Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day 117/365 Searching of Mortality

Bookselling means I find occasionally books of poetry wandering across my desk.

This time it's Matthew Arnold, an Englishman, born in 1822 and living through most of the 19th century, dying unexpectedly in 1888.

Mr. Arnold had the somewhat humdrum occupation of being a school inspector (similar to our school board positions, except across all of England). His official title was Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools, which sounds a lot better than "School Board Superintendant" or even "Secretary of Education". The Brits always have better names for things than we do.

Despite the fancy title, Mr. Arnold described his job as "drudgery", travelled almost constantly, and took the position only so he could afford to marry and support a family.

His poetry is unusual, as were his religious views for his time. He once characterized religion as "morality touched with emotion".

Here's a brief sample:

Others abide our question. Thou art free.
We ask and ask: Thou smilest and art still,
Out-topping knowledge. For the loftiest hill
That to the stars uncrowns his majesty,
Planting his stedfast footsteps in the sea,
Making the Heaven of Heavens his dwelling-place,
Spares but the cloudy border of his base
To the foil'd searching of mortality:
And thou, who didst the stars and sunbeams know,
Self-school'd, self-scann'd. self-honour'd, self-secure,
Didst walk on Earth unguess'd at. Better so!
All pains the immortal spirit must endure,
All weakness that impairs, all griefs that bow,
Find their sole voice in that victorious brow.

How could I not love a poet that shows such a love of Shakespeare?

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