Sunday poetry – Matthew Arnold

Coincidentally, this week’s Sunday poet, Matthew Arnold (picture from here), was a friend of last week’s Sunday poet, Arthur Hugh Clough. Arnold was the son of the famous founder of Rugby School, Thomas Arnold & Clough & young Arnold were pupils there. He’s probably best known these days for his beautiful poem, Dover Beach, partly written while he was on honeymoon. However, I’ve chosen the opening stanzas from another poem, Rugby Chapel, about a sombre, reflective visit to his father’s grave 15 years after his death.

Coldly, sadly descends
The autumn evening. The field
Strewn with its dank yellow drifts
Of withered 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 passed
Days not dark at thy side;
Seasons impaired 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.

This is the last Sunday poem from my anthology, A Book of English Poetry, collected by G B Harrison in 1950. Next week, I’m going to take down another battered Penguin anthology, Scottish Love Poems, edited by Antonia Fraser, & share my favourite poems from this lovely anthology published in 1976.

2 thoughts on “Sunday poetry – Matthew Arnold

  1. I enjoy your Sunday poetry and am glad you are going to continue them. I love the image of the sheltering oak in this week's selection and am going to have to check out the rest of the poem. Thanks! Susan E

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  2. I'm glad you like the poetry Susan, I've enjoyed reading it again. I read lots of poetry when I was younger but I'd lost the habit. I have dozens of anthologies so i could keep going indefinitely!

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