Coventry Patmore

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Portrait of Coventry Patmore, by John Singer Sargent, 1894

Coventry Kearsey Deighton Patmore (July 23, 1823November 26, 1896) was an English poet and critic.


  • Grant me the power of saying things
    Too simple and too sweet for words!
    • Book I, Canto I, I The Impossibility.
  • Strong passions mean weak will, and he
    Who truly knows the strength and bliss
    Which are in love, will own with me
    No passion but a virtue 'tis.
    • Book I, Canto III, II Love a Virtue.
  • Ah, wasteful woman, she who may
    On her sweet self set her own price,
    Knowing man cannot choose but pay,
    How has she cheapen'd paradise;
    How given for nought her priceless gift,
    How spoil'd the bread and spill'd the wine,
    Which, spent with due, respective thrift,
    Had made brutes men, and men divine.
    • Book I, Canto III, III Unthrift.
  • How amiable and innocent
    Her pleasure in her power to charm!
    • Book I, Canto IV, I The Rose of the World.
  • Kind souls, you wonder why, love you,
    When you, you wonder why, love none.
    We love, Fool, for the good we do,
    Not that which unto us is done!
    • Book I, Canto VI, IV A Riddle Solved.
  • Love wakes men, once a lifetime each;
    They lift their heavy lids, and look;
    And, lo, what one sweet page can teach,
    They read with joy, then shut the book.
    • Book I, Canto VIII, II The Revelation.
  • I drew my bride, beneath the moon,
    Across my threshold; happy hour!
    But, ah, the walk that afternoon
    We saw the water-flags in flower!
    • Book I, Canto VIII, III The Spirit's Epochs.
  • The moods of love are like the wind,
    And none know whence or why they rise.
    • Book I, Canto VIII, Sarum Plain 2.
  • Bright looks reply, approving so
    Beauty's elixir vitæ, praise.
    • Book II, Prologue I.
  • What seems to us for us is true.
    The planet has no proper light,
    And yet when Venus is in view,
    No primal star is half so bright.
    • Book II, Canto I, V Perspective.
  • The beauty in her lover's eyes
    Was admiration of her own.
    • Book II, Canto II, III Lais and Lucretia.
  • Without his knowledge he was won;
    Against his nature kept devout;
    She'll never tell him how 'twas done,
    And he will never find it out.
    If, sudden, he suspects her wiles,
    And hears her forging chain and trap,
    And looks, she sits in simple smiles,
    Her two hands lying in her lap.
    Her secret (privilege of the Bard,
    Whose fancy is of either sex),
    Is mine; but let the darkness guard
    Myst'ries that light would more perplex!
    • Book II, Canto VIII, I In Love.
  • "I saw you take his kiss!" "'Tis true."
    "O, modesty!" "'Twas strictly kept:
    He thought me asleep; at least, I knew
    He thought I thought he thought I slept."
    • Book II, Canto VIII, III The Kiss.
  • A woman is a foreign land.
    • Book II. Canto IX, II The Foreign Land.
  • "The bliss which woman's charms bespeak,
    "I've sought in many, found in none!"
    "In many 'tis in vain you seek
    "What can be found in only one."
    • Book II, Canto IX, III Disappointment.
  • She is both heaven and the way.
    • Book II. Canto IX, The Friends 4.
  • I vowed unvarying faith, and she
    To whom in full I pay that vow,
    Rewards me with variety
    Which men who change can never know.
    • Book II. Canto XI, IV Constancy Rewarded.
  • Why, having won her, do I woo?
    Because her spirit's vestal grace
    Provokes me always to pursue,
    But, spirit-like, eludes embrace.[…]
    Because though free of the outer court
    I am, this Temple keeps its shrine
    Sacred to Heaven; because, in short,
    She's not and never can be mine.
    • Book II, Canto XII, I The Married Lover.
  • How light the touches are that kiss
    The music from the chords of life!
    • Book II, Canto XII, Husband and Wife 1.

