Monday, August 17, 2020

Coventry Patmore*

Coventry Patmore (1823—1896) is an English poet and essayist. From 1846 to 1865 he worked for the British Museum. He was best-known in his day for his four-volume Angel in the House which presents an idealized view of married life. Critics, however, suggest that The Unknown Eros, and Other Odes (1877), through never as popular, contains his best work.

Dana Gioia — in a recent interview for Catholic World Report — said, “The best religious poems give us a vividly authentic experience of the divine and the divine order of creation.” He went on to recommended three poems for readers to consider. The least known of these was Coventry Patmore’s “The Toys.” Gioia commends it as “a profound and troubling view of parenthood. As a widower, Patmore had to raise his children without a mother. He was a loving but imperfect father. This touching poem ends in one of the best depictions of God’s mercy in English literature.”

The Toys

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:
Ah, when at last we lie with tranced breath,
Not vexing Thee in death,
And Thou rememberest of what toys
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."

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Coventry Patmore: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.