Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Arthur Hugh Clough, the Liverpool poet...

This year sees Liverpool as European City of Culture. It is therefore appropriate to take a look at the poetry scene on Merseyside. Poet-in-Residence looks back at the days of adventure, sailing ships, exotic trade and danger on the high seas. And there he finds the wonderful poetry of Arthur Hugh Clough.
Born on New Year's Day on the shores of the Irish Sea, in the westward facing Liverpool, it's hardly surprising that the poet Arthur Hugh Clough should travel the world and write of the great seas and the far horizons. What is surprising however is how modern, relevant and readable some of his poetry is today.
Winston Churchill would quote from Clough during the period when Britain 'stood alone' for 18 long months against the Nazi menace with its list of more than 8,000 banned authors, the Nazi menace designed to crush freedom of thought and free expression. And today, one may read the same poems again and find much relevance in them. The test of the great poem!
Today, poetry is still alive and well in the City of Liverpool. In a recent editorial Martin Holroyd of Poetry Monthly, cited 'The Beatles' as an example. An interesting aside, is that Israel has decided to apologise for not allowing 'the fab four' to perform in the so-called 'holy land' because 'they could corrupt the young'. Unfortunately John Lennon is no longer available to comment on this curious
and strangely-timed apology.
Today, Liverpool's leading poets, scousers* like Jim Bennett and Roger McGough, keep the poetic flag bravely flying high.

Say not the Struggle Nought Availeth

Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been, things remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase even 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.

Where Lies the Land to which the Ship would Go?

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?
Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.
And where the land she travels from? Away,
Far, far behind, is all that they can say.

On sunny noons upon the deck's smooth face,
Linked arm in arm, how pleasant here to pace;
Or, over by the stern reclining, watch below
The foaming wake far widening as we go.

On stormy nights, when wild north-westers rave,
How proud a thing to fight with wind and wave!
The dripping sailor on the reeling mast
Exults to bear, and scorns to wish it past.

Where lies the land to whish the ship would go?
Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.
And where the land she travels from? Away,
Far, far behind, is all that they can say.

Arthur Hugh Clough (1819 - 1861)

*scouser - a native of Liverpool - so-called after a traditional hotpot-style stew or soup.

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