I recently re-discovered today’s poem whilst participating in The Reader Organisation’s Read To Lead Corporate Training at Bibby Line Group earlier this month. The language is a little dated and as such, it probably requires a few readings to make sense of it. Reading aloud really helps, or alternatively, click here to listen to a recording of it:
Say not the struggle naught availeth
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!
It is easy to understand why Winston Churchill quoted from this poem during the Second World War. There are images of military battle, suggested by the use of words such as ‘enemy’ and ‘comrades’ and ‘wounds’; but the poem is not limited to this sort of conflict. Indeed, it could be about any struggle and how we must never give up the fight. The poem seems to offer encouragement, inspiration and a sort of “don’t worry, I’ve been there before and come out the other side” attitude. The second verse advises us not to be deluded by either ‘hope’ or ‘fear’ into giving up because our ‘comrades’ may well be pushing forwards. The third verse asks us not to despair. It may seem that our work is in vain and not achieving anything, but help or change is coming, even if we can’t see it yet. The rousing final verse reminds us to look at the whole picture – the sun does not only shine in the east, but ‘westward’ too – and there ‘the land is bright!’
As always, remember to let me know what you think of the choice.
(With thanks to Natasha Andrews and Jan Underwood for helping me to re-see this poem)