Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/841

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POETRY AND SCIENCE.

with less of hope, he approached this obstinate issue; but the answer of the sphinx was still, as it were, couched in riddles. Thus his message to men was almost always a message of moods; brief seasons of faith alternating with other seasons in which the sense of loss was so strong upon him that he was tempted to struggle to save some floating remnant, worthless though it might turn out to be, from the universal wreck of belief that was going on around him.

An equally characteristic and far more considerable exponent of this attitude and mood of mind was Clough's friend Arnold. It was his mission, too, to give poetic voice to the emotional restlessness and craving which—inevitably as we now see—went along with the intellectual progressiveness of his age. Arnold (whose verse and prose, earlier and later, treatments of these themes furnish subject-matter for most instructive contrast) has given us the key to his position, while at the same time he has shown us how acutely that position was realized by him in the familiar lines in the splendid Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse, in which he describes himself as "wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born." The old faith had gone with the old theories of the universe and man, and the new theories of the universe and man had not yet revealed themselves in a religious light, or even shown themselves capable of such revelation. For the time being they were hard, dry facts of science merely; that they would ever be more than this was far from clear. Hence "the hopeless tangle of the age," the "strange disease of modern life," the sense of futility and despair, so characteristic of the large body of his poetic work. In the wonderful poem just above referred to—a poem that can hardly be read too often or too carefully as an exposition of the spiritual conditions of the man and his time—all this is made particularly clear. Why does Arnold linger among the shadows and traditions of the old Carthusian home—he a skeptic of the later time? Because he is seeking sadly for the spiritual comfort which all the while he knows he can never find, either in the old creed, because he has intellectually outgrown it, or in the new, because he has not yet emotionally appropriated it. Thus he must let the world go its way, with some hope for the coming race of men, perhaps, but for himself and his own time, none.[1]

For Clough and Arnold, then, knowledge and feeling were out of harmony; yet at times they seem to have caught glimpses of


  1. The skepticism of Arnold and Clough is to be found deepened to absolute despair in the works of many of the minor verse-writers of the time—as notably in that superb expression of pure pessimism—The City of Dreadful Night. But conditions of space forbid my following the matter into these further details.