The Married Lover

    WHY, having won her, do I woo?
    Because her spirit's vestal grace
    Provokes me always to pursue,
    But, spirit-like, eludes embrace;
    Because her womanhood is such
    That, as on court-days subjects kiss
    The Queen's hand, yet so near a touch
    Affirms no mean familiarness,
    Nay, rather marks more fair the height
    Which can with safety so neglect
    To dread, as lower ladies might,
    That grace could meet with disrespect;
    Thus she with happy favor feeds
    Allegiance from a love so high
    That thence no false conceit proceeds
    Of difference bridged, or state put by;
    Because, although in act and word
    As lowly as a wife can be
    Her manners, when they call me lord,
    Remind me 'tis by courtesy;
    Not with her least consent of will,
    Which would my proud affection hurt,
    But by the noble style that still
    Imputes an unattained desert;
    Because her gay and lofty brows,
    When all is won which hope can ask,
    Reflect a light of hopeless snows
    That bright in virgin ether bask;
    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.

    Coventry Patmore(1823-1896)


Coventry Patmore began writing at an early age and his first poems were published in 1844. When his parents were forced to leave England for speculations in railway shares, he was forced to support himself by writing. He enjoyed a relationship with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood subjecting his work to their approval. His most famous book is The Angel in the House and Patmore insisted on determining himself "the psychologist of love" Through Angel, he justifies himself by touting he had the ability to "discern sexual impurity and virginal purity, the one as the tangible blackness and horror of hell, and the other as the very blessed of heaven, and the flower and consummation of love between man and woman." This dubious insight was enjoyed and greatly approved by the Victorian middle class, and came to have some influence on later generations, as Virginia Woolf's 1931 lecture on "Professions for Women" attests:
    ...the Angel in the House ... was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish.... She sacrificed herself daily.... she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize with the minds and wishes of others.... Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing.

This particular poem has been taken up as a political cause and Patmore also claimed himself to be the "poet of Married Life" reminding his readers that the failure to celebrate domestic happiness was the chief weakness of modern literature. The Married Lover was published in The Angel in the House in 1854 and is an intimate look at married life. The heroine of the prose is based on Patmore's first wife Emily whom he names Honoria and casts as his fictional heroine of domestic bliss.

Patmore was a conservative in his own right and although The Married Lover is idealized many other conservatives praised it as well as his similar work using them as arguments against feminism and women's rights, both of which were hot political topics in the last half of the 19th century. While he had three successful marriages I can't see any anti feminist rhetoric in this poem since it seems to be dealing more with a glimpse of an intimate sexual relationship of a husband for his wife celebrating her personality and his love for her and codifies the Victorian ideal of domesticity.

Sources:

'My Name Was Martha': Chapter 4:
www.geocities.com/ResearchTriangle/ Station/1559/myname4.html

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:
http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/patmor01.html#5

CST Approved.

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