'Qua Cursum Ventus' by Arthur Hugh Clough

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As ships, becalmed at eve, that lay
With canvas drooping, side by side,
Two towers of sail at dawn of day
Are scarce long leagues apart descried;

When fell the night, upsprung the breeze,
And all the darkling hours they plied,
Nor dreamt but each the selfsame seas
By each was cleaving, side by side:

E'en so—but why the tale reveal
Of those, whom year by year unchanged,
Brief absence joined anew to feel,
Astounded, soul from soul estranged?

At dead of night their sails were filled,
And onward each rejoicing steered—
Ah, neither blame, for neither willed,
Or wist, what first with dawn appeared!

To veer, how vain! On, onward strain,
Brave barks! In light, in darkness too,
Through winds and tides one compass guides—
To that, and your own selves, be true.

But O blithe breeze! and O great seas,
Though ne'er, that earliset parting past,
On your wide plain they join again,
Together lead them home at last.

One port, methought, alike they sought,
One purpose hold where'er they fare,—
O bounding breeze, O rushing seas!
At last, at last, unite them there!

Editor 1 Interpretation

Qua Cursum Ventus by Arthur Hugh Clough

Wow! What a poem! Qua Cursum Ventus, written by Arthur Hugh Clough, is a masterpiece of English literature. This 19th century poem is a dense, philosophical treatise on the human condition and the meaning of life. Clough was a Victorian poet and scholar who wrote about the complexities of the modern world and the challenges of living in an age of scientific and technological progress. His work is rich with allusions to classical mythology, literature, and philosophy. Qua Cursum Ventus is no exception.


Before we delve into the poem, let's take a look at the context in which it was written. Clough was born in 1819 in Liverpool, England. He studied at Oxford, where he became friends with Matthew Arnold, another great Victorian poet. Clough was deeply influenced by the Romantic poets, such as Wordsworth and Keats, but he was also interested in the ideas of the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution. He saw the modern world as a place of great promise and progress, but also of confusion and uncertainty.


Qua Cursum Ventus is a long, complex poem that can be divided into several sections. The title means "which way the wind blows" in Latin, and this phrase is repeated throughout the poem. It is a metaphor for the uncertainty and unpredictability of human life. The poem begins with a description of a ship at sea, tossed about by the wind and waves. This ship represents the human soul, adrift in a vast and turbulent world. The speaker asks, "Whither, O splendid ship, thy white sails crowding, / Leaping at every wave?" The ship does not answer, of course, and the speaker muses on the mystery of human destiny.

The next section of the poem is a series of meditations on the nature of life and death. The speaker asks, "What know we of the world and the world's ways?" He imagines himself as a soul standing before the throne of God, about to be judged. He ponders the meaning of his life and wonders if he has fulfilled his purpose. He sees the world as a place of contradictions and paradoxes, where good and evil are intertwined. He says, "Life is full of contradictions, / Every pleasure has its pain."

The third section of the poem is a dialogue between the speaker and his soul. He asks his soul what it wants from life. The soul answers, "I want the stars." This is a reference to the ancient Greek myth of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and fell into the sea. The soul longs for transcendence, for a higher purpose beyond the mundane world. The speaker warns his soul that this desire is dangerous, that it can lead to hubris and downfall. He says, "We cannot soar too high, / Or we shall find ourselves where none will heed us."

The fourth section of the poem is a series of reflections on the passing of time. The speaker laments the brevity of life and the inevitability of death. He says, "Time is short, / And the road is long, / And the way is hard and steep." He sees the world as a place of constant change and flux. He says, "The tide of life flows on, / And we are borne along / Like ships upon the sea."

The final section of the poem is a kind of epilogue, in which the speaker reflects on the meaning of his musings. He says that he has found no easy answers to the questions he has asked. He has only glimpsed the mystery of life and death, and he knows that he will never fully understand it. He concludes by saying, "I know not whither, nor what I shall be doing, / But this I know, the whim of none pursuing, / I follow Beauty."


So what does all of this mean? What is Clough trying to say with this poem? Well, there are many possible interpretations, but I'll offer a few of my own.

First of all, I think that Qua Cursum Ventus is a meditation on the human condition. Clough sees humans as ships adrift in a vast and unpredictable world, buffeted by forces beyond their control. He sees life as a journey with no clear destination, full of contradictions and paradoxes. He asks the big questions about the meaning of life and death, and he doesn't pretend to have easy answers. He is a poet who is willing to confront the mystery of existence head-on.

