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Poem by Matthew Arnold

Heine’s Grave

  ‘HENRI HEINE’——’tis here!
The black tombstone, the name
Carved there—no more! and the smooth,
Swarded alleys, the limes
Touch’d with yellow by hot
Summer, but under them still
In September’s bright afternoon
Shadow, and verdure, and cool!
Trim Montmartre! the faint
Murmur of Paris outside;
Crisp everlasting-flowers,
Yellow and black, on the graves.

Half blind, palsied, in pain,
Hither to come, from the streets’
Uproar, surely not loath
Wast thou, Heine!—to lie
Quiet! to ask for closed
Shutters, and darken’d room,
And cool drinks, and an eased
Posture, and opium, no more!
Hither to come, and to sleep
Under the wings of Renown.
Ah! not little, when pain
Is most quelling, and man
Easily quell’d, and the fine
Temper of genius alive
Quickest to ill, is the praise
Not to have yielded to pain!
No small boast, for a weak
Son of mankind, to the earth
Pinn’d by the thunder, to rear
His bolt-scathed front to the stars;
And, undaunted, retort
’Gainst thick-crashing, insane,
Tyrannous tempests of bale,
Arrowy lightnings of soul!

Hark! through the alley resounds
Mocking laughter! A film
Creeps o’er the sunshine; a breeze
Ruffles the warm afternoon,
Saddens my soul with its chill.
Gibing of spirits in scorn
Shakes every leaf of the grove,
Mars the benignant repose
Of this amiable home of the dead.

Bitter spirits! ye claim
Heine?—Alas, he is yours!
Only a moment I long’d
Here in the quiet to snatch
From such mates the outworn
Poet, and steep him in calm.
Only a moment! I knew
Whose he was who is here
Buried, I knew he was yours!
Ah, I knew that I saw
Here no sepulchre built
In the laurell’d rock, o’er the blue
Naples bay, for a sweet
Tender Virgil! no tomb
On Ravenna sands, in the shade
Of Ravenna pines, for a high
Austere Dante! no grave
By the Avon side, in the bright
Stratford meadows, for thee,
Shakespeare! loveliest of souls,
Peerless in radiance, in joy.

What so harsh and malign,
Heine! distils from thy life,
Poisons the peace of thy grave?

  I chide with thee not, that thy sharp
Upbraidings often assail’d
England, my country; for we,
Fearful and sad, for her sons,
Long since, deep in our hearts,
Echo the blame of her foes.
We, too, sigh that she flags;
We, too, say that she now,
Scarce comprehending the voice
Of her greatest, golden-mouth’d sons
Of a former age any more,
Stupidly travels her round
Of mechanic business, and lets
Slow die out of her life
Glory, and genius, and joy.

So thou arraign’st her, her foe;
So we arraign her, her sons.

Yes, we arraign her! but she,
The weary Titan! with deaf
Ears, and labour-dimm’d eyes,
Regarding neither to right
Nor left, goes passively by,
Staggering on to her goal;
Bearing on shoulders immense,
Atlanteän, the load,
Wellnigh not to be borne,
Of the too vast orb of her fate.

But was it thou—I think
Surely it was—that bard
Unnamed, who, Goethe said,
Had every other gift, but wanted love;
Love, without which the tongue
Even of angels sounds amiss?
Charm is the glory which makes
Song of the poet divine;
Love is the fountain of charm.
How without charm wilt thou draw,
Poet! the world to thy way?
Not by the lightnings of wit!
Not by the thunder of scorn!
These to the world, too, are given;
Wit it possesses, and scorn—
Charm is the poet’s alone.
Hollow and dull are the great,
And artists envious, and the mob profane.
We know all this, we know!
Cam’st thou from heaven, O child
Of light! but this to declare?
Alas! to help us forget
Such barren knowledge awhile,
God gave the poet his song.

Therefore a secret unrest
Tortured thee, brilliant and bold!
Therefore triumph itself
Tasted amiss to thy soul.
Therefore, with blood of thy foes,
Trickled in silence thine own.
Therefore the victor’s heart
Broke on the field of his fame.

Ah! as of old, from the pomp
Of Italian Milan, the fair
Flower of marble of white
Southern palaces—steps
Border’d by statues, and walks
Terraced, and orange bowers
Heavy with fragrance—the blond
German Kaiser full oft
Long’d himself back to the fields,
Rivers, and high-roof’d towns
Of his native Germany; so,
So, how often! from hot
Paris drawing-rooms, and lamps
Blazing, and brilliant crowds,
Starr’d and jewell’d, of men
Famous, of women the queens
Of dazzling converse, and fumes
Of praise—hot, heady fumes, to the poor brain
That mount, that madden!—how oft
Heine’s spirit outworn
Long’d itself out of the din
Back to the tranquil, the cool
Far German home of his youth!

See! in the May afternoon,
O’er the fresh short turf of the Hartz,
A youth, with the foot of youth,
Heine! thou climbest again.
Up, through the tall dark firs
Warming their heads in the sun,
Chequering the grass with their shade—
Up, by the stream with its huge
Moss-hung boulders and thin
Musical water half-hid—
Up, o’er the rock-strewn slope,
With the sinking sun, and the air
Chill, and the shadows now
Long on the grey hill-side—
To the stone-roof’d hut at the top.

Or, yet later, in watch
On the roof of the Brocken tower
Thou standest, gazing! to see
The broad red sun, over field
Forest and city and spire
And mist-track’d stream of the wide
Wide German land, going down
In a bank of vapours—again
Standest! at nightfall, alone.

Or, next morning, with limbs
Rested by slumber, and heart
Freshen’d and light with the May,
O’er the gracious spurs coming down
Of the Lower Hartz, among oaks,	
And beechen coverts, and copse
Of hazels green in whose depth
Ilse, the fairy transform’d,
In a thousand water-breaks light
Pours her petulant youth—
Climbing the rock which juts
O’er the valley, the dizzily perch’d
Rock! to its Iron Cross
Once more thou cling’st; to the Cross
Clingest! with smiles, with a sigh.

Goethe, too, had been there. 1
In the long-past winter he came
To the frozen Hartz, with his soul
Passionate, eager, his youth
All in ferment;—but he
Destined to work and to live
Left it, and thou, alas!
Only to laugh and to die.

But something prompts me: Not thus
Take leave of Heine, not thus
Speak the last word at his grave!
Not in pity and not
With half censure—with awe
Hail, as it passes from earth
Scattering lightnings, that soul!

The spirit of the world
Beholding the absurdity of men—
Their vaunts, their feats—let a sardonic smile
For one short moment wander o’er his lips.
That smile was Heine! for its earthly hour
The strange guest sparkled; now ’tis pass’d away.

That was Heine! and we,
Myriads who live, who have lived,
What are we all, but a mood,
A single mood, of the life
Of the Being in whom we exist,
Who alone is all things in one.

  Spirit, who fillest us all!
Spirit who utterest in each
New-coming son of mankind
Such of thy thoughts as thou wilt!
O thou, one of whose moods,
Bitter and strange, was the life
Of Heine—his strange, alas!
His bitter life—may a life
Other and milder be mine!
May’st thou a mood more serene,
Happier, have utter’d in mine!
May’st thou the rapture of peace
Deep have embreathed at its core!
Made it a ray of thy thought!
Made it a beat of thy joy!

Note 1. Goethe, too, had been there. 
See Harzreise im Winter in Goethe’s Gedichte. 

Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold's other poems:
  1. To Marguerite: Continued
  2. Calais Sands
  3. Stanzas Composed at Carnac
  4. Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse
  5. East and West

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