Featured Poem: Say not the Struggle nought Availeth by Arthur Hugh Clough

Our Featured Poem this week comes from Arthur Hugh Clough who declares Say not the Struggle nought Availeth.

Born in Liverpool in 1819, Clough’s family moved to the United States when he was just three years old and his childhood was spent in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1828 however, Arthur and his older brother Charles returned to England to attend school in Chester and later studied at Rugby and at Balliol College, Oxford.

He surprised his family and peers by graduating from Oxford with only Second Class Honours but did win a fellowship with a tutorship at Oriel College. However, unwilling to fulfil the requirement of his tutorship to teach the doctrines of the Church of England, Clough resigned his position in 1848 and travelled to Paris where the French Revolution was underway.

Inspired by what he had witnessed, Clough wrote a long poem called The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich, which for many marked his detachment from academic life. He witnessed another revolution the following year, the siege of the Roman Republic, which inspired his poem Amours de Voyage.

Having become financially responsible for his mother and sisters in 1846, Clough took up the role of principal of University Hall, a hostel for Unitarian students at University College, London, but again found the ideology as oppressive as that he’d experienced in Oxford.

After a brief spell lecturing and editing in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a job offer from the Education Office in London brought him back to the UK where he married Miss Shore Smith, a cousin of Florence Nightingale for whom he worked as an unpaid secretarial assistant for some time. He wrote little to no poetry for six years.

Despite a dip in health, Clough began a European tour in 1860, invigorated by the experience he wrote his last poem Mari Magno. Clough died in Florence on November 13, 1861, and is buried in the English cemetery there.

Say not the Struggle nought Availeth

Say not the struggle nought availeth,
     The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
     And as things have been they remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
     It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,
     And, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking
     Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making,
     Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only,
     When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
     But westward, look, the land is bright.
Arthur Hugh Clough

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