Ulick O'Connor - poetry: Comfort for a sad heart
Coventry Patmore is not remembered as a poet as well as his contemporaries Tennyson, Wordsworth and Oscar Wilde are. But though last man in, he nevertheless left his mark on the poetic scoreboard.
The poem he is most remembered for is 'The Toys'. Yes, the things children play with. This is a marvellous poem which careers along on the edge of sentiment but miraculously avoids it, and comes out at full speed. Moreover, the poem is written in rhyming couplets - and if you listen carefully, you can hear a sad tinkle playing between the lines
Keep your handkerchiefs at the ready because even the most cynical might feel a little twitch on the eyelashes when they find they have finished the poem.
PS Coventry Patmore was married three times.
My little Son, who look'd from thoughtful eyes
And moved and spoke in quiet grown-up wise,
Having my law the seventh time disobey'd,
I struck him, and dismiss'd
With hard words and unkiss'd,
-His Mother, who was patient, being dead.
Then, fearing lest his grief should hinder sleep,
I visited his bed,
But found him slumbering deep,
With darken'd eyelids, and their lashes yet
From his late sobbing wet.
And I, with moan,
Kissing away his tears, left others of my own;
For, on a table drawn beside his head,
He had put, within his reach,
A box of counters and a red-vein'd stone,
A piece of glass abraded by the beach,
And six or seven shells,
A bottle with bluebells,
And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art,
To comfort his sad heart.
So when that night I pray'd
To God, I wept, and said:
"We made our joys
How weakly understood
Thy great commanded good,
Then, fatherly not less
Than I whom Thou hast moulded from the clay,
Thou'lt leave Thy wrath, and say,
'I will be sorry for their childishness.'"
Coventry Patmore, 1823-96