Philomela, Matthew Arnold
Hark! ah, the nightingale--
Hark, from that moonlit cedar what a burst!
What triumph! hark! - what pain! (4)
O wanderer from a Grecian shore, (5)
Still, after many years, in distant lands,
Still nourishing in thy bewilder'd brain
That wild, unquench'd, deep-sunken, old-world pain--(8)
Say, will it never heal?
And can this fragrant lawn (10)
With its cool trees, and night,
And the sweet, tranquil Thames,
And moonshine, and the dew,
To thy rack'd heart and brain
Afford no balm? (15)
Dost thou to-night behold,
Here, through the moonlight on this English grass,
The unfriendly palace in the Thracian wild? (18)
Dost thou again peruse
With hot cheeks and sear'd eyes (20)
The too clear web, and thy dumb sister's shame? (21)
Dost thou once more assay
Thy flight, and feel come over thee,
Poor fugitive, the feathery change
Once more, and once more seem to make resound (25)
With love and hate, triumph and agony,
Lone Daulis, and the high Cephissian vale? (27)
How thick the bursts come crowding through the leaves! (29)
Again - thou hearest? (30)
Eternal pain! (32)
"Philomela unites the sensibilities and intellectual experience of modern Englishmen with the luminousness and simplicity of Greek poetry."—SAINTSBURY.
The myth of the nightingale has long been a favorite with the poets, who have variously interpreted the bird's song. See Coleridge's, Keats's, and Wordsworth's poems on the subject. The most common version of the myth, the one followed by Arnold, is as follows:—
"Pandion (son of Erichthonius, special ward to Minerva) had two daughters, Procne and Philomela, of whom he gave the former in marriage to Tereus, king of Thrace (or of Daulis in Phocis). This ruler, after his wife had borne him a son, Itys (or Itylus), wearied of her, plucked out her tongue by the roots to insure her silence, and, pretending that she was dead, took in marriage the other sister, Philomela. Procne, by means of a web, into which she wove her story, informed Philomela of the horrible truth. In revenge upon Tereus, the sisters killed Itylus, and served up the child as food to the father; but the gods, in indignation, transformed Procne into a swallow, Philomela into a nightingale, forever bemoaning the murdered Itylus, and Tereus into a hawk, forever pursuing the sisters."—GAYLEY'S Classic Myths.
4. Use the subjoined questions in studying the poem.
5. O wanderer from a Grecian shore. See note, l. 27.
8. Note the aptness and beauty of the adjectives in this line, not one of which could be omitted without irreparable loss.
18. Thracian wild. Thrace was the name used by the early Greeks for the entire region north of Greece.
21. The too clear web, etc. [p.185] See introductory note to poem for explanation of this and the following lines.
27. Daulis. A city of Phocis, Greece, twelve miles northeast of Delphi; the scene of the myth of Philomela. Cephessian vale. The valley of the Cephissus, a small stream running through Doris, Phocis, and Boeotia, into the Euboean Gulf.
29. How thick the bursts, etc. Compare with the following lines from Coleridge:—
"'Tis the merry nightingale
That crowds and hurries and precipitates
With fast, thick warble his delicious notes,
As he were fearful that an April night
Would be too short for him to utter forth
His love-chant, and disburthen his full soul
Of all its music!"
"O Nightingale! thou surely art
A creature of a 'fiery heart':—
These notes of thine—they pierce and pierce;
Tumultuous harmony and fierce!
Thou sing'st as if the god of wine
Had helped thee to a Valentine."
31-32. Eternal passion!
Eternal pain! Compare:—
"Thou warblest sad thy pity-pleading strains."
—COLERIDGE, To a Nightingale.
"Sweet bird ...
Most musical, most melancholy!"
—MILTON, Il Penseroso.
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