What is the summary of Arthur Clough's poem "Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth"?

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Arthur Hugh Clough (1819–1861) was an English poet who spent his early childhood and some of his later life in the United States. He was raised in an Evangelical Christian environment and many of his poems record his gradual disillusionment with organized religion. Although "Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth" is not as overtly theological as some of his work, it does reflect a similar sense of struggle with the "dark night of the soul."

The poem consists of four quatrains rhymed ABAB written in flexible iambic tetrameter lines with several rhythmic variations. The first stanza echoes Galatians 6.9: "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not," suggesting that the struggle of the poem is a spiritual one. 

The main theme of the poem is that in spiritual struggles, such as the one described by St. Paul, it is important to "faint not" even though results may not be immediately apparent. It is important to persist because even though there "Seem here no painful inch to gain" often hope and success come from unexpected places, as Clough suggests in the lines:

In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,

But westward, look, the land is bright.


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The poem "Say Not The Struggle Nought Availeth" by Liverpool-born poet Arthur Hugh Clough concerns itself with the notion that whatever struggle one must take up and endure in life, it is, in the end worth it. This poem is four stanzas of four lines each. The rhyme scheme of the poem is abab (1st Stanza), cdcd (2nd Stanza), efef (3rd Stanza), and ghgh (4th Stanza).

Clough is saying that our labors, and the resultant hurts and wounds from it, are worthy, even when who or what we fight against is victorious. Even though we may not have won the struggle, or have not yet won it, there is benefit in the process of trying to become victorious. This is often hard to see and take when we are in the midst of difficulties and trials.

The poet further says that we may hope and not see a positive result developing. Nonetheless, he also says that:

…fears may be liars;

In other words, what we fear may never come to fruition to harm us. In thus sense, our fears are lying to use – we may very well end up victorious. Clough further states that it may seem that our efforts are hindering the success of our comrades. He proceeds to say that we may be making progress in our battle, even though it appears that we may not be. 

Seem here, no painful inch to gain, (he uses the analogy of waves trying to make headway here)

However, we may finally achieve a breakthrough as we strive to move ahead to victory

Clough ends the poem by saying that victory and overcoming trials do not only come one way, such as “by eastern windows," but also in other ways that we must be cognizant of looking at. Fundamentally, the poem is about seeing life’s battles as beneficial, even as we hope for satisfying and victorious outcomes. While we are in trials we can build character, become more resilient, patient, and persevering as we work to attain our goals.

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To best understand Clough's poem "Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth," one must understand the text he wrote with.

First, "Say not the struggle" means do not say the struggle. "Naught" is a synonym for nothing, worthless, or useless. "Availeth" (a form of avail) means to benefit or help.

Therefore, the first line states, simply, "do not say the struggle was of no benefit."

The poem, then, speaks to the fact that regardless of what one does, the fighting for betterment or hopes being dashed, one cannot believe that it has been done in vain. Instead of looking upon only the new possibilities (as brought by the "eastern windows only"), one must be able to reflect on the day as it has passed (but westward look) and know all is not in vain.

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