Clough and His Discontents: Amours de Voyage and the English Hexameter

Gray, Erik I.

Dactylic hexameter, the chief meter of classical poetry, was imitated in English by the Elizabethans, then all but disappeared from English poetry until it enjoyed a sudden reflorescence in the nineteenth century. The Victorian hexameter revival produced, among numerous translations and original poems, at least one acknowledged masterpiece, Arthur Hugh Clough’s Amours de Voyage.2 Clough’s poem takes the form of a series of letters written by English travellers in Italy in 1848; the chief letter-writer is Claude, a dilettantish, rather snobbish young gentleman who falls in with a wealthy but middle-class family named Trevellyn. Claude’s attitude towards the Trevellyns, especially towards the eldest daughter Mary, consists of equal parts attraction and repulsion, and this coexistence of opposing impulses forms a central motif in Amours de Voyage. In the first part of this essay I discuss this motif, and in the second I show how it is reflected in the poem’s chosen meter. Finally I suggest that the dual nature of the English dactylic hexameter, its liability to display two conflicting tendencies at once, is not unique; the same duality in some degree typifies all meter, and it can help us understand the uneasy relationship that always exists between the meter and the meaning of a poem.


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Literary Imagination

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Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Oxford University Press
Published Here
May 7, 2015