EMPEDOCLES ON ETNA. A Dramatic Poem.

EMPEDOCLES ON ETNA. A Dramatic Poem.

by Matthew Arnold
     
 

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Scanned, proofed and corrected from the original edition for your reading pleasure.It is also searchable and contains hyper-links to chapters.

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"Empedocles on Etna" gives one the impression that a mind at work, powerful, spiritual in the highest sense, sick of

the gross materialism and hardness of this age, with a remedy for ills to be

Overview

Scanned, proofed and corrected from the original edition for your reading pleasure.It is also searchable and contains hyper-links to chapters.

***

"Empedocles on Etna" gives one the impression that a mind at work, powerful, spiritual in the highest sense, sick of

the gross materialism and hardness of this age, with a remedy for ills to be sure, yet one in which it does but half

believe. That a mind of the kind we are now considering should have been drawn to the story of Empedocles is not

strange, for if the little we know of the Agrigentian sage's philosophy be correct, he too holding the opposite of

sensualistic Wesleyanism and its degenerate derivative Beecherism, taught that the divinity was knowable only through

the intellect and not through the senses; that he was from everlasting and at rest. It is customary to regard the

dramatic framework of "Empedocles on Etna" as of the flimsiest description, and it might be judged from the remarks

of one eminent critic that the poet might with equal propriety have made Pythagoras his mouthpiece, save that

Pythagoras did not happen to jump into the crater. It needs but little study of the Empedocles of Arnold and the

original Empedocles to be convinced that this is a mistaken notion, to see that the poet has chosen Empedocles

because much of what weighed upon his soul and rendered unhappy his life in sunny Sicily twenty-three hundred years

ago bears more than an accidental resemblance to what troubles the most intellectual and sensitive minds of to-day.

Not long before Empedocles Agrigenture had groaned beneath the brute tyranny of Phalaris, and during his own time

Sicily was racked by cruel dissensions within and the unjust Athenian invasion from without. Compare then, this train

of thought from the "Empedocles on Etna."

"But over all the world
What suffering is there not seen
Of plainness oppress'd by cunning,
As the well-counsell'd Zeus oppress'd
That self-helping son of earth!
What anguish of greatness,
Rail'd and hunted from the world
Because its simplicity rebukes
This envious, miserable age!"

The following point is more curious than important. Compare also, keeping in mind what is now known of the changes of

physical organizations, the Eleatic doctrine ot Xenophanes as to the indestructibility and combination of matter,

with the soliloquy of Empedocles just before plunging into the crater.

"To the elements it came from
Everything will return—
Our bodies to earth,
Our blood to water,
Heat to fire,
Breath to air.
They were well born, they will be well entomb'd;
But mind? . . . .
But mind, but thought,
If these have been the master part of us—
Where will they find their parent element?
What will receive them, who will call them home?


The the real strain of thought running through "Empedocles on Etna," one of Mr. Arnold's earliest poems, and penetrating absolutely the exquisite lines from the Grande Chartreuse, and the second and very beautiful series of stanzas on the author of "Obermann," his latest and maturest poems. And through all these poems there runs, parallel with the moral antithesis we have mentioned, a current of intense delight in, and delicate critical power of delineating, the beauty of external nature, leas terse, less vividly coloured, and less pictorial than Tennyson's, less meditative than Clough's, but more finely pencilled than either, more marked by critical discrimination than either, more the vision of a serene and lucid contemplation, which dwells at length and with a rippling, liquid pertinacity on the distinctive features of the scenes it delights to observe, instead of condensing them into a few massive, pictorial strokes, or dissolving them in a mood of lyric regret. Mr. Arnold has never written anything more characteristic of both sides of his poetic genius,— this 'lucidity of soul,' and the thirst which slakes itself in dwelling on the natural beauty of the universe,—though he has written things of greater power iu themselves, than the following passage in that early poem called (or miscalled, we think) " Resignation," from which the phrase so descriptive of one characteristic of his own poetry is taken. It is easy to understand why the man one of whose earliest poems contained this exquisite analysis of the poet's delight in nature, has gained so completely the ear of our generation.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
2940013368279
Publisher:
Leila's Books
Publication date:
09/12/2011
Series:
The Poetical Works of Matthew Arnold , #1
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
574 KB

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