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Where Lies the Land to Which
the Ship Would Go?
A Poem by Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Background
Text of the Poem
Themes
Meter
Rhyme
Alliteration
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Biography of Clough
More Clough Poems
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Study Guide Written by Michael J. Cummings... 2009
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Type of Work and Year of Publication

......."Where Lies the Land to Which the Ship Would Go?" is a lyric poem of sixteen lines in four quatrains (four-line stanzas). The author completed the poem in 1852. It was first published in 1862.

Background

.......Arthur Hugh Clough (pronounced KLUFF) was born in Liverpool, England, in 1819, where his father was in the cotton trade. When Arthur was only three, his family moved to the United States, settling in Charleston, S.C. In 1828, when he was nine, Clough returned to England to complete his education. He later traveled to France and Italy, then back to America, then back to England. He also visited Greece and Turkey. He apparently derived inspiration for "Where Lies the Land to Which the Ship Would Go?" from his sea voyages and from an 1806 poem by William Wordsworth. The first line of Wordsworth's poem is "Where lies the Land to which yon Ship must go?" Clough died in Italy in 1861 after contracting malaria. British scholar and poet Samuel Waddington wrote that " 'sincerity and sense,' [with] a rare Homeric simplicity of genius, are the characteristic features of Clough's poetry" (Arthur Hugh Clough: a Monograph. London: George Bell and Sons, 1883, page viii).

Text of the Poem

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?
Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.
And where the land she travels from? Away,
Far, far behind, is all that they can say.

On sunny noons upon the deck's smooth face,
Link'd arm in arm, how pleasant here to pace;
Or, o'er the stern reclining, watch below
The foaming wake far widening as we go.

On stormy nights when wild north-westers rave,
How proud a thing to fight with wind and wave!
The dripping sailor on the reeling mast
Exults to bear, and scorns to wish it past.

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?
Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.
And where the land she travels from? Away,
Far, far behind, is all that they can say. 

Themes

The Joy of the Journey

.......This poem presents a familiar theme: traveling is an end in itself. A little child knows this truth better than anyone else. When he climbs into a car, rolls down the window, and allows the breeze to blow into his face as the sights pass by, he does not care about where he is going. The fun is in the journey. Robert Louis Stevenson expressed this idea when he wrote, “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.”

Living for the Moment

.......If one takes the poem as a metaphor for life—birth being the beginning of the journey and death the end—then it becomes an apologia for carpe diem (Latin, seize the day). Live life to the fullest while it lasts, the poem says. Put another way, it says, as British poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674) did, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may / Old time is still a-flying.” 

Meter

.......Clough presents the poem in iambic pentameter. In this metric scheme each line has five pairs of syllables; the first syllable in a pair is unstressed and the second stressed. Here is the metric pattern, as demonstrated in the first stanza:

.........1..................2..................3.................4................5
Where LIES..|..the LAND..|..to WHICH..|..the SHIP..|..would GO?

.......1...............2...........3..............4..................5
Far, FAR..|..aHEAD..|..is ALL..|..her SEA..|..men KNOW.

.........1..................2..................3..................4.................5
And WHERE..|..the LAND..|..she TRAV..|..els FROM?..|..AWAY,

.......1..............2.............3...............4.................5
Far, FAR..|..beHIND..|..is ALL..|..that THEY..|..can SAY.

Rhyme

.......In each stanza, the first line rhymes with the second, and the third line rhymes with the fourth. Thus, the rhyme scheme is aabb. Rhyming pairs of lines in iambic pentameter are called heroic couplets. Note that all the end rhymes consist of single syllables. Such an arrangement is known as masculine rhyme. When two syllables rhyme at the end of a line, the arrangement is called feminine rhyme. Here are examples to help you understand the difference between these two types of rhyme:
 

Masculine Rhyme Feminine Rhyme
ring, fling ringing, flinging
away, today May day, heyday

Alliteration

.......Alliteration occurs throughout the poem to help impart euphony and a sense of rhythm. Following are examples of alliteration in the first stanza.

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?
Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.
And where the land she travels from? Away,
Far, far behind, is all that they can say.

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Study Questions and Writing Topics

1. Write a poem containing heroic couplets. (See Rhyme, above.) The topic is open. 
2. Where is the stern (line 7) of a ship? What is the name of the part of a ship that is opposite the stern?
3. What is the meaning of reeling mast in the third stanza? A good dictionary contains the various meanings of reel.
4. Which line indicates that the poem's speaker may be a passenger on the ship? Hint: Look for a pronoun that changes the point of view.

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