The Unknown Eros (1877)

London: George Bell and Sons, 1877
  • The sunshine dreaming upon Salmon’s height
    Is not so sweet and white
    As the most heretofore sin-spotted Soul
    That darts to its delight
    Straight from the absolution of a faithful fight.
    • "Peace", p. 28.
  • Life is not life at all without delight.
    • "Victory in Defeat", p. 36.
  • To have nought
    Is to have all things without care or thought!
    • "Legem Tuam Dilexi", p. 47.
  • 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.
    • "The Toys", p. 50.
  • For want of me the world’s course will not fail;
    When all its work is done the lie shall rot;
    The truth is great and shall prevail
    When none cares whether it prevail or not.
    • "Magna est Veritas", p. 62.
  • None thrives for long upon the happiest dream.
    • "Tired Memory", p. 95.
  • The flower of olden sanctities.
    • "1867", p. 123.
  • The midge's wing beats to and fro
    A thousand times ere one can utter "O!"
    • "The Cry at Midnight", p. 145.

The Rod, the Root, and the Flower (1895)

London: George Bell and Sons, 1895
  • All reasoning ends in an appeal to self-evidence.
    • Aurea Dicta IV, p. 3.
  • If you try to simplify or pare off the superfluous from the minds and speech of most men, you will find that nothing is left. There is no simplicity in them, for there is no truth; truth and simplicity being, as Aquinas says, the same thing.
    • Aurea Dicta VI, p. 4.
  • Ther are not two sides to any question that really concerns a man, but only one, and this side only a fool can fail to see if he tries.
    • Aurea Dicta XX, p. 8.
  • Science is a line, art a superficies, and life, or the knowledge of God, a solid.
    • Aurea Dicta XXII, p. 9.
  • It is one thing to be blind, and another to be in darkness.
    • Aurea Dicta XLIV, p. 15.
  • Creation differs from subsistence only as the first leap of a fountain differs from its continuance.
    • Aurea Dicta LII, p. 17.
  • The modern Agnostic improves upon the ancient by adding "I don't care" to "I don't know".
    • Aurea Dicta LIV, p. 17.
  • The ardour chills us which we do not share.
    • Aurea Dicta LXII, p. 20.
  • One fool will deny more truth in half an hour than a wise man can prove in seven years.
    • Aurea Dicta XCIX, p. 31.
  • Books are influential in proportion to their obscurity, provided that the obscurity be that of inexpressible Realities. The Bible is the most obscure book in the world. He must be a great fool who thinks he understands the plainest chapter of it.
    • Aurea Dicta CXLIII, p. 43.
  • Pride does much and ill, Love does little and well.
    • Aurea Dicta CLIV, p. 46.
  • The impurity of ignorance is in none so manifest as in the devout; for they act on their ignorance, and fill themselves and others with miserable scruples and hard thoughts of God, and are as apt to call good evil as other men are to call evil good.
    • Knowledge and Science XVI, p. 70.
  • A man may read Plato without clearly comprehending much of what he means. He cannot read him without becoming, in some degree, a changed man.
    • Knowledge and Science, XXV, p. 80.
  • Every evil is some good spelt backwards, and in it the wise know how to read Wisdom.
    • Knowledge and Science, XXVI, p. 82.
  • The history of creation, regarded by some in very early ages as probably "mythical," has, indeed, been proved to be certainly so, but the myth includes teaching of much more significance to us than the supposed history, and everyone should be glad to discover this additional proof that the aim of the writers of Scripture was not to satisfy an idle curiosity about facts which do not concern us. The doctrine of evolution promises to be of very easy assimilation by the Church.
    • Knowledge and Science XXX, p. 87.
  • Creation is nothing but a concerted piece, consisting of representative repetitions and variations of and harmonious commentaries upon the simple theme, God, […] divine contrapuntal music […]. If Beethoven and Bach are but senseless noise to the untrained ears of the boy who likes to hear Balfe on the street organ; you, though you may be capable of Beethoven and Bach, should hesitate to affirm that the sphere-music is not music because to your ears it is nothing but confusion. The first step towards becoming able to hear it is, to fix your attention upon the theme, which is God.
    • Homo VIII, p. 108.
    • Patmore's musical imagery anticipates by fourteen years Max Weber's famous remark in a letter to Ferdinand Tönnies (9 February 1909) about being "unmusical in matters religious" (usually paraphrased as "religiously unmusical").
  • Man, when he is in health and order of soul and body, is Mount Olympus, and in him, so long as he confesses that he is nothing in himself, are sensibly apparent the powers and majesties, beauties and beatitudes of all Gods and Goddesses.
    • Homo IX, p. 110.
  • Woman is the sum and complex of all nature, and is the visible glory of God.[…] The "Word made Flesh" [John 1:14] is the word made Woman.
    • Homo X. p. 111.
    • Cf. Patmore's reference in Homo XXII (p. 125) to "the Blessed Virgin, who is the Body of God". By the doctrines of the Incarnation and the virgin birth, Jesus was wholly formed from the body of Mary, which is therefore, at least in that sense, the body of God.
  • Religion is not religion until it has become, not only natural, but so natural that nothing else seems natural in its presence.
    • Homo XXI, p. 124
  • The difference between a commonly well-behaved woman and a high-bred lady consists in very small things—but what a difference it is!
    • Magna Moralia XI, p. 156.
  • God is the only reality, and we are real only so far as we are in His order, and He is in us.
    • Magna Moralia XXII, p. 172.
  • Ninety-nine men in a hundred are natural men, that is, beasts of prey; and it is mere insanity, in business matters, to deal with a stranger upon any other assumption than that he is a natural man, though we should veil our knowledge of the actual fact by a courteous recognition in words and manners of his better possibilities.
    • Magna Moralia XXIV, p. 174.
  • Toleration, as it is now widely preached, may be a very one-sided bargain. It will not do to let falsehood and moral idiocy say to truth and honesty, "I will tolerate you if you will tolerate me."
    • Magna Moralia XLII, p. 193.

