I confess that I tend to think of Matthew Arnold as a staid Victorian: the inspector of schools, the prescriptive author of Culture and Anarchy, the long-winded poet of "Empedocles on Etna," et cetera. But I should know better. In fact, his poetry has surprising moments of passion and directness. For instance, the following poem sounds like something that Thomas Hardy could have written in the early 20th century.
Why each is striving, from of old,
To love more deeply than he can?
Still would be true, yet still grows cold?
-- Ask of the Powers that sport with man!
They yoked in him, for endless strife,
A heart of ice, a soul of fire;
And hurled him on the Field of Life,
An aimless unallayed Desire.
Matthew Arnold, Empedocles on Etna and Other Poems (1852).
Kenneth Allott, who edited and annotated The Poems of Matthew Arnold (1965), believes that Arnold wrote "Destiny" in 1849 or 1850, when he was 27 or 28 years old. For an interesting investigation of Arnold's poetic career, I recommend Ian Hamilton's A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold (Bloomsbury 1998). Nicholas Murray's A Life of Matthew Arnold (Hodder & Stoughton 1996) is also excellent.
Although I have posted the following poem once before, I think that reading it in conjunction with "Destiny" may throw some light upon both poems. (It is untitled.)
Below the surface-stream, shallow and light,
Of what we say we feel -- below the stream,
As light, of what we think we feel -- there flows
With noiseless current strong, obscure and deep,
The central stream of what we feel indeed.
The poem was published in The Cornhill Magazine in November of 1869, but it was never reprinted in any of the collections of Arnold's poetry that were published in his lifetime.