When I was about ten – a child with an unendingly restless mind, insatiable for knowledge – my mother bought me a tape containing all of Winston Churchill’s wartime radio broadcasts.
Many nights I lay in the dark, listening to the power of his oratory, trying to imagine its effect in its original context. What hope and spirit it must have brought to the British population during a time when lives were being torn apart (literally and metaphorically) every day! I also reflected on the great man’s personal daemons – the war without and the war within, as he dealt with his lifelong struggle against the “black dog” of depression.
Amongst the speeches, one moment stood out for me, drawing me back to listen again and again. It was Churchill’s reading of a poem by Victorian poet Arthur Hugh Clough, with a potent sentiment of bravery and hope against all odds, entitled Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth.
The tape has long shared the fate of all much-treasured and over-played cassettes, but the poem has remained etched into my heart ever since and I’m proud to share it with you.
It seemed fitting to complement this poem with the iconic photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral during the Blitz. I have always loved this image, which shows one of London’s the most glorious and symbolic works of architecture standing steadfast while, all around it, the bombs throw the ordered world into chaos.
Both the poem and the image inspire me to stand strong and keep hope in my heart, even at times when it feels like the world is collapsing on all sides. Look westward and carry on!
Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth (Arthur Hugh Clough, 1819 – 1861)
Say not the struggle naught 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, in yon smoke conceal’d,
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!