Memoirs and Correspondence (1900)

Basil Champneys, Memoirs and Correspondence of Coventry Patmore (London: George Bell and Sons, 1900)
  • Good people and religious are the first to say, "He hath a devil" of any one whose way is widely different from and maybe greatly higher than their own.
    • Vol. II, Ch. V Aphorisms and Extracts, p. 66.
  • Nothingness is capacity, and night the opportunity of light.
    • Vol. II, Ch. V Aphorisms and Extracts, p. 68.
  • The dull and heavy hate of fools.
    • Vol. II, Ch. V Aphorisms and Extracts, p. 68.
  • The cloud that is light to Israel is darkness to Egypt.
    • Vol. II, Ch. V Aphorisms and Extracts, p. 71.
  • As the Word of God is God's image, so the word of man is his image, and "a man is known by his speech."
    • Vol. II, Ch. V Aphorisms and Extracts, p. 72.
  • He is irrational, however well he may be able to reason, who does not clearly see that good is good and truth truth.
    • Vol. II, Ch. V Aphorisms and Extracts, p. 73.
  • Holy indignation is a proof that we should do the same thing ourselves, and easy tears are a certain sign of a hard heart.
    • Vol. II, Ch. V Aphorisms and Extracts, p. 74.
  • Nothing remains with man unless it is insinuated with some delight.
    • Vol. II, Ch. V Aphorisms and Extracts, p. 74.
  • The enthusiasm for goodness which shows that it is not the habit of the mind.
    • Vol. II, Ch. V Aphorisms and Extracts, p. 75.
  • Enough's a surfeit to the soul.
    • Vol. II, Ch. V Aphorisms and Extracts, p. 75.
  • Life's warp of Heaven and woof of Hell.
    • Vol. II, Ch. V Aphorisms and Extracts, p. 75.
  • Modern Philosophers, that wisely keep to sandy shallows, like shrimps, for fear of bigger fish.
    • Vol. II, Ch. V Aphorisms and Extracts, p. 76.
  • The proper study of mankind is woman.
    • Vol. II, Ch. V Aphorisms and Extracts, p. 77.
  • Uncommon things must be said in common words, if you would have them to be received in less than a century.
    • Vol. II, Ch. IX Letters to Mr. H. S. Sutton and Mrs. Sutton. Letter to H. S. Sutton (March 25, 1847), p. 149.
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