slough of despond

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Carska Bara (“Imperial Pond”), the largest individual bog in Serbia
An illustration of the Slough of Despond from an 1890 edition of Pilgrim's Progress[1]


From the name of a bog in The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) by English writer and preacher John Bunyan (1628–1688).[2]


  • (General Australian, Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˈslaʊ əv ˈdɛspɒnd/
  • (file)
  • (General American) IPA(key): /ˈslaʊ əv dɛˈspɑnd/, /ˈsluː/, /ˈdɛspɑnd/
  • Hyphenation (with stress on first syllable of despond): slough of des‧pond; (with stress on second syllable of despond): slough of de‧spond


slough of despond (plural sloughs of despond)

  1. A dreary bog or marsh.
    • 1834, Adrian R[ussell] Terry, Travels in the Equatorial Regions of South America, in 1832, Hartford, Conn.: Cooke & Co., OCLC 701835055, pages 245–246:
      The road is winding, and consists of a succession of short, steep descents, diversified by occasional sloughs, which might well be called "sloughs of despond," into one of which Manuel was thrown rather unceremoniously, by the bursting of his saddle-girths at the top of one of these short hills, by which means he took a flight over the head of his beast, and found a soft resting place in the mud at the bottom.
    • 1838, Anna Brownell Jameson, Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada, London: Saunders and Otley, OCLC 471086385; republished in Sketches in Canada, and Rambles among the Red Men, new edition, London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1852, OCLC 11378706, page 118:
      The road was scarcely passable; there were no longer cheerful farms and clearings, but the dark pine forest, and the rank swamp, crossed by those terrific corduroy paths (my bones ache at the mere recollection!) and deep holes and pools of rotted vegetable matter, mixed with water, black, bottomless sloughs of despond! The very horses paused on the brink of some of these mud-gulfs, and trembled ere they made the plunge downwards.
    • 1996, Tom Turner, “Metaphorical Plans”, in City as Landscape: A Post Post-modern View of Design and Planning, London; New York, N.Y.: E. & F. N. Spon, →ISBN, pages 86–87:
      Our ancestors, who were forest dwellers, bequeathed us a legacy of wonder tales in which forests have a significant role [] One route would start from a refuge in a clearing. The path would set forth in a bright and optimistic manner. Difficult choices would appear. Divergent paths would become stony, enter dark woods and descend through sloughs of despond.
  2. (figurative) A state of disheartening hopelessness.
    • 1870, Mrs. George Tylee, “Amy's Home”, in Amy's Wish, and What Came of It: A Fairy Tale, London: Griffith and Farran, successors to Newbery and Harris, corner of St. Paul's Churchyard, OCLC 57291120, page 6:
      Amy laughed too, and, kissing her mother, said, 'Well, I never had such a "Day of Misfortunes" as Rosamund's. I think it is because I have got such a dear darling mother that she helps me out of my troubles, my "Sloughs of Despond," as Clara calls them, quicker.' / 'The best thing is to try not to fall into sloughs of despond, and the way to do that is to examine carefully how you have come to get into them. []'
    • 1908, H[enry] L[ouis] Mencken, “The Superman”, in The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, London: T. Fisher Unwin, OCLC 562137038, page 116:
      Only after he had ceased dreaming of them and thrown off his crushing burden of transcendental morality – only thus and then could he hope to rise out of the slough of despond in which he wallowed.
    • 1987, Joseph J. Godfrey, “Epilogue on Some Religious and Theological Thought”, in A Philosophy of Human Hope, Dordrecht; Boston, Mass.: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, →ISBN, page 226:
      If there is one feature common to all religions, it may be the message that there is a way out, a way up, from the slough of despond or the cave of presumption.
    • 2003, Roy Porter, Flesh in the Age of Reason (Studies in Philosophy and Religion; 9), London: Penguin Books, published 2004, →ISBN, page 183:
      Why could Johnson not drag himself out of this slough of despond?


  1. ^ John Bunyan (1890) The Pilgrim's Progress, Philadelphia, Pa.: Henry Altemus Company, OCLC 1329844, page 33.
  2. ^ John Bunyan (1678) The Pilgrim's Progress from This World, to That Which is to Come: Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream wherein is Discovered, the Manner of His Setting Out, His Dangerous Journey; and Safe Arrival at the Desired Countrey, London: Printed for Nath[aniel] Ponder at the Peacock in the Poultrey near Cornhill, OCLC 733063856.