- 15 Oct 20
The announcement of tough new restrictions by the Government yesterday has left many people reeling with feelings of disorientation and despair increasingly evident. A reading of ‘Say Not That The Struggle Nought Availeth’ by Sabina Higgins, wife of President Michael D. Higgins aims to convey the importance of battling on, to reduce the dangers of the virus...
Sabina Higgins, wife or President Michael D. Higgins has recorded a special reading of the poem ‘Say Not That The Struggle Nought Availeth’.
As the title suggests, the reading is intended by Sabina (pictured above, centre) "as a message of encouragement to everyone to keep heeding the public health advice, and to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.” The island of Ireland has recorded its highest ever figures of new Covid-19 infections in recent days, wsith Northern Ireland suffering particularly badly – with the worst outbreak in Derry.
‘Say Not That The Struggle Nought Availeth’ was written by the renowned socialist poet from Liverpool, Arthur Hugh Clough, who was born in January 1819 and died in November 1861, at just 42 years of age. Clough was a close friend of the poet, literary critic and essayist Matthew Arnold at Oxford. He later befriended the great American essayist, poet and popular philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson in Paris. While travelling through Europe, he contracted malaria and died in Florence, Italy.
A close friend of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, Clough is said to have written 'Say Not That The Struggle Nought Availeth’ in the aftermath of the the defeat of Chartism, a working class male suffrage movement, which aimed to enfranchise great swathes of the British (male) population.
While his poetic output was relatively small, his reputation grew posthumously. Among his other well known works is ‘Through A Glass Darkly’ which strikes an optimistic note about the human condition in the lines “Ah, yet when all is thought and said/ the heart still over-rules the head.”
A similar effect is achieved at the end of ‘Say Not That The Struggle Nought Availeth’: "And not by eastern windows only,” the poem runs, "When daylight comes, comes in the light/ In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly/ But westward, look, the land is bright.”
Hopefully, Sabrina Higgins seems to be saying, there will come a time, in the not too distant future when we will be able to say – and to believe – that the same is true here in Ireland.
Sabina Higgins is a political activist, an actor, and was a member of the highly influential Focus Theatre company in Dublin. Originally from Co. Mayo, in the West of Ireland, she has been married to President Michael D. Higgins since 1974.
The full text of the poem read by Sabina Higgins is below.
Say Not The Struggle Nought Availeth
By Arthur Hugh Clough
Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, [that] in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e'en 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.