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Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 04, 2005 01:02PM

This untitled one by Arthur Hugh Clough (rhymes with enough) seems to me sufficiently appealing to justify study and maybe even memorizing. It is fairly short and easy to read: iambic tet rhyming abab, which the Toronto site labels Long Hymnal Measure. Clough probably doesn't get the exposure he deserves, and I can only remember one other famous one by him, The Last Decalogue. There are some shortfalls, with a few metric stumbles and the only/slowly rhyme, but I personally prefer a poem (and a woman, of course) that is less than completely perfect.



Say not the struggle naught 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 conceal'd,
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!


The vocabulary may be a bit too ancient (naught/availeth/faileth), but Clough died way back in 1861, in Florence, from malaria, aged unfortunately only 42. Malaria, like tuberculosis, claimed many noteworthy folks in the past, but luckily we don't see it much (except in third world countries) any more. I understand it still kills millions in the third world, but the whole DDT argument is another matter.

Fliers I am taking to mean those who flee, the main I suspect means a high sea.

I have some of the same misgivings as those leveled against Shakespeare for his 'take arms against a sea of troubles' mixed metaphor.

The theme might surely be taken as 'never give up the fight', and the second stanza is particularly appealing. That is, your comrades may even now be winning the battle, if only you would hold up your end of things. No sniveling! Still, I wonder about the third stanza, where the land battle moves apparently to one on the water.

I would be interested in reading other takes on the poem. Is it one of great inspiration, or merely a failed attempt at a rabble-rouser?


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: Linda (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 04, 2005 01:44PM

I read the third stanza as the poet on dry land looking out at the turn of the tide. The water level doesn't seem to change, but the saltmarshes are filling with water.

His use of main is an interesting shift in meaning over the years. According to the SOD it was originally the mainland and was then transfered to the adjoining sea, as in the Spanish Main.

Flier has the meaning "one who flies or flees" before "an airman" in Chambers but not SOD.


The New Oxford Book of English Verse has added another four of his poems to the one in Quiller-Couche's edition.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/04/2005 02:25PM by Linda.


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: lg (Moderator)
Date: December 04, 2005 03:13PM

Fascinating poem, Hugh. For those who may be interested here's a bio. of Arthur : [www.victorianweb.org] />

To me the crux of understanding comes from the second stanza, particularly this line:

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;

Meaning to me; that if one's hopes may be easily deceived, so one's fears may be false.

The last two lines of the second stanza are saying that except for you who are still struggling, your comrades control the field of battle.


The last line of the poem, holds another key to understanding in this line:

But westward, look, the land is bright!

Well certainly the land is not bright to the eyes, but he is probably using the 3rd or 4th meaning for "bright", i.e. "full of promise".

As to the meaning of "main", and that of the 3rd stanza. I think the word "main" alludes to the body of troops who are now advancing, not at all to water except in a metaphorical sense. [dictionary.reference.com] />
Given these interpretations, I'd have to say that the protagonist of the poem is a noble warrior.


Les

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 12/05/2005 10:31PM by lg.


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: PamAdams (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 05, 2005 01:32PM

The double negative in the first line is eye-catching. You have to stop to figure out what is said, which draws you into the poem.

The second stanza made me think of Henry V. In Act IV, Scene 7, the French are asking for a stop to battle.

KING HENRY V
I tell thee truly, herald,
I know not if the day be ours or no;
For yet a many of your horsemen peer
And gallop o'er the field.

MONTJOY
The day is yours.

pam


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: lg (Moderator)
Date: December 05, 2005 01:56PM

Pam, if the word "field" in S2L4 refers to "field of battle", then surely in line one of Stanza 3, the tired "waves" refers to waves of infantrymen. [www.google.com] />

Les


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/05/2005 01:58PM by lg.


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 05, 2005 02:03PM

waving back

helloeth !


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: PamAdams (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 05, 2005 06:59PM

lg Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

Pam, if the word "field" in S2L4 refers to "field
of battle", then surely in line one of Stanza 3,
the tired "waves" refers to waves of infantrymen.



Personally, I think it's both and either- but primarily the waves of the sea.

pam


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: lg (Moderator)
Date: December 05, 2005 08:15PM

primarily the waves of the sea.


Then Pam, you think this poem is about the sea and not about a battle?



