The poetical works of Matthew Arnold/Fragment of an "Antigone"



Well hath he done who hath seized happiness!
For little do the all-containing hours,
Though opulent, freely give,—
Who, weighing that life well
Fortune presents unprayed,
Declines her ministry, and carves his own;
And, justice not infringed,
Makes his own welfare his unswerved-from law.

He does well too, who keeps that clew the mild
Birth-goddess and the austere Fates first gave.
For, from the day when these
Bring him, a weeping child,
First to the light, and mark
A country for him, kinsfolk, and a home,
Unguided he remains,
Till the Fates come again, this time with death.

In little companies,
And, our own place once left,
Ignorant where to stand, or whom to avoid,
By city and household grouped, we live; and many shocks
Our order heaven-ordained
Must every day endure,—
Voyages, exiles, hates, dissensions, wars.
Besides what waste he makes,
The all-hated, order-breaking,
Without friend, city, or home,—
Death, who dissevers all.

Him then I praise, who dares
To self-selected good
Prefer obedience to the primal law
Which consecrates the ties of blood; for these, indeed,
Are to the gods a care:
That touches but himself.
For every day man may be linked and loosed
With strangers; but the bond
Original, deep-inwound,
Of blood, can he not bind,
Nor, if fate binds, not bear.

But hush! Hæmon, whom Antigone,
Robbing herself of life in burying,
Against Creon's law, Polynices,
Robs of a loved bride,—pale, imploring,
Waiting her passage,
Forth from the palace hitherward comes.


No, no, old men, Creon I curse not!
I weep, Thebans,
One than Creon crueller far!
For he, he, at least, by slaying her,
August laws doth mightily vindicate;
But thou, too bold, headstrong, pitiless!—
Ah me!—honorest more than thy lover,
O Antigone!
A dead, ignorant, thankless corpse.


Nor was the love untrue
Which the Dawn-Goddess bore
To that fair youth she erst,
Leaving the salt sea-beds,
And coming flushed over the stormy frith
Of loud Euripus, saw,—
Saw and snatched, wild with love,
From the pine-dotted spurs
Of Parnes, where thy waves,
Asopus! gleam rock-hemmed,—
The Hunter of the Tanagræan Field.13

But him, in his sweet prime,
By severance immature,
By Artemis' soft shafts,
She, though a goddess born,
Saw in the rocky isle of Delos die.
Such end o'ertook that love.
For she desired to make
Immortal mortal man,
And blend his happy life,
Far from the gods, with hers;
To him postponing an eternal law.


But like me, she, wroth, complaining,
Succumbed to the envy of unkind gods;
And, her beautiful arms unclasping,
Her fair youth unwillingly gave.


Nor, though enthroned too high
To fear assault of envious gods,
His beloved Argive seer would Zeus retain
From his appointed end

In this our Thebes; but when
His flying steeds came near
To cross the steep Ismenian glen,
The broad earth opened, and whelmed them and him,
And through the void air sang
At large his enemy's spear.

And fain would Zeus have saved his tired son,
Beholding him where the Two Pillars stand
O'er the sun-reddened western straits,14
Or at his work in that dim lower world.
Fain would he have recalled
The fraudulent oath which bound
To a much feebler wight the heroic man.

But he preferred fate to his strong desire.
Nor did there need less than the burning pile
Under the towering Trachis crags,
And the Spercheios vale, shaken with groans,
And the roused Maliac gulf,
And scared Œtaean snows,
To achieve his son's deliverance, O my child!