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.
[from The Buried Life]

When I was walking across the drawbridge to the barrier island near my house, I stopped to take a photo of the marsh and Intracoastal Waterway and the scene suddenly made me think of “The Buried Life” by Matthew Arnold. How strange to have words from a Victorian poet time travel into such a setting, but somehow it seemed perfectly fitting, absolutely right. When I first read his poem in an English Lit class years ago, I felt an immediate recognition, as if someone had a key to my heart, and I could feel the tumblers clicking into place. I wasn’t alone in being overcome by some “nameless sadness” when I was with a lover; someone else had wondered if one’s deepest self could ever be fully known, even by those we love the most. It seemed a wholly modern poem, remarkable for its insight into the human psyche, the hidden self we all long to reveal, to share with another. Reading it again recently, it seems as fresh and moving as it did the first time I discovered it. We all have that longing to be known, to be recognized for who we really are, not what we seem–the constant hunger for it can drive us to God, sex or celibacy, work, food or drink, NASCAR, politics or piling up money–the substitutes are endless. Lucky Matthew Arnold, that it drove him to poetry.