(Poem #69) There is no god, the wicked sayeth
"There is no God," the wicked saith, "And truly it's a blessing, For what He might have done with us It's better only guessing." "There is no God," a youngster thinks, "or really, if there may be, He surely did not mean a man Always to be a baby." "There is no God, or if there is," The tradesman thinks, "'twere funny If He should take it ill in me To make a little money." "Whether there be," the rich man says, "It matters very little, For I and mine, thank somebody, Are not in want of victual." Some others, also, to themselves, Who scarce so much as doubt it, Think there is none, when they are well, And do not think about it. But country folks who live beneath The shadow of the steeple; The parson and the parson's wife, And mostly married people; Youths green and happy in first love, So thankful for illusion; And men caught out in what the world Calls guilt, in first confusion; And almost everyone when age, Disease, or sorrows strike him, Inclines to think there is a God, Or something very like Him.
Clough is another slightly less-known poet whom I like for the sheer enjoyability of his verses. The one above is a good introduction to his work, being nicely representative of both his style and his choice of themes. The regular, simple metre and rhyme scheme - tending almost towards children's poetry - make a nice contrast with the seriousness other poets have led us to expect of the topic, and save the poem from being cliched. I fully agree with the EB - "His best verse has a flavour that is closer to the taste and temper of the 20th century than to the Victorian age" The poem's simplicity may also mask the elegance and economy of its phrases, and their often startling aptness - go back and read it again, noting bits like 'thank somebody', 'mostly married people' and, of course, the final couplet. Biographical Notes: Clough, Arthur Hugh b. Jan. 1, 1819, Liverpool d. Nov. 13, 1861, Florence poet whose work reflects the perplexity and religious doubt of mid-19th century England. He was a friend of Matthew Arnold and the subject of Arnold's commemorative elegy "Thyrsis." While at Oxford, Clough had intended to become a clergyman, but his increasing religious skepticism caused him to leave the university. He became head of University Hall, London, in 1849, and in 1852, at the invitation of Ralph Waldo Emerson, he spent several months lecturing in Massachusetts. He later worked as a government education official and helped his wife's first cousin, Florence Nightingale, in her philanthropic work. While on a visit to Italy he contracted malaria and died at age 42. Clough's deeply critical and questioning attitude made him as doubtful of his own powers as he was about the spirit of his age, and he gave his contemporaries the impression of promise unfulfilled, especially since he left the bulk of his verse unpublished. Nonetheless, Clough's Poems (1862) proved so popular that they were reprinted 16 times within 40 years of his death. His best verse has a flavour that is closer to the taste and temper of the 20th century than to the Victorian age, however. Among his works are Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich (1848) and Amours de Voyage (1858), poems written in classical hexameters and dealing with romantic love, doubt, and social conflict. The long, incomplete poem Dipsychus most fully expresses Clough's doubts about the social and spiritual developments of his era, while his sharpest criticisms of Victorian moral complacency are found in "The Latest Decalogue": Thou shalt not kill, but need'st not strive Officiously to keep alive. Assessment: [Matthew] Arnold's friend Arthur Hugh Clough died young but managed, nonetheless, to produce three highly original poems. The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich (1848) is a narrative poem of modern life, written in hexameters. Amours de Voyage (1858) goes beyond this to the full-scale verse novel, using multiple internal narrators and vivid contemporary detail. Dipsychus (published posthumously in 1865 but not available in an unexpurgated version until 1951) is a remarkable closet drama that debates issues of belief and morality with a frankness, and a metrical liveliness, unequaled in Victorian verse. -- EB m.