And as well as penning ‘Thyrsis’, his celebrated elegy for the death of his old friend Arthur Hugh Clough, and ‘Dover Beach’, his lament for Victorian faith, the poet and educator Matthew Arnold (1822-88) also wrote elegies for his pet dog Geist and his canary Matthias. In ‘Geist’s Grave’, Arnold celebrates the four brief years he had his dog Geist, the dachshund who was his ‘little friend’, by his side.
Four years!—and didst thou stay above
The ground, which hides thee now, but four?
And all that life, and all that love,
Were crowded, Geist! into no more?
Only four years those winning ways,
Which make me for thy presence yearn,
Call’d us to pet thee or to praise,
Dear little friend! at every turn?
That loving heart, that patient soul,
Had they indeed no longer span,
To run their course, and reach their goal,
And read their homily to man? Read the rest of this entry
On Arnold’s little-known meditation on growing older
‘Growing old’s like being increasingly penalised for a crime you haven’t committed.’ So said the great novelist Anthony Powell, summing up the sense of injustice that accompanies the onset of old age. There’s even a word for a fear of growing old: gerascophobia. In one of his less famous poems, the Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold (1822-88) wondered what it means to grow old.
What is it to grow old?
Is it to lose the glory of the form,
The lustre of the eye?
Is it for beauty to forgo her wreath?
—Yes, but not this alone.
Is it to feel our strength—
Not our bloom only, but our strength—decay? Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a little-known miniature poem
‘Below the surface-stream, shallow and light’: so begins a little gem of a poem which features in the complete poems of Victorian poet Matthew Arnold (1822-88). Arnold famously gave up poetry because he felt he had largely failed in his vocation, but as this five-line poem shows, he sometimes had a succinct way with words which many of his wordier contemporaries could never master.
Below the surface-stream, shallow and light,
Of what we say we feel – below the stream,
As light, of what we think we feel – there flows
With noiseless current strong, obscure and deep,
The central stream of what we feel indeed. Read the rest of this entry