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Arthur Hugh Clough (1819–1861) was an English poet and an intellectual of the Victorian era. His work is often marked by a struggle with faith, reflecting the widespread Victorian crisis of belief prompted by the new sciences and historical criticism which challenged established religious certainties. Though not as widely recognized as some of his contemporaries like Alfred, Lord Tennyson or Robert Browning, Clough's poetry has drawn attention for its honest exploration of doubt and moral questioning.

Literary Background

Clough attended Rugby School under the headmastership of Thomas Arnold, whose liberal theological ideas left a lasting impact on him. He won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, and became part of the Oriel circle, where he was exposed to the influences of the Oxford Movement and its leading figures, such as John Henry Newman. His literary style, however, was markedly divergent from the ornate language of the Tractarians associated with this movement.

Early Influences

The early influence of Thomas Arnold’s liberal Christian ethics is evident in Clough's works, as well as the later impact of his disillusionment with the dogmatism of the Oxford Movement. The poetry of Wordsworth also exerted a strong influence on Clough, inspiring a focus on introspection and the individual's relation to society and nature.

Poetic Schools or Movements

While Clough is associated with the Victorian period, he does not fit neatly into any particular school or movement. His work, however, does share characteristics with the Victorian preoccupation with the erosion of traditional faith and the search for meaning in a changing world. Clough's skepticism and his muted, conversational poetry set him apart from his contemporaries and align him more closely with the later modernist sensibility.

Poetic Oeuvre

Clough's poetry often grapples with the conflicts between belief and skepticism, the individual's search for authenticity, and the pressures of societal norms. His most famous work, "Amours de Voyage," is a narrative poem that combines a wry, detached view of the events of the 1849 Roman Republic with a love story. It is notable for its epistolary form and its ironic, often ambiguous tone.

Themes in Clough’s poetry include:

*Doubt and Faith: His poems frequently question the validity of traditional religious beliefs in the face of modern life’s complexities.

*Social Critique: Clough also commented on social issues, often critiquing Victorian society's moral rigidity and the loss of individuality.

*The Search for Meaning: His work embodies the Victorian quest for a secular equivalent to religious certainty, exploring philosophical and ethical questions without easy resolution.

His style is characterized by a certain earnestness and a conversational tone, often employing dramatic monologue or extended narrative. His use of irregular meters and enjambment was innovative for the time and contributes to the distinctive voice of his poetry.

Influence

Clough's poetry influenced later writers, particularly those who valued his struggle with doubt and his skeptical approach to religious and moral issues. His work presaged the Modernist concern with fragmentation and the individual's alienation in the modern world.

Honors

During his lifetime, Clough struggled to achieve literary success, and it was only posthumously that his work gained a wider readership, partly through the efforts of his friend Matthew Arnold, who included Clough’s poem "The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich" in his 1865 anthology. While he did not receive major honors in his lifetime, Clough's work has since been acknowledged for its depth and its prescient view of the challenges of modernity.

Conclusion

Arthur Hugh Clough remains a poet of interest for his introspective and often troubled meditations on faith, morality, and society in the Victorian era. His distinctive, conversational style and his willingness to confront doubt and disillusionment reflect the anxieties of his time and anticipate the disquiet of the 20th century. Clough's poetry continues to resonate for its portrayal of the individual’s quest for authenticity in a world where traditional certainties no longer seem adequate.


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