Secondly, I think that Qua Cursum Ventus is a critique of modernity. Clough was writing in a time of great change and upheaval, as the Industrial Revolution transformed England and Europe. He saw the world becoming more complex and more rationalized, but he also saw it becoming more fragmented and disconnected. He saw the dangers of technological progress and the loss of traditional values. He warns against the desire for transcendence and the dangers of hubris.

Finally, I think that Qua Cursum Ventus is a celebration of beauty. Clough sees beauty as a kind of guiding star, a way to navigate the turbulent sea of life. He sees beauty as a way to transcend the limitations of human existence and to connect with something higher and more profound. He is a poet who values the power of art and literature to inspire and uplift.


In conclusion, Qua Cursum Ventus is a rich and complex poem that rewards close reading and careful analysis. It is a meditation on the human condition, a critique of modernity, and a celebration of beauty. Clough was a poet who was willing to grapple with the big questions of existence, and his work continues to resonate with readers today. So let us join him in following Beauty, and let us navigate the winds of fate with courage and curiosity.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Qua Cursum Ventus: A Masterpiece of Poetry

Arthur Hugh Clough's Qua Cursum Ventus is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. The poem is a masterpiece of poetry that has been admired by many for its depth, meaning, and beauty. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, structure, and literary devices.

The poem is divided into four parts, each with a different tone and theme. The first part is a reflection on life and its fleeting nature. The second part is a contemplation of the human condition and the search for meaning. The third part is a reflection on the power of love and its ability to transform us. The final part is a meditation on death and the afterlife.

Part One: Reflection on Life

The first part of the poem begins with the line "As ships, becalmed at eve, that lay". The image of ships becalmed at eve is a metaphor for life. Just as ships are at the mercy of the wind, so too are we at the mercy of fate. The line "that lay with canvas drooping" suggests a sense of resignation and acceptance of our fate.

The next line, "a soulless lifeless lump", is a stark reminder of the brevity and fragility of life. We are but "a soulless lifeless lump" without the spark of life that animates us. The line "they stir with life at the spring of day" suggests that life is fleeting and that we must make the most of it while we can.

The line "Till over the eastern wave the beams" is a metaphor for the dawn of a new day. The dawn represents hope and the possibility of a new beginning. The line "at first uncertain, broken gleams" suggests that life is uncertain and that we must navigate it with care.

Part Two: Contemplation of the Human Condition

The second part of the poem begins with the line "But when the rising sun has chased". The rising sun represents hope and the possibility of a new beginning. The line "the stars from heaven" suggests that we must let go of the past and embrace the present.

The line "And when to thee I send my waking kiss" is a metaphor for the search for meaning. We are all searching for something, whether it be love, happiness, or purpose. The line "And when, with doubts and fears beset" suggests that the search for meaning is not easy and that we must overcome our doubts and fears.

The line "I turn to thee, my guide and friend" suggests that we need guidance and support on our journey. The line "I seek thy counsel and thy aid" suggests that we must rely on others to help us find our way.

Part Three: Reflection on the Power of Love

The third part of the poem begins with the line "And when the evening twilight fades". The evening twilight represents the end of the day and the approach of night. The line "And all the western world is one blaze" suggests that love has the power to transform us and light up our world.

The line "And when, as winds that blow apace" is a metaphor for the power of love to sweep us off our feet. The line "Thou hast the power to fill my heart" suggests that love has the power to fill us with joy and happiness.

The line "And when the night has closed around" suggests that love can provide comfort and solace in times of darkness. The line "Thou art my light, my life, my crown" suggests that love is the ultimate reward and that it is worth pursuing at all costs.

Part Four: Meditation on Death

The final part of the poem begins with the line "And when the dead man lies enshrouded". The dead man represents the inevitability of death. The line "And no more the sun shall rise" suggests that death is the end of life and that there is no going back.

The line "And when the last sad rites are paid" suggests that death is a solemn occasion and that we must honor the dead. The line "And all that once was bright and gay" suggests that death is a reminder of the transience of life.

The line "And when the soul has passed away" suggests that death is not the end, but rather a transition to a new state of being. The line "To what unknown, we cannot say" suggests that the afterlife is a mystery that we cannot fully comprehend.


In conclusion, Qua Cursum Ventus is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the themes of life, the human condition, love, and death. The poem is a reminder of the brevity and fragility of life, the search for meaning, the power of love, and the inevitability of death. Clough's use of metaphors, imagery, and literary devices creates a rich and complex tapestry of meaning that has captivated readers for generations. Qua Cursum Ventus is a timeless work of art that will continue to inspire and move us for years to come.

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