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The dialectical principle in the poetry of Arthur Hugh Clough. Wells, Margo Constance

Abstract

The title of Walter Houghton's recent article, "Arthur Hugh Clough: A Hundred Years of Disparagement", could not fail to strike any reader familiar with the general tone and subject matter of the major criticism which has appeared on Clough to the present day. Most of the studies have been in the nature of personal appreciations and have dealt primarily with Clough as a man. Even the more scholarly and objective studies which have been published lately have failed to treat his poetry in any comprehensive way, but have tended, rather, to emphasize one aspect of Clough and then have referred briefly to certain poems which support a thesis. There has been no noteworthy attempt to subject his poetry to a close textual analysis in order to determine if any general principle underlies it. For this reason, I have been primarily concerned in this study with examining the poetry of Arthur Hugh Clough to assess the presence in it of what I have called the dialectical principle—the way in which his most characteristic approach to experience is carried over into his poetry and finds expression in theme, mood, tone, form, imagery and characters. Chapter II discusses the presence of the dialectical element in the theme of Clough’s poetry—particularly in the poems which deal with religion, in those which attempt to answer the unanswerable questions, why man is here, how he should live while here, and if he will continue to exist in some form after death, and in those which probe the nature of love. Chapter III examines the way in which the dialectical principle is reflected in juxtaposed moods, in the tone, and in the external form of Clough’s poetry. And, finally, Chapter IV considers imagery and characters, the imaginative and dramatic embodiment of the dialectic in themes dealt with in Chapter II. The study concludes with the suggestion that Clough, for the most part, did not succeed in solving his intellectual and spiritual problems and in conveying the solution through his poetry. For the poems here analyzed, with perhaps the exception of "Easter Day, Part II," record his failure to cross "the darkling plain" and find some new light of truth which would satisfy him both emotionally and intellectually. In many of them, the dialectic exists as unresolved debate when Clough, unable to find an intellectual synthesis, concludes with an admission of defeat or with the decision to wait for some further revelation of Truth. At other times, when his desire for certainty will not permit him to let the dialectic end in an impasse, he is forced to shift the terms of the debate and to "synthesize" his intellectual difficulties in a realm of pure feeling or on an ideal plane. Thus, the conclusion becomes an emotional, rather than an intellectual solution—usually one in which Clough ends by trusting an undefined "larger hope," when he is unable to answer the problem posed by rational means.

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