Les


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: lg (Moderator)
Date: December 05, 2005 08:21PM

On a totally unrelated topic, has anyone heard from Marian-NYC ?


Les


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: IanB (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 05, 2005 09:14PM

you think this poem is about the sea and not about a battle?

I think the poem refers to both, but in each case only as a metaphor supporting the more general theme identified by Hugh of urging the reader not to despair and not to give up a struggle prematurely.

I agree with Les' interpretations of the 'hopes were dupes' and 'westward' parts of the poem.

Can't agree however that 'the main' refers to a body of troops, let alone a body of enemy troops [an antagonist]. The references to creeks and inlets would stretch that metaphor just too far.

Each of S2, S3 and S4 is putting forward a different metaphor for the S1 hortation that your prospects may well be better than you might suppose based just on what you can see before you or normally look at. It would be anomalous if the infantry battle metaphor in S2 was carried over to S3 but not to S4; and there's no poetical or logical need to regard S3 as an extension of S2.

I read the 'main' in S3 as referring to the sea in the form of the flood tide, thought of as something good (as in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar's 'There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune'). S3 is saying simply that even if the shore-break of waves on some beach within view doesn't appear to be advancing, you can be confident that the fortunate flood tide is happening unseen all around you.

Ian

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 12/05/2005 09:34PM by IanB.


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: PamAdams (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 05, 2005 09:33PM

It's both. I see s2 is the battle, s3 is the sea.

pam


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: lg (Moderator)
Date: December 05, 2005 10:36PM

Ian, I hold to my original interpretation. I think "main" refers to "main body" of troops. If you'll look at Clough's biography, you'll see that he was a soldier at one time, I'm not sure if he was ever a sailor though.

My bad with "antagonist", though. I should have used the word Protagonist, I've since edited that change.


Les


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: lg (Moderator)
Date: December 05, 2005 10:39PM

It's both. I see s2 is the battle, s3 is the sea.

What about stanza one? Do you think Clough said to himself, "I've written a couple of stanzas about a battle here, now I think I'll throw in a stanza about the ocean just for the fun of it?"


Les


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: IanB (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 05, 2005 11:36PM

Do you think Clough said to himself, "I've written a couple of stanzas about a battle here, now I think I'll throw in a stanza about the ocean just for the fun of it?"

I wouldn't put it like that, Les.

S1 (unlike lines 2, 3 and 4 of S2) isn't necessarily about an infantry battle. It's about struggle in general. Could be a political battle, or a war of ideas, or the war against terror, or any kind of vigorous conflict. The references in S1 to 'labour' and 'wounds' and 'enemy' have to be read in a general metaphoric sense.

The specific infantry battle metaphor only appears in S2. It is fully and (for purposes of the poem) sufficiently expressed there. AHC had no need to continue it into S3.

It wasn't a case of him then throwing in a stanza about the ocean 'just for the fun'. He presumably regarded the infantry battle metaphor alone as too narrow to support the S1 theme. He had a couple of additional supporting metaphors in mind, which he expressed in S3 and S4.

S2, S3 and S4 each make different points. S2 says in effect 'Don't let fears and confusion delude you into giving up your struggle. A victory may be within your grasp.'  S3 says in effect 'Don't despair. Help and opportunity are on the way to you, even though you might not be able to see that just yet.'  S4 says in effect 'If you want to be reassured that the dark situation enveloping you will soon be completely replaced by bright prospects, don't just look one way, towards the light source; look also the other way to where the darkness on the other side of you is being dispelled too.'

Ian

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 12/05/2005 11:43PM by IanB.


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: lg (Moderator)
Date: December 06, 2005 12:04AM

While I agree that the poem was certainly meant to be metaphorical, I don't think that the military aspect of it can be denied validity. For if it were merely about struggles in general why include these lines:


The enemy faints not, nor faileth,

Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,



Les


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: IanB (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 06, 2005 09:12AM

Les, if my earlier posts haven't persuaded you that this poem about struggle isn't limited to military struggle, probably nothing more I say will change your view!

For all I know, you may be correct historically. AHC may have had the army or some particular military conflict in mind when he wrote this poem.

