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There is no god, the wicked sayeth -- Arthur Hugh Clough

       
(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.
-- Arthur Hugh Clough
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.

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