Morality (A Few Words for Wednesday)

A poem by Matthew Arnold (1822-1888).  Not a Catholic, Arnold hung out with John Keble and others from the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church.  You may recall that many in that movement eventually converted to Catholicism, such as Blessed John Henry Newman and Frederick Faber.  Arnold even heard some of Blessed JHN’s sermons, before JHN swam the Tiber.

As for me, I stumbled upon this poem in my favorite book about Ecclesiastes, written by another non-Catholic named Minos Devine.  John Wu once said (prior to his conversion) that as a Protestant,

I was free to choose whatever interpretation suited best my own reason, and (the Little Flower’s) interpretation was exactly the right one for me, and that made me a Catholic!

Using the same logic, I can say that all things that are good, and that are also Christian, belong to me too, since I am a Catholic. Do you think I’m walking a high-wire act with that statement? Lookee here. And dare I mention St. Paul’s words from his letter to the Philippians?

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.(Phil. 4:8)

Now, let us enjoy the following verses from the pen of Matthew Arnold.

Morality

We cannot kindle when we will
The fire which in the heart resides;
The spirit bloweth and is still,
In mystery our soul abides.
But tasks in hours of insight will’d
Can be through hours of gloom fulfill’d.

With aching hands and bleeding feet
We dig and heap, lay stone on stone;
We bear the burden and the heat
Of the long day, and wish ’twere done.
Not till the hours of light return,
All we have built do we discern.

Then, when the clouds are off the soul,
When thou dost bask in Nature’s eye,
Ask, how she view’d thy self-control,
Thy struggling, task’d morality–
Nature, whose free, light, cheerful air,
Oft made thee, in thy gloom, despair.

And she, whose censure thou dost dread,
Whose eye thou wast afraid to seek,
See, on her face a glow is spread,
A strong emotion on her cheek!
‘Ah, child!’ she cries, ‘that strife divine,
Whence was it, for it is not mine?

‘There is no effort on my brow–
I do not strive, I do not weep;
I rush with the swift spheres and glow
In joy, and when I will, I sleep.
Yet that severe, that earnest air,
I saw, I felt it once–but where?

‘I knew not yet the gauge of time,
Nor wore the manacles of space;
I felt it in some other clime,
I saw it in some other place.
‘Twas when the heavenly house I trod,
And lay upon the breast of God.’

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18154175028539882422 Left-footer

    This brought me near to tears: my favourite poem and poet.Thank you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Gulp! *keep the tissue box nearby*

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03792937108732259684 priest’s wife

    I just love Matthew Arnold!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    @priest's wife: so you'll be staying? ;)


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