Divorced from any such context however, I read the poem as wide enough to cover struggle against any antagonist(s), whether military or non-military. That's what I meant by 'struggle in general'. I didn't mean to include struggles in which there's no antagonist or nothing that can be personfied as an active antagonist, such as a struggle to stick to a diet, or to lower one's golfing handicap (though I suppose the 'never give up' attitude advocated by the poem could be useful in such struggles also).

I don't read the use of the expression 'the struggle' in S1L1 as meaning that only one struggle is the subject of the poem. That expression can just as well mean whatever struggle is threatening to dishearten whoever is the reader.

In response to your question about the two lines you have quoted: the word 'enemy' doesn't mean exclusively a military enemy, and 'faints' and 'faileth' are not military expressions particularly. Those words just mean respectively weakening and collapsing. The second of the two lines does refer to victorious soldiers pursuing enemy soldiers who are fleeing; but it comes from S2 which I agree is descriptive of an infantry battle. S2 makes clear that the poem can apply to a military struggle. I think it also serves as metaphor for the other kinds of struggle to which the poem can apply.

Ian

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/06/2005 02:56PM by IanB.


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 07, 2005 11:28AM

That all makes sense to me - a combination of 'never give up the fight' and 'try to see the big picture'. The last stanza is particularly attractive in that regard - the sun moves ever so slowly when one looks eastward at dawn, but turn around, and you will see the whole landscape behind you illuminated with light.


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: ns (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 08, 2005 03:25AM

Fliers I am taking to mean those who flee, the main I suspect means a high sea.

When i read the poem first I took "fliers" to mean those that fly which would mean those that are ahead. Comrades, those that are your contemporaries or those that are supposed to be with you. "chase" or suck up to those that rule the field (the enemy) and in doing so win favours and "possess the field". If those that are supposed to be with you are with those that are against you, then how bleak are your chances? It gives an image of a lone warrior in a crowded field full of people you have to overcome.

Wonderful poem. Thanks.


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: IanB (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 08, 2005 09:14AM

When i read the poem first I took "fliers" to mean those that fly which would mean those that are ahead.

Ingenious idea; however according to the New Shorter OD that alternative meaning of the word fliers only began in the early 20th century [I guess in parallel with the development of aeroplanes]. AHC lived from 1819 to 1861. So it seems inescapable that he was using the word with the meaning, which it had had since at least the 15th century, of fugitives or people who flee.


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 08, 2005 12:25PM

Yeah, it's the flee-ers !

(run awayyyyyy!)


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: Marty (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 10, 2005 01:32AM

For whatever it's worth, I read this not to be about warriors, seas or any such thing. He may have drawn from his experiences of such to write this, as any of us draw from our experiences when we write, but this poem seems to be saying:

When you are fighting the good fight and are afraid that you are loosing it, don't be so sure. Things aren't always as they seem. And...there is power in numbers. You are only one of many.

Here's my interpretation:

Don't think that your struggle isn't accomplishing anything
That all the hard work, sacrifice, and blisters are for nothing
That the big-mouthed bruiser always comes out on top
That ...that's the way it's alway been and will continue to be.

If having hope was for nothing, then maybe having fear is for no reason too.
It may be you just can't see the scuffle going on up ahead
There could be other good guys, like yourself, fighting the bad guys
And just because you've fallen, doesn't mean your team isn't winning.

For just as waves might not be able to budge this here concrete embankment
And just looking at it, you see no possibilities
There are lots of other places along the shoreline where water is getting in
And the water levels are steadily rising on the mainland.

And just because the sun rises in the East, it doesn't only shine in the East
....(Look not just from your own perspective, you aren't alone in the good fight)
When daylight comes, comes in the light
And even when each little guy feels his efforts are ineffective
The commulative effect is grand.

Marty


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 10, 2005 05:21AM

I like that, Marty - well done!


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: Marty (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 10, 2005 09:11AM

Well thank you, marian2.


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: ns (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 12, 2005 01:01AM

any of us draw from our experiences when we write
We also draw from our experiences when we read.
That is why reading somebody else's understanding of the poem is like a seeing the poem with new eyes.

I enjoyed your understanding of the poem. Thanks.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/12/2005 01:10AM by ns.


Re: Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth
Posted by: Marty (192.168.128.---)
Date: December 14, 2005 11:48PM

yes, ns, what you say is true. We have different experiences and see through different eyes. Glad you enjoyed my understanding of the poem.

Marty




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