“THE BURIED LIFE” by Matthew Arnold




Fate, which foresaw

How frivolous a baby man would be—

By what distractions he would be possess’d,

How he would pour himself in every strife,

And well-nigh change his own identity—

That it might keep from his capricious play

His genuine self, and force him to obey

Even in his own despite his being’s law,

Bade through the deep recesses of our breast

The unregarded river of our life

Pursue with indiscernible flow its way;

And that we should not see

The buried stream, and seem to be

Eddying at large in blind uncertainty,

Though driving on with it eternally.


But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,

But often, in the din of strife,

There rises an unspeakable desire

After the knowledge of our buried life;

A thirst to spend our fire and restless force

In tracking out our true, original course;

A longing to inquire

Into the mystery of this heart which beats

So wild, so deep in us—to know

Whence our lives come and where they go.


And many a man in his own breast then delves,

But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.

And we have been on many thousand lines,

And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;

But hardly have we, for one little hour,

Been on our own line, have we been ourselves—

Hardly had skill to utter one of all

The nameless feelings that course through our breast,

But they course on for ever unexpress’d.


And long we try in vain to speak and act

Our hidden self, and what we say and do

Is eloquent, is well—but ‘t is not true!

And then we will no more be rack’d

With inward striving, and demand

Of all the thousand nothings of the hour

Their stupefying power;

Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!


Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,

From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne

As from an infinitely distant land,

Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey

A melancholy into all our day.

Only—but this is rare—

When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,

When, jaded with the rush and glare

Of the interminable hours,

Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,

When our world-deafen’d ear

Is by the tones of a loved voice caress’d—

A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,

And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.

The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,

And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.

A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,

And hears its winding murmur; and he sees

The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.




  1. Well, it’s much easier to take things easy: go with the flow and avoid the dangerous rapids of introspection where too much would be revealed below the surface of our travels, into the dangerous deep, as it were. But those with curiosity cannot fail to undertake inquiry. Most of us would rather not think too deeply on’t. We dare not. Save for those of us who are optimists. And when there is a clear-eyed lover at hand, the fog dissipates and we are wont to bare all. The last two lines of your excerpt are poetically striking and most beautiful .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful. The poem ends thus:

    “And then he thinks he knows
    The hills where his life rose,
    And the sea where it goes.”

    Does he live forever in that state from that point on, I wonder? It would be nice to think that he does. That having discovered his “life’s flow” he lives thereafter in “The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s