Monday, May 16, 2005

To Marguerite--Continued

by Matthew Arnold

Yes! in the sea of life enisled,
With echoing straits between us thrown,
Dotting the shoreless watery wild,
We mortal millions live alone.
The islands feel the enclasping flow,
And then their endless bounds they know.

But when the moon their hollows lights,
And they are swept by balms of spring,
And in their glens, on starry nights,
The nightingales divinely sing;
And lovely notes, from shore to shore,
Across the sounds and channels pour—

Oh! then a longing like despair
Is to their farthest caverns sent;
For surely once, they feel, we were
Parts of a single continent!
Now round us spreads the watery plain—
Oh might our marges meet again!

Who ordered, that their longing's fire
Should be, as soon as kindled, cooled?
Who renders vain their deep desire?—
A God, a God their severance ruled!
And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumbed, salt, estranging sea.

* * *

This is one of my favorite melancholy poems. I get in these mopey moods sometimes and have to read Arnold. I guess it's in my blood: Matthew Arnold is a long-distant uncle of mine.

It's a response to Donne's line, "No man is an island." In one way, certainly, Donne is right: the things we do affect others. But Arnold is also right: we are not all one; we are eternally separate. Sometimes, of course, this is a good thing, but sometimes, "when the moon their hollows lights," people begin to realize how badly they want at least some unity with each other.

While it's true that we can never know another human being absolutely, and that we must be separate in many ways and alone at many times, people also have a longing to connect with each other. And in different ways, we do manage it: friendship, marriage, and highest of all, the union of the Church.


Annie Anniette said...

I love your comments about the poems. I wish I were more of an appreciator of poetry, but alas, it sounds so much better when I hear you quote it than when I read it. However, your comments here really speak to much of what I have been considering over the last couple of years since my divorce. Love you and looking forward to seeing you.

Sheila said...

I'm looking forward to "connecting" with you with a great big hug. I love you!