Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Married Life
By Coventry Patmore (1823–1896)
From ‘The Wedding Sermon’ in ‘The Victories of Love’

LOVERS, once married, deem their bond
Then perfect, scanning naught beyond
For love to do but to sustain
The spousal hour’s delighted gain.
But time and a right life alone        5
Fulfill the promise then foreshown.
The bridegroom and the bride withal
Are but unwrought material
Of marriage; nay, so far is love,
Thus crowned, from being thereto enough,        10
Without the long compulsive awe
Of duty, that the bond of law
Does oftener marriage love evoke,
Than love which does not wear the yoke
Of legal vows submits to be        15
Self-reined from ruinous liberty.
Lovely is love; but age well knows
’Twas law which kept the lover’s vows
Inviolate through the year or years
Of worship pieced with panic fears,        20
When she who lay within his breast
Seemed of all women perhaps the best,
But not the whole, of womankind,
Or love, in his yet wayward mind,
Had ghastly doubts its precious life        25
Was pledged for aye to the wrong wife.
  Could it be else? A youth pursues
A maid, whom chance, not he, did choose,
Till to his strange arms hurries she
In a despair of modesty.        30
Then simply and without pretense
Of insight or experience,
They plight their vows. The parents say,
“We cannot speak them yea or nay:
The thing proceedeth from the Lord!”        35
And wisdom still approves their word;
For God created so these two,
They match as well as others do
That take more pains, and trust him less
Who never fails, if asked, to bless        40
His children’s helpless ignorance
And blind election of life’s chance.
Verily, choice not matters much,
If but the woman’s truly such,
And the young man has led the life        45
Without which how shall e’er the wife
Be the one woman in the world?
Love’s sensitive tendrils sicken, curled
Round folly’s former stay; for ’tis
The doom of all unsanctioned bliss        50
To mock some good that, gained, keeps still
The taint of the rejected ill.
  Howbeit, though both were perfect, she
Of whom the maid was prophecy
As yet lives not, and Love rebels        55
Against the law of any else;
And as a steed takes blind alarm,
Disowns the rein, and hunts his harm,
So misdespairing word and act
May now perturb the happiest pact.        60
  The more, indeed, is love, the more
Peril to love is now in store.
Against it nothing can be done
But only this: leave ill alone!
Who tries to mend his wife, succeeds        65
As he who knows not what he needs.
He much affronts a worth as high
As his, and that equality
Of spirits in which abide the grace
And joy of her subjected place;        70
And does the still growth check and blur
Of contraries, confusing her
Who better knows what he desires
Than he, and to that mark aspires
With perfect zeal, and a deep wit        75
Which nothing helps but trusting it.
  So loyally, o’erlooking all
In which love’s promise short may fall
Of full performance, honor that
As won, which aye love worketh at!        80

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