Coventry Patmore has never been a favorite of mine. I started reading him when some critics mentioned that he was one of the great Catholic Poets of Victorian times. That may well be true, but if so, it speaks to the meagre production of Catholic Poets, or the generally sing-song quality of Victorian Poetry. I find Patmore sometimes to be little better than greeting card verse--rhythms too heavily sustained, rhymes to strongly regular. One would think these hardly faults, but they are when you are looking for music.
But then, I have a harsh ear when it comes to what I like, and it is often better for me to return time and again to things I have not cared for, looking at them with a careful eye for what may be there. And Patmore does have some fine work.
Magna Est Veritas Coventry Patmore
Here, in this little Bay,
Full of tumultuous life and great repose,
Where, twice a day,
The purposeless, glad ocean comes and goes,
Under high cliffs, and far from the huge town,
I sit me down.
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.
I sat for a while with this small poem and wondered what it was all about. And it occurred to me that it might be a response, in part to Matthew Arnold's great poem of despair, "Dover Beach". And if ever a poem needed the response of ringing faith--"Dover Beach" is the one. Now, I don't know relative dates of composition, etc, so I cannot claim this as truth. However, I have noted that certain eras have a zeitgeist to which many artists direct their attention all at once. And around this central feeling much of the great art of the time may be oriented.
So I offer this small poem with the thought that it is actually a breath of faith in a wind of wondering and despair that was beginning to pervade the modern age.