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What Is a Husband’s Biggest Mistake? Part IV

By Ernest DeFilippis

From Aesthetic Realism Seminar of April 19, 200l, given by Aesthetic Realism Consultants Chaim Koppelman, Ernest DeFilippis, & Bennett Cooperman

A Wife Stands for the World

In Mind and Husbands Mr. Siegel says:

We marry people, and a person happens to have millions of blood cells and hundreds of aspects. We marry complete representatives in miniature of the flourishing universe. We don’t marry consolations. [TRO 638] We can see an illustration of this great idea in a poem I care for very much. I learned of it in the Aesthetic Realism Explanation of Poetry class, taught by Ellen Reiss. It is The Angel in the House, by the nineteenth-century English poet Coventry Patmore. This long poem composed of many short poems was published in parts between 1854 and 1862, and Patmore dedicated it to his first wife, Emily Andrews.

He describes the meeting, courtship, wedding, and marriage of a man and woman. Clearly, the husband stands for the Patmore himself, and throughout there is a desire, ever so thoughtful and passionate, to see who this woman is and be worthy of her love both before and after marriage. He wants, he says, to "always seek the best for her / With unofficious tenderness." That is good will, and he sees it as the same as love for her and taking care of himself.

In a poetry class titled "Can Men and Women Understand Each Other in Poetry and Out?" Ellen Reiss discussed "The Married Lover," one of the poems in this collection. Its first line is: "Why, having won her, do I woo?" Said Ms. Reiss:

It is a good poem and it says something very important. It is about the fact that he has this woman, who is his wife—he has her in every way, including body—and yet he feels still there's something he has to keep pursuing which he'll never have. . . . And the large thing is, he's happy about it. The first four lines are:
Why, having won her, do I woo?
Because her spirit’s vestal grace
Provokes me always to pursue,
But, spirit-like, eludes embrace.
"There’s something in the way she sees the world," said Ms. Reiss, "that makes him feel he has to keep trying to find out about it." These lines are against a husband’s smugness and complacency—that feeling, Now that I’ve won her she’s mine and I can see her any way I please!

Patmore feels that there is something so large in his wife it cannot be embraced, that even as he touches her there will always be a sense of awe. He writes:

. . . yet so near a touch
Affirms no mean familiarness.
"‘Mean familiarness,’" explained Ellen Reiss, "is a Victorian way of saying contempt." And she asked, "Can you have touch and not have ‘mean familiarness’? It is a question agonizing men and women all over America right now." I’m tremendously thankful to be seeing with Maureen how sex can make for respect and pride.

There Are Touch and Respect

On the subject of touch and respect—I comment on a stanza I love from an early part of The Angel in the House. It counters a mistake husbands make: not seeing their wives as a oneness of mind and body, and seeing sex as in a separate world, unrelated to anything else. Patmore writes:

I drew my bride, beneath the moon,
Across my threshold; happy hour!
But, ah, the walk that afternoon
We saw the water-flags in flower!
The first two lines are about sex. There is a feeling of intimacy and width, of passion, as he carries her across the threshold and then—"happy hour!" But the feeling in the last two lines is continuous with that happening and has, if anything, even greater release and delight—and it’s about their seeing the outside world together: "But, ah, the walk that afternoon / We saw the water-flags in flower!"

I respect Coventry Patmore, and he has had me love and value Aesthetic Realism more. "The Married Lover" ends this way:

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.
Ms. Reiss explained that Patmore is saying: "I’m close to her—I’m not in the outer court anymore—but I do not own her; ‘She’s not and never can be mine.’" She said of the poem: "It’s a rather beautiful way of seeing, and it’s pretty unusual. And Aesthetic Realism can have it be in people’s lives."

This is the joy and kindness men and women are yearning for.

I conclude with sentences David Gerard wrote in a letter:

I am so grateful to be married, and in the midst of learning what it means to have good will for another person. I state flatly, this would not be possible had I not been soundly educated, as every man needs to be and deeply wants to be, through the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel. Return to first page
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Copyright 2005 by Ernest DeFilippis