Poetry Notes English Literature (0427) May/June 2013

Poetry Notes English Literature (0427) May/June 2013

poetry notes english Literature (0427) may/june 2013 / Where Lies the Land, by Arthur Clough /


These notes are part of a brief analysis of selected poems for CIE English Literature for the May/June 2013 examinations in the USA. They are intended for teachers, although high-ability students may also be able to use these study notes.

Poetry is sometimes difficult to analyse and comment upon, as one person’s interpretation may not be another’s. Please be aware that the notes are my interpretation of each poem, and should be used in conjunction with other materials, resources, and worksheets to have the best results. Nonetheless, these notes can be a useful starting point for students and teachers, and to stimulate discussion for the poem.

Poetry selection:

From Songs of Ourselves: The University of Cambridge International Examinations Anthology of Poetry in English:

Poem analysed:

125 – Where Lies the Land? by Arthur Hugh Clough

Where Lies the Land? by Arthur Hugh Clough


Arthur Clough (pronounced ‘cluff’) was born in 1819 in Liverpool but moved to the South Carolina,USA when he was a young boy. He travelled quite a bit as he went back to England for his education (aged nine) but also went to France, Italy, back to America and then back to England, as well as visiting Greece and Turkey. Inspiration for this poem came from his sea voyages as well as from a poem by William Wordsworth, as the first line to the poem is ‘Where lies the Land to which yon Ship must go’.

Structure and Language

This lyrical poem has a recognisable structure, written in four quatrains (4-lined stanzas) with a very rhythmic metre. The metre is in iambic pentameter (favoured by Shakespeare and Chaucer), that is, five pairs of syllables (unstressed and then stressed). Each pair of lines rhyme at the end, and this is the particular style called heroic couplets.

Iambic pentameter is a common metre used in poetry, especially at the time that Clough was writing – it also requires thought and discipline to create a poem that follows such a structure. In this instance, using the rhythmic pattern of stressed/unstressed iambs and rhymes, Clough could also be subliminally mimicking the waves at sea on this voyage, thus doubling up the purpose of the poem’s structure.

Not only is the pattern and rhythm an important strength to the poem, Clough has used repetition to emphasise or reinforce meaning. You can see this as the first and last stanzas are repeated, so ‘topping and tailing’ the poem, or introducing and reinforcing the main theme of travel to the reader. In addition, each line is rhymed with the next, and such end rhymes resonate longer in the mind as a result. Clough liked the ‘oh’ sound so he repeats it in the second stanza (below, go) – different interpretations can be given for his purpose.

Poetic devices used by Clough include plenty of alliteration in each stanza, to create rhythm, and comfort in the repetition of sounds. This is to give an upbeat attitude towards travelling to unknown places, rather than introducing apprehension of the unknown. In addition, to add a more natural rhythm to the lines, Clough uses caesura and enjambment for effect. For example, ‘And where the land she travels from? Away’ uses caesura to give a pause after the question. Enjambment, where the line continues to the next line of verse with no pause in punctuation, is also used – ‘watch below the foaming wake’ is an example of Clough’s desire to keep the natural conversation going.

This poem can be interpreted at two levels, I believe, and as long as examples from the poem support the interpretations, both can stand as true. Firstly, this poem can simply be seen as a journey by sea from one port to another – we know Clough travelled and that he would have experiences as a result. So the first stanza is the start of the journey, with the travelers going ‘far, far ahead’ with the seamen. By leaving everything ‘far, far behind’, the travelers are leaving the comforts of home behind. The second stanza illustrates the good times on the ship with ‘sunny noons’, friends being ‘linked arm in arm’, ‘reclining’ and watching the waves ‘foaming’. The third stanza introduces stormy weather, ‘stormy nights when wild north-westers rave’ and shows how the seamen bravely face the storms. Their delight at getting through the bad weather is described by Clough as an exulted dripping sailor. The last stanza, which repeats the first, brings the traveler back to shore and to the beginning of his or her next journey – unknown to all, but also unafraid.

At a deeper level, Clough may have been using the imagery of the ship and the journey as a metaphor for life and the journey that we take. With this interpretation, the first stanza is the start of our journey, as we leave the comforts of home and leave our childhood behind. The second stanza then represents the good times in life, such as the ‘sunny’ times, friendship with arms linked, the ‘pleasant …pace’, and the relaxing state that we are in. Clough makes an effort to show that the traveler and sailors are enjoying the ride, enjoying life. The third stanza represents the storms and troubles that people undoubtedly face, and yet his perspective is proud and strong as we ‘fight’ and ‘exult’ when life’s battles are won. The last stanza, back to the beginning, is actually the start of another journey in life, with its ups and downs to come, that does not faze anyone taking the journey.

Linking this poem to a metaphorical journey of life can also be seen in Clough’s use of cycles (as in life). Time is illustrated with ‘sunny noons’ and ‘stormy nights’ and the pleasant unknown journey of life seems to be a trip that all want to take. It is as if being on the ship, or taking the journey of life in stride, is better than the destination, and that there will always be another trip to take (the complete cycle is portrayed by the identical first and last stanzas).


Though this journey, whether it is a simple ocean voyage or symbolic of life, is one where the destination is unknown, the tone is joyful, almost excited. The first stanza does not give clues to the destination, but Clough teases the reader as the seamen neither know nor can say much. There is also pride in the journey when it is hard, as the sailors (and the travelers facing trials in life) ‘fight wind and wave’ (either nature or life’s challenges). Their pride continues as they bravely exult in victory over the elements and ‘scorn to wish it past’.


Taken at a superficial level, the themes of travel, exploring, joy (with travel), living in the moment (the carpediem perspective) all come to mind. If the poem is interpreted as symbolic for life, the same themes run through as we take on the joy of life, exploring, seizing the day (good or bad) and doing it all over again.

Where Lies the Land?

Arthur Hugh Clough

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?a

Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.a

And where the land she travels from? Away, b

Far, far behind, is all that they can say.b

On sunny noons upon the deck’s smooth face,c

Linked arm in arm, how pleasant here to pace!c

Or, o’er the stern reclining, watch belowa

The foaming wake far widening as we go.a

On stormy nights when wild north-westers rave,d

How proud a thing to fight with wind and wave!d

The dripping sailor on the reeling maste

Exults to bear and scorns to wish it past.e

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?a

Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.a

And where the land she travels from? Away, b

Far, far behind, is all that they can say.b


Compare Clough’s poem to William Wordsworth’s poem, Where Lies the Land

For further reading, find Arthur Clough on this website:

For the students, say:

Now make your own notes based on annotating this poem, using quotations, and categorizing your notes under headings like: poem summary/overview; structure and poetic devices; language; themes; tone, and so on.

[Draft version of document – final packet will contain all 14 poems for the CIE IGCSE English Literature examination, May/June 2013]

1 / Prepared February2013