Coventry Patmore

23 July 1823 - 26 November 1896 / Essex, England

The Angel In The House. Book I. Canto Ii.


I The Paragon
When I behold the skies aloft
Passing the pageantry of dreams,
The cloud whose bosom, cygnet-soft,
A couch for nuptial Juno seems,
The ocean broad, the mountains bright,
The shadowy vales with feeding herds,
I from my lyre the music smite,
Nor want for justly matching words.
All forces of the sea and air,
All interests of hill and plain,
I so can sing, in seasons fair,
That who hath felt may feel again.
Elated oft by such free songs,
I think with utterance free to raise
That hymn for which the whole world longs,
A worthy hymn in woman's praise;
A hymn bright-noted like a bird's,
Arousing these song-sleepy times
With rhapsodies of perfect words,
Ruled by returning kiss of rhymes.
But when I look on her and hope
To tell with joy what I admire,
My thoughts lie cramp'd in narrow scope,
Or in the feeble birth expire;
No mystery of well-woven speech,
No simplest phrase of tenderest fall,
No liken'd excellence can reach
Her, the most excellent of all,
The best half of creation's best,
Its heart to feel, its eye to see,
The crown and complex of the rest,
Its aim and its epitome.
Nay, might I utter my conceit,
'Twere after all a vulgar song,
For she's so simply, subtly sweet,
My deepest rapture does her wrong.
Yet is it now my chosen task
To sing her worth as Maid and Wife;
Nor happier post than this I ask,
To live her laureate all my life.
On wings of love uplifted free,
And by her gentleness made great,
I'll teach how noble man should be
To match with such a lovely mate;
And then in her may move the more
The woman's wish to be desired,
(By praise increased), till both shall soar,
With blissful emulations fired.
And, as geranium, pink, or rose
Is thrice itself through power of art,
So may my happy skill disclose
New fairness even in her fair heart;
Until that churl shall nowhere be
Who bends not, awed, before the throne
Of her affecting majesty,
So meek, so far unlike our own;
Until (for who may hope too much
From her who wields the powers of love?)
Our lifted lives at last shall touch
That happy goal to which they move;
Until we find, as darkness rolls
Away, and evil mists dissolve,
The nuptial contrasts are the poles
On which the heavenly spheres revolve.

II Love at Large
Whene'er I come where ladies are,
How sad soever I was before,
Though like a ship frost-bound and far
Withheld in ice from the ocean's roar,
Third-winter'd in that dreadful dock,
With stiffen'd cordage, sails decay'd,
And crew that care for calm and shock
Alike, too dull to be dismay'd,
Yet, if I come where ladies are,
How sad soever I was before,
Then is my sadness banish'd far,
And I am like that ship no more;
Or like that ship if the ice-field splits,
Burst by the sudden polar Spring,
And all thank God with their warming wits,
And kiss each other and dance and sing,
And hoist fresh sails, that make the breeze
Blow them along the liquid sea,
Out of the North, where life did freeze,
Into the haven where they would be.

III Love and Duty
Anne lived so truly from above,
She was so gentle and so good,
That duty bade me fall in love,
And ‘but for that,’ thought I, ‘I should!’
I worshipp'd Kate with all my will.
In idle moods you seem to see
A noble spirit in a hill,
A human touch about a tree.

IV A Distinction
The lack of lovely pride, in her
Who strives to please, my pleasure numbs,
And still the maid I most prefer
Whose care to please with pleasing comes.
Mary And Mildred.

One morning, after Church, I walk'd
Alone with Mary on the lawn,
And felt myself, howe'er we talk'd,
To grave themes delicately drawn.
When she delighted, found I knew
More of her peace than she supposed,
Our confidences heavenwards grew,
Like fox-glove buds, in pairs disclosed.
Our former faults did we confess,
Our ancient feud was more than heal'd.
And, with the woman's eagerness
For amity full-sign'd and seal'd,
She, offering up for sacrifice
Her heart's reserve, brought out to show
Some verses, made when she was ice
To all but Heaven, six years ago;
Since happier grown! I took and read
The neat-writ lines. She, void of guile,
Too late repenting, blush'd, and said,
I must not think about the style.

‘Day after day, until to-day,
‘Imaged the others gone before,
‘The same dull task, the weary way,
‘The weakness pardon'd o'er and o'er,
‘The thwarted thirst, too faintly felt,
‘For joy's well-nigh forgotten life,
‘The restless heart, which, when I knelt,
‘Made of my worship barren strife.
‘Ah, whence to-day's so sweet release,
‘This clearance light of all my care,
‘This conscience free, this fertile peace,
‘These softly folded wings of prayer,
‘This calm and more than conquering love,
‘With which nought evil dares to cope,
‘This joy that lifts no glance above,
‘For faith too sure, too sweet for hope?
‘O, happy time, too happy change,
‘It will not live, though fondly nurst!
‘Full soon the sun will seem as strange
‘As now the cloud which seems dispersed.’
She from a rose-tree shook the blight;
And well she knew that I knew well
Her grace with silence to requite;
And, answering now the luncheon-bell,
I laugh'd at Mildred's laugh, which made
All melancholy wrong, its mood
Such sweet self-confidence display'd,
So glad a sense of present good.

I laugh'd and sigh'd; for I confess
I never went to Ball, or Fête,
Or Show, but in pursuit express
Of my predestinated mate;
And thus to me, who had in sight
The happy chance upon the cards,
Each beauty blossom'd in the light
Of tender personal regards;
And, in the records of my breast,
Red-letter'd, eminently fair,
Stood sixteen, who, beyond the rest,
By turns till then had been my care:
At Berlin three, one at St. Cloud,
At Chatteris, near Cambridge, one,
At Ely four, in London two,
Two at Bowness, in Paris none,
And, last and best, in Sarum three;
But dearest of the whole fair troop,
In judgment of the moment, she
Whose daisy eyes had learn'd to droop
Her very faults my fancy fired;
My loving will, so thwarted, grew;
And, bent on worship, I admired
Whate'er she was, with partial view.
And yet when, as to-day, her smile
Was prettiest, I could not but note
Honoria, less admired the while,
Was lovelier, though from love remote.
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