Coventry Patmore

(23 July 1823 - 26 November 1896 / Essex, England)

The Yew-Berry - Poem by Coventry Patmore

I call this idle history the ‘Berry of the Yew;
Because there's nothing sweeter than its husk of scarlet glue,
And nothing half so bitter as its black core bitten through.
I loved, saw hope, and said so; learn'd that Laura loved again:
Why speak of joy then suffer'd? My head throbs, and I would fain
Find words to lay the spectre starting now before my brain.
She loved me: all things told it; eye to eye, and palm to palm:
As the pause upon the ceasing of a thousand-voiced psalm
Was the mighty satisfaction and the full eternal calm.
On her face, when she was laughing, was the seriousness within;
Her sweetest smiles, (and sweeter did a lover never win,)
In passing, grew so absent that they made her fair cheek thin.
On her face, when she was speaking, thoughts unworded used to live;
So that when she whisper'd to me, ‘Better joy Earth cannot give,’
Her following silence added, ‘But Earth's joy is fugitive.’
For there a nameless something, though suppress'd, still spread around;
The same was on her eyelids, if she look'd towards the ground;
In her laughing, singing, talking, still the same was in the sound;—
A sweet dissatisfaction, which at no time went away,
But shadow'd on her spirit, even at its brightest play,
That her mirth was like the sunshine in the closing of the day.

Let none ask joy the highest, save those who would have it end
There's weight in earthly blessings; they are earthy, and they tend,
By predetermin'd impulse, at their highest, to descend.
I still for a happy season, in the present, saw the past,
Mistaking one for the other, feeling sure my hold was fast
On that of which the symbols vanish'd daily: but, at last,
As when we watch bright cloud-banks round about the low sun ranged,
We suddenly remember some rich glory gone or changed,
All at once I comprehended that her love was grown estranged.
From this time, spectral glimpses of a darker fear came on:
They came; but, since I scorn'd them, were no sooner come than gone.—
At times, some gap in sequence frees the spirit, and, anon,
We remember states of living ended ere we left the womb,
And see a vague aurora flashing to us from the tomb,
The dreamy light of new states, dash'd tremendously with gloom.
We tremble for an instant, and a single instant more
Brings absolute oblivion, and we pass on as before!
Ev'n so those dreadful glimpses came, and startled, and were o'er.

One morning, one bright morning, Wortley met me. He and I,
As we rode across the country, met a friend of his. His eye
Caught Wortley's, who rode past him. ‘What,’ said he, ‘pass old friends by?
So I've heard your game is grounded! Why your life's one long romance
After your last French fashion. But, ah! ha! should Herbert chance—’
‘Nay, Herbert's here,’ said he, and introduced me, with a glance
Of easy smiles, ignoring this embarrassment; and then
This pass'd off, and soon after I went home, and took a pen,
And wrote the signs here written, with much more, and where, and when;
And, having read them over once or twice, sat down to think,
From time to time beneath them writing more, till, link by link,
The evidence against her was fulfill'd: I did not shrink,
But I read them all together, and I found it was no dream.
What I felt I can't remember; an oblivion which the gleam
Of light which oft comes through it shews for blessedness extreme.
At last I moved, exclaiming, ‘I will not believe, until
‘I've spoken once with Laura.’ Thereon all my heart grew still
For doubt and faith are active, and decisions of the will.

I found my Love. She started: I suppose that I was pale.
We talk'd; but words on both sides, seem'd to sicken, flag, and fail.
Then I gave her what I'd written, watching whether she would quail.
In and out flew sultry blushes: so, when red reflections rise
From conflagrations, filling the alarm'd heart with surmise,
They lighten now, now darken, up and down the gloomy skies.
She finish'd once; but fearing to look from it, read it o'er
Ten times at least. Poor Laura, had those readings been ten score,
That refuge from confusion had confused thee more and more!
I said, ‘You're ill, sit Laura,’ and she sat down and was meek.
‘Ah tears! not lost to God then. But pray Laura, do not speak
I understand you better by the moisture on your cheek.’
She shook with sobs, in silence. I yet checking passion's sway,
Said only, ‘Farewell Laura!’ then got up, and strode away;
For I felt that she would burst my heart asunder should I stay.
Oh, ghastly corpse of Love so slain! it makes the world its hearse;
Or, as the sun extinct and dead, after the doomsday curse,
It rolls, an unseen danger, through the darken'd universe.
I struggled to forget this; but, forgetfulness too sweet!
It startled with its sweetness, thus involv'd its own defeat;
And, every time this happen'd, aching memory would repeat
The shock of that discovery: so at length I learn'd by heart
And never, save when sleeping, suffer'd thenceforth to depart,
The feeling of my sorrow: and in time this sooth'd the smart.
Yet even now not seldom, in my leisure, in the thick
Of other thoughts, unchallenged, words and looks come crowding quick—
They do while I am writing, till the sunshine makes me sick.

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, April 14, 2010

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