Margaret Drabble on “Say not the struggle naught availeth”
This poem by Arthur Hugh Clough unfailingly brings tears to my eyes. It speaks of hope, and effort, and disappointment, and per- severance. As I read it, it is a poem about social hope, about hope for humanity. Most of my political hopes have been, in my lifetime, disappointed, but this poem tells us not to lose faith. The imagery is profoundly beautiful, and reminds me of the great beaches of my childhood, of Wordsworth’s immortal shore. I can feel those ‘tired waves, vainly breaking’, and then the flooding fullness of the sea. The double movement, the double crescendo of redemption in those last two stanzas, of sea and of light, is astonishingly affecting.
Say not the struggle naught availeth
Arthur Hugh Clough
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!