Long Poem Rugby Chapel: November 1857 of poet Matthew Arnold

Rugby Chapel: November 1857

Coldly, sadly descends 
 The autumn-evening. The field 
 Strewn with its dank yellow drifts 
 Of wither'd leaves, and the elms, 
 Fade into dimness apace, 
 Silent;--hardly a shout 
 From a few boys late at their play! 
 The lights come out in the street, 
 In the school-room windows;--but cold, 
 Solemn, unlighted, austere, 
 Through the gathering darkness, arise 
 The chapel-walls, in whose bound 
 Thou, my father! art laid. 

 There thou dost lie, in the gloom 
 Of the autumn evening. But ah! 
 That word, gloom, to my mind 
 Brings thee back, in the light 
 Of thy radiant vigour, again; 
 In the gloom of November we pass'd 
 Days not dark at thy side; 
 Seasons impair'd not the ray 
 Of thy buoyant cheerfulness clear. 
 Such thou wast! and I stand 
 In the autumn evening, and think 
 Of bygone autumns with thee. 

 Fifteen years have gone round 
 Since thou arosest to tread, 
 In the summer-morning, the road 
 Of death, at a call unforeseen, 
 Sudden. For fifteen years, 
 We who till then in thy shade 
 Rested as under the boughs 
 Of a mighty oak, have endured 
 Sunshine and rain as we might, 
 Bare, unshaded, alone, 
 Lacking the shelter of thee. 

 O strong soul, by what shore 
 Tarriest thou now? For that force, 
 Surely, has not been left vain! 
 Somewhere, surely afar, 
 In the sounding labour-house vast 
 Of being, is practised that strength, 
 Zealous, beneficent, firm! 

 Yes, in some far-shining sphere, 
 Conscious or not of the past, 
 Still thou performest the word 
 Of the Spirit in whom thou dost live-- 
 Prompt, unwearied, as here! 
 Still thou upraisest with zeal 
 The humble good from the ground, 
 Sternly repressest the bad! 
 Still, like a trumpet, dost rouse 
 Those who with half-open eyes 
 Tread the border-land dim 
 'Twixt vice and virtue; reviv'st, 
 Succourest!--this was thy work, 
 This was thy life upon earth. 

 What is the course of the life 
 Of mortal men on the earth?-- 
 Most men eddy about 
 Here and there--eat and drink, 
 Chatter and love and hate, 
 Gather and squander, are raised 
 Aloft, are hurl'd in the dust, 
 Striving blindly, achieving 
 Nothing; and then they die-- 
 Perish;--and no one asks 
 Who or what they have been, 
 More than he asks what waves, 
 In the moonlit solitudes mild 
 Of the midmost Ocean, have swell'd, 
 Foam'd for a moment, and gone. 

 And there are some, whom a thirst 
 Ardent, unquenchable, fires, 
 Not with the crowd to be spent, 
 Not without aim to go round 
 In an eddy of purposeless dust, 
 Effort unmeaning and vain. 
 Ah yes! some of us strive 
 Not without action to die 
 Fruitless, but something to snatch 
 From dull oblivion, nor all 
 Glut the devouring grave! 
 We, we have chosen our path-- 
 Path to a clear-purposed goal, 
 Path of advance!--but it leads 
 A long, steep journey, through sunk 
 Gorges, o'er mountains in snow. 
 Cheerful, with friends, we set forth-- 
 Then on the height, comes the storm. 
 Thunder crashes from rock 
 To rock, the cataracts reply, 
 Lightnings dazzle our eyes. 
 Roaring torrents have breach'd 
 The track, the stream-bed descends 
 In the place where the wayfarer once 
 Planted his footstep--the spray 
 Boils o'er its borders! aloft 
 The unseen snow-beds dislodge 
 Their hanging ruin; alas, 
 Havoc is made in our train! 
 Friends, who set forth at our side, 
 Falter, are lost in the storm. 
 We, we only are left! 
 With frowning foreheads, with lips 
 Sternly compress'd, we strain on, 
 On--and at nightfall at last 
 Come to the end of our way, 
 To the lonely inn 'mid the rocks; 
 Where the gaunt and taciturn host 
 Stands on the threshold, the wind 
 Shaking his thin white hairs-- 
 Holds his lantern to scan 
 Our storm-beat figures, and asks: 
 Whom in our party we bring? 
 Whom we have left in the snow? 
 Sadly we answer: We bring 
 Only ourselves! we lost 
 Sight of the rest in the storm. 
 Hardly ourselves we fought through, 
 Stripp'd, without friends, as we are. 
 Friends, companions, and train, 
 The avalanche swept from our side. 

 But thou woulds't not alone 
 Be saved, my father! alone 
 Conquer and come to thy goal, 
 Leaving the rest in the wild. 
 We were weary, and we 
 Fearful, and we in our march 
 Fain to drop down and to die. 
 Still thou turnedst, and still 
 Beckonedst the trembler, and still 
 Gavest the weary thy hand. 

 If, in the paths of the world, 
 Stones might have wounded thy feet, 
 Toil or dejection have tried 
 Thy spirit, of that we saw 
 Nothing--to us thou wage still 
 Cheerful, and helpful, and firm! 
 Therefore to thee i