Pessimism in the Poetry of Arthur Hugh Clough James Thomson Bv Edward Fitzgerald Term Paper

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Pessimism in Poetry

Pessimism in the Poems of Arthur Clough

Arthur Clough was a British poet who spent some of his a few of his formative years in the United States. He was considered a genius from a young age, but his consequent stint at Oxford was not fruitful. His poems are mostly pessimistic; but as an explication of his poems which follows showd that most of his pessimism came from a deep sense of uncertainty. This is perhaps a reflection of his entire life with its foibles and failings. Arthur was solitary as a child; the death of his father did not allow him to enjoy is youth as he had to look after his mother and sister. He had a failed marriage. He was disillusioned with religion and sought different denominations of Christianity without much success. He was also disillusioned by the academic life, despite his time spent at Oxford. He also struggled with finding a theme for his poems, once again without much success. He attempted to follow the stylings of other poets, and quickly rejected them. At his death, at a relatively young age, he left behind a tremendous body of work in several languages, including Latin, French and Italian. Though an assessment of all his works are beyond the scope of this work, certainly 23 of his poems written in English will be probed to find the reasons behind his pessimistic approach to writing poetry, perhaps a reflection to the sadness in his life and the quest of something that he could never find, despite all his efforts.

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The best way to start with identifying pessimism in Clough's poems is to highlight a poem that finds dankness and despair even in the midst of light. Consider the poem, "In the Depths." Clough indicates that thought there despite strong positives in the world around us, life soon turns sour.

It is not sweet content, be sure,

That moves the nobler Muse to song,

Yet when could truth come whole and pure

From hearts that inly writhe with wrong?

TOPIC: Term Paper on Pessimism in the Poetry of Arthur Hugh Clough James Thomson Bv Edward Fitzgerald Assignment

In fact, he criticizes those who go through life as if on a cloud, not knowing that behind every situation filled with brightness and happiness, lurks deep and dark secrets to which there is no solution.

Our ills are worse than at their ease

These blameless happy souls suspect,

They only study the disease,

One might sing a good song celebrating life, but the truth soon stills any optimism.

This poem is almost a celebration of pessimism.

Consider another poem, which might superficially seem to be the very antithesis of pessimism, "All Is Well." Here, like most of Clough's poems, pessimism comes for uncertainty. He asks people to sleep on their worries, that when they wake up their worries won't go away, but because there is so much uncertainty in life that worrying too much will not do people any good; here again, though he pretends optimism, there's a deep undercurrent of uncertainty. There are so many uncontrollable aspects of life that there is no point worrying about them. But the underlying fear of the unknown in this poem is so palpable that it would seem that the author has failed to yield to his own advice.

In spite of dreams, in spite of thought,

Tis not in vain, and not for nought,

The wind it blows, the ship it goes,

Though where and whither, no one knows.

A few of Clough's poems come from perhaps his disillusionment with religion. In the poem, "Along the Sea, Along the Shore," the poet puts himself in the place of an onlooker in the area surrounding Jerusalem around the time of Christ's ministry. The poet is aware (retrospectively) that this is Christ -- the redeemer, the savior of the world and the inspiration for Christianity. There is no indication that despite his problems with religion, that Clough was an atheist. but, in this poem, he questions the people of Jerusalem as to why they flock to "see," "hear" and "note" this man who was a teacher and preached from a boat.

The valley through, the mountain down,

What was it ye went out to see,

Ye silly folk Galilee?

A young man preaching in a boat.

What was it ye went out to hear

What is it came ye here to note?

A young man preaching in a boat.

The poet castigates these people, the Jews of that time, for having ignored the laws of Moses (that set the stage for Judaism). He wonders as to what drives these people to this person who talks about things that the scribes and Pharisees -- the learned members of the time did not teach or speak about. Here, perhaps, Clough is feeling depressed because of his own failing to recognize a denomination of Christianity with which he can be satisfied. He perhaps is mirroring his disillusionment and lack of fulfillment from his own religion by blaming those who blindly follow a faith without making the attempt to understand what religion is all about and how to apply Christianity all around them. As in most of Clough's poems, discussed in this part of the dissertation, his pessimism comes from uncertainty. The uncertainty comes from the fear of whether Christ is the Messiah; therefore, the poet begins to question where Jesus came from; Jesus certainly seems to speak in ways that are atypical. To have faith is one thing; but to have faith means to forget and forgo all that is tried and tested and comfortable; Clough's fears stem from the fact that Jesus is a rebel and seeks to overturn conventional wisdom.

Clough revisits the issue of Christianity once again in the poem, "Ah! Yet Consider it Again.! There is no immediate clue as to what aspect of humanity he is criticizing or that this poem is indeed about Christianity. But one clue arises in the following line:

The souls of now two thousand years

This poem is about it is about waiting for the Messiah, starting from the part when Christ died. Here Clough asks the reader for his or her raison d' tre. What have they accomplished in waiting for the Messiah? Christ promised, through (or the Apostle John credited with writing) the book of Revelations, that the Messiah would come back; this means that the "two thousand" years after Christ's death people are still waiting for the revelation -- people are afraid that this might not come about as was prophesied. He is critical of those that spend the time in waiting and not knowing. The world goes on its merry way, and people who are waiting inactively do so in the hope that the Messianic prophecy might be fulfilled, but that it might never happen in their lifetime.

Alas! The great world goes its way,

And takes its truth from each new day;

They do not quit, nor can retain,

Far less consider it again.

At the same time, Clough shows steadfastness in his faith in God. For instance, in the poem "With Whom is no Variableness, Neither Shadow of Turning," he acknowledges the helping hand of God, at the same time declaring his pessimism in the abilities of Man. He acknowledges, at the same time as he does the immutable power of God, the frailty of Man.

That, thought I perish, Truth is so:

That, howsoe'er I stray and range,

Whate'er I do, Thou dost not change

Clough spent a large part of his life struggling with religion. Indeed, in his own life, he changed several denominations, seeking perhaps a form of Christianity that he could be happy with, or one that was in line with his personality. Once again, in "Perche Pensa? Pensando s'Invecchia," thought it is not immediately obvious; he puts himself in the place of a believing and faithful Christian. There is no reference in this poem to the Jesus of Christianity. The poet bemoans his Christianity; he believes that the doctrine tells us that all suffering is acceptable, that sinless behavior and one that does not seek hedonism is good. This is because we can wait for the Second Coming of Christ, where those in poverty or self-denial will be given the glories of heaven.

Upon the mind to hold them clear,

And, knowing more may yet appear,

Unto one's latest breath to fear

The premature result to draw

Is this the object, end and law,

And purpose of our being here?

The poet is tired of waiting and he is sympathetic to Christians everywhere who, the poet is afraid, might put their faith in something that may not occur -- we have seen this before. The last line of the poem also challenges the notion of the meaning of life. Clough pessimistically believes that this sort of a life is hardly worth living.

In a veiled fashion, the poet believes that while people are expected to live out their lives in a certain way that God has not kept to his promised.

Another poem… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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