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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

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,

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

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,

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

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.

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!”

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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;

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

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!