Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth

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!

by Arthur Hugh Clough

Comments (8)

Pure poetic class...... Delightful.
That was a rousing cry to battle- - whether with life's normal troubles or with comrades on war's battlefield.. I think I am a bit craven however- -I do not think I see myself gladly flinging myself in bullets' paths. Well, to save my children, of course I would. But to win a war the politicians have gotten us into? I don't think I am made of exalted bravery.... but this poem makes me wish I were.
very good. thank you for sharing the poem
The enemy faints not! ! Thanks for sharing this poem with us.
Here's my paraphrase, for what it's worth. Don’t say that the long struggle [against tyranny and injustice] is of no avail; don’t say that all your efforts, and all the injuries you’ve sustained, were in vain. Don’t say that the enemy’s just as strong as ever; and don’t say that nothing’s changed for the better! If the things you hoped for haven’t happened, well, maybe the things you’re scared of won’t happen either. Perhaps over there on the battlefield, now obscured by smoke, your comrades are chasing the enemy away, and all they need to ensure victory is that you go and join them. Look! Those waves don’t seem to be making much headway, even though the tide’s supposedly coming in. But far behind you, unseen creeks and inlets are swelling with incoming waters: the sea really is on the move after all! Look! The eastern window you’re sitting at isn’t the only place affected by sunrise; from there, yes, it’s true, the sun hardly seems to moving up the sky at all— but cross the room and look through a westward-facing casement: see how the whole landscape’s already flooded with light! Clough had just personally witnessed how Garibaldi's brave attempt to help preserve a new Roman Republic had been foiled when the forces of reaction (led, ironically enough, by the French) had successfully brought the Siege of Rome to an end in 1848. He was trying to cheer up fellow-supporters of reform and of independence for Italy. They were all feeling pretty downhearted. That's the historical context. But it could have fitted Democrats in the USA while Bush and the Neo-conservatives had the upper hand; or the Left in France today; or many other similar situations. [I'm not sure whether the dud end-rhyme (only / slowly) in Clough's final stanza is just clumsiness or a daring use of half-rhyme. I'm puzzled by the total absence of any mention of this in any of his commentators' notes to the poem. It doesn't really spoil the poem at all; but, once you've noticed it, it niggles away at the back of your mind.]
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