The Life and Times of Coventry Patmore

By Derek Patmore | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN The Unknown Eros

What rumour'd heavens are these
Which not a poet sings,
O, Unknown Eros? . . .

COVENTRY PATMORE now entered the darkest period of his whole poetical career. Just at the moment when he felt at the height of his powers, the friends who had so rapturously admired The Angel in the House turned a deaf ear to his new poems. Ardent admirers of his talent, such as Aubrey de Vere, strongly disapproved of them. Even Ruskin failed to appreciate them at first. He recognised 'nobleness' in the new work, but without any real enthusiasm. 'And others,' as Gosse writes, 'like Tennyson, perceived nothing.'

Yet he himself felt that in using this new metre he had discovered something new in poetry. He wrote to Champneys:

The beauty and incomparable variety of the metre opens up quite a new prospect to me of the possibilities of poetry. . . . I have hit upon the first metre that ever was invented, and on the finest mine of wholly unworked material that ever fell to the lot of an English poet.

Gosse surmises the reason why the Odes were so neglected was that in 1868

All England had its ears open to the brilliant melodies of Mr. Swinburne; no other music could be heard. . . . Yet it seems amazing that among all the initiates and experts to whom the little pamphlet was sent there should not have been one who perceived, as a portent, the beauty of Delicié Sapientié de Amore, or was amused by the audacity which described the year 1867, with its Reform Bill and its Disraeli as Chancellor of the Exchequer, as:

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