Mole Valley Poets, 22nd February 2010
Michael Lane: Arthur Hugh Clough

Michael began the meeting with a reading of "Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth" which was used by Winston Churchill in 1941 as a rallying cry to the British people. This can be read as a patriotic poem where good triumphs over evil and light floods the land.

In the next poem, "The Latest Decalogue", Michael wondered if the Victorians were aware of the irony within such lines as "Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive/Officiously to keep alive" and "Do not adultery commit;/Advantage rarely comes of it;".

Arthur Hugh Clough, 1819 - 1861, was born of middle-class parents and went to school at Rugby. Matthew Arnold, three years younger, was a life-long friend. Clough went on to Oxford and was Fellow of Oriel for a while. However, he was unsettled by the Oxford Movement and unable conscientiously to subscribe to the thirty nine articles. This meant he was unable to take a permanent post at Oxford. He eventually took a minor post at the Board of Education.

His poetry consists of three long narrative poems and a mixture of conventional Victorian verse and some surprisingly sceptical, almost satirical verse as well as verse which displays very un-Victorian thoughts. His tone is often disconcertingly modern.

During his time as Fellow, he wrote the long narrative poem "The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich". The hero of this poem, a young Oxford man, marries a crofter's daughter. The style of writing takes the form of a letter which asks that "each man seek to be that for which nature meant him". The tone is somewhat ironic and turns the tables on the accepted norms of society. This poem was condemned as "indelicate and communistic".

An extract from the Faustian dialogue "Dipsychus" raises the question of whether or not God exists through the voices of the wicked, a youngster, a tradesman and so on. This seems to be a rebellion against Victorian Christianity.

The tone in part 5 of "Amours de Voyage" is rather like that of a letter from a seasoned traveller whose peace of mind is merely disturbed somewhat by the fighting which is going on around him. War is described in a very off-hand way. Clough seems not prepared to die for his country.

After his early death in Florence in 1861, his widow published expurgated versions of his work. Some stanzas did not see the light of day until 1951.