Thursday, 13 June 2013

Two intriguing poems about ratbags by Thomas Carew and Coventry Patmore

There are so many great love poems about the wonderfulness and perfection of the object of the poet's affections that it's a relief to find ones that present their beloved (erstwhile or current) in a slightly less flattering light. Here are two of my favourites from an admittedly limited genre. I’ll start with Coventry Patmore (whose tremendously touching poem, “The Toys”, I featured here) and his resentment at the peremptory fashion in which his lover (girl-friend? mistress?) takes her final leave of him. The subject matter of “Departure” - which appeared in his collection, The Unknown Eros,published in 1872 - strikes me as strangely modern:

“Departure” by Coventry Patmore 
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,
You went,
With sudden, unintelligible phrase,
And frighten'd 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 the loss aghast,
With huddled, unintelligible phrase,
And frighten'd 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 pass'd:
'Twas all unlike your great and gracious ways.

While Patmore is dealing with what sounds like the proverbial bum’s rush, Thomas Carew’s “The Spring” deals – brilliantly, I think - with a lover (wife?) indulging in a right old strop. Mind you, Carew (1594-1640) was evidently a bit of a lad, so the lady’s frostiness may very well have been justified. A member of the “Cavalier” group of Caroline poets, Carew was dismissed as secretary to Sir Dudley Carleton in The Hague for levity and slander, but later later managed to become taster-in-ordinary to Charles I: from "The Spring", it's obvious that it wasn't only his employers who tended to banish him to the dog-house:

“The Spring” by Thomas Carew 
Now that the winter's gone, the earth hath lost
Her snow-white robes, and now no more the frost
Candies the grass, or casts an icy cream
Upon the silver lake or crystal stream;
But the warm sun thaws the benumbed earth,
And makes it tender; gives a sacred birth
To the dead swallow; wakes in hollow tree
The drowsy cuckoo, and the humble-bee.
Now do a choir of chirping minstrels bring
In triumph to the world the youthful Spring.
The valleys, hills, and woods in rich array
Welcome the coming of the long'd-for May.
Now all things smile, only my love doth lour;
Nor hath the scalding noonday sun the power
To melt that marble ice, which still doth hold
Her heart congeal'd, and makes her pity cold.
The ox, which lately did for shelter fly
Into the stall, doth now securely lie
In open fields; and love no more is made
By the fireside, but in the cooler shade
Amyntas now doth with his Chloris sleep
Under a sycamore, and all things keep
Time with the season; only she doth carry
June in her eyes, in her heart January.

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