Arthur Hugh Clough (picture from here) had a short, rather unsatisfactory life. Unsatisfactory in a worldly way as he spent much of it in doubt about his abilities, about religion, about his direction in life. He struggled with the expectations of his family, especially after his father’s bankruptcy left him as sole support to his mother & siblings. He travelled to the US, met Emerson, indulged his interest in radical politics by visiting France & Italy during revolutionary times & worked as a secretary to his wife’s cousin, Florence Nightingale, for some years. Most of his poetry was published posthumously after his death in Florence in 1861. He was only 42. Persephone have reprinted his verse novel, Amours de Voyage, about his experiences in Italy at the time of Mazzini’s revolution.
Although this poem seems to be about encouraging weary soldiers to return to battle, it could also be about any human struggle – against physical or mental illness, an exhausting job or project, or any situation where you begin to doubt there’s an end in sight.
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!