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Matthew Arnold (1822–88). The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867. 1909.

The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems

Fragment of an ‘Antigone’

[First published 1849. Reprinted 1855.]

WELL hath he done who hath seiz’d happiness.

For little do the all-containing Hours,

Though opulent, freely give.

Who, weighing that life well

Fortune presents unpray’d,

Declines her ministry, and carves his own:

And, justice not infring’d,

Makes his own welfare his unswerv’d-from law.

He does well too, who keeps that clue the mild

Birth-Goddess and the austere Fates first gave.

For from the day when these

Bring him, a weeping child,

First to the light, and mark

A country for him, kinsfolk, and a home,

Unguided he remains,

Till the Fates come again, alone, with death.

In little companies,

And, our own place once left,

Ignorant where to stand, or whom to avoid,

By city and household group’d, we live: and many shocks

Our order heaven-ordain’d

Must every day endure.

Voyages, exiles, hates, dissensions, wars.

Besides what waste He makes,

The all-hated, order-breaking,

Without friend, city, or home,

Death, who dissevers all.

Him then I praise, who dares

To self-selected good

Prefer obedience to the primal law,

Which consecrates the ties of blood: for these, indeed,

Are to the Gods a care:

That touches but himself.

For every day man may be link’d and loos’d

With strangers: but the bond

Original, deep-inwound,

Of blood, can he not bind:

Nor, if Fate binds, not bear.

But hush! Haemon, whom Antigone,

Robbing herself of life in burying,

Against Creon’s law, Polynices,

Robs of a lov’d bride; pale, imploring,

Waiting her passage,

Forth from the palace hitherward comes.

No, no, old men, Creon I curse not.

I weep, Thebans,

One than Creon crueller far.

For he, he, at least, by slaying her,

August laws doth mightily vindicate:

But thou, too-bold, headstrong, pitiless,

Ah me!—honourest more than thy lover,

O Antigone,

A dead, ignorant, thankless corpse.

Nor was the love untrue

Which the Dawn-Goddess bore

To that fair youth she erst

Leaving the salt sea-beds

And coming flush’d over the stormy frith

Of loud Euripus, saw:

Saw and snatch’d, wild with love,

From the pine-dotted spurs

Of Parnes, where thy waves,

Asopus, gleam rock-hemm’d;

The Hunter of the Tanagraean Field.

But him, in his sweet prime,

By severance immature,

By Artemis’ soft shafts,

She, though a Goddess born,

Saw in the rocky isle of Delos die.

Such end o’ertook that love.

For she desir’d to make

Immortal mortal man,

And blend his happy life,

Far from the Gods, with hers:

To him postponing an eternal law.

But, like me, she, wroth, complaining,

Succumb’d to the envy of unkind Gods:

And, her beautiful arms unclasping,

Her fair Youth unwillingly gave.

Nor, though enthron’d too high

To fear assault of envious Gods,

His belov’d Argive Seer would Zeus retain

From his appointed end

In this our Thebes: but when

His flying steeds came near

To cross the steep Ismenian glen,

The broad Earth open’d and whelm’d them and him;

And through the void air sang

At large his enemy’s spear.

And fain would Zeus have sav’d his tired son

Beholding him where the Two Pillars stand

O’er the sun-redden’d Western Straits:

Or at his work in that dim lower world.

Fain would he have recall’d

The fraudulent oath which bound

To a much feebler wight the heroic man:

But he preferr’d Fate to his strong desire.

Nor did there need less than the burning pile

Under the towering Trachis crags,

And the Spercheius’ vale, shaken with groans,

And the rous’d Maliac gulph,

And scar’d Oetaean snows,

To achieve his son’s deliverance, O my child.