The Sunday Poem: Anthony Cronin's Personal Anthology
Published 11/05/2015 | 02:30
Coventry Patmore may fairly be said to be neglected nowadays, though he is not, as the Cambridge Companion to English Literature insists, forgotten.
He has after all, and for what it is worth, a number of pages in Helen Gardner's Oxford Book of English Verse. Departure is about his first wife, Emily. She had been the heroine of his once popular sequence about married life, The Angel In The House, the very title of which has been enough to condemn it in some twentieth century eyes, notably Virginia Woolf's.
It may have been a more interesting poem before Patmore showed it to his confessor, the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins thought some of the more intimate passages were too frank. 'Telling secrets' he said they were, and advised that not only should they be deleted but destroyed. Unfortunately Patmore took his advice. There are very few successful poems about death in English, though there are plenty of elegies and laments. Departure is one of them, having a vein of realism towards the end which is quite uncommon.
It was not like your great and gracious ways!
Do you, that have nought other to lament,
Never, my Love, repent
Of how, that July afternoon,
With sudden unintelligible phrase,
And frightened eye,
Upon your journey of so many days,
Without a single kiss, or a good-bye?
I knew, indeed, that you were parting soon;
And so we sate, within the low sun's rays,
You whispering to me, for your voice was weak,
Your harrowing praise.
Well, it was well,
To hear you such things speak,
And I could tell
What made your eyes a growing gloom of love,
As a warm South-wind sombres a March grove.
And it was like your great and gracious ways
To turn your talk on daily things, my Dear,
Lifting the luminous, pathetic lash
To let the laughter flash,
Whilst I drew near,
Because you spoke so low that I could scarcely hear.
But all at once to leave me at the last,
More at the wonder than at the loss aghast,
With huddled, unintelligible phrase,
And frightened eye,
And go your journey of all days
With not one kiss, or a good-bye,
And the only loveless look the look with which you passed:
'Twas all unlike your great and gracious ways.
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