Departure, written by Coventry Patmore in 1878 and published in his book The Unknown Eros, is single-stanza poem of 32 lines. Written in second-person, it reflects the poet’s perception of a lover’s abrupt and painful goodbye.
Departure | Summary
The poem begins with an exclamation: “It was not like your great and gracious ways!”
The poet asks the addressee of his work- presumably a lover, whom he says has no one else to lament- whether they repent their past actions. Here, that action is a sudden departure on a July afternoon: With murmured words and a fear of the reaction, the poet’s lover left him to go on a journey of many days without so much as a kiss goodbye. The poet is shocked, because it is an action so unlike the good heart of his lover.
Despite the feelings of confusion and betrayal he expresses in the first few lines, he says he knew their time was coming to an end. He recalls the way they sat together under the sun, when his lover praised him in a quiet voice. It was nice to hear such words, but he suspected that the expression of affection stemmed from the upcoming plan to leave. He says, “And I could tell what made your eyes a growing gloom of love, as a warm South-wind sombres a March grove.”
While thinking about those days, the poet says it was just like the lover- like their ‘great and gracious ways’- to talk about daily things in a soft voice that had him leaning closer to hear, and then laughing when he did so. But in the end, after everything, he is left alone. This is something he continues to lament in disbelief, saying “But all at once to leave me at the last, more at the wonder than the loss aghast.”
The poet repeats his earlier thoughts about the way his lover left him- with murmured whispers and “frighten’d eye” for a journey of all days, without a reason or a kiss, or even a goodbye. He then says that the last look his lover gave him was a ‘loveless’ one- it did not hold the tenderness it used to- and such an action was not like his lover at all. The poet, finding it completely out of character, repeats the first line of the poem: ‘’Twas unlike all your great and gracious ways’.
Departure | Analysis
Departure is written in second-person. The grief, disbelief and betrayal expressed in the strings almost sounds like a monologue or a rhythmic letter. Patmore shifts between rhetoric and recall, exclamations and expression. His clever use of punctuation conveys the tone of narration- starting with an exclamation to express the degree of his disbelief, and ending with a statement that encapsulates his thoughts. He asks questions which may be considered rhetoric, because though he wants an answer, he knows he will not get one. His repetitions of lines act as an emphasis on what he wants the readers to focus on, as well as playing a solid role in setting the emotion and situation. His vocabulary is that of Victorian English, as expected of his era. This poem focuses on elements of shock, confusion, betrayal and sadness that come from the sudden farewell of a lover. It also hints at the disbelief that occurs when someone’s actions do not befit their character.
A brief context may help readers connect more to this poem- Patmore wrote Departure after the death of his first wife. He was in his second marriage at the time. His first wife passed away due to an illness– they had six children together, and during that marriage, he wrote several pieces on the ideal marriage. This ‘unexpected farewell’ of a lover he laments here could possibly be an ode to his late first wife.
Departure | Analysis, Lines 1-9
It was not like your great and gracious ways!
Do you, that have naught other to lament,
Never, my Love, repent
Of how, that July afternoon,
With sudden, unintelligible phrase,
And frighten’d eye,
Upon your journey of so many days
Without a single kiss, or a good-bye?
The opening sentence is an exclamation: “It was not like your great and gracious ways!”
This is an anchor throughout the poem, repeated a couple of times in different variations. The punctuation here shows his dismay, and it also hints that he had a high regard for the addressee- he did not think their actions matched up to their usually clement ways. This refrain can also symbolize the sadness of watching someone fall from a pedestal. He continues to ask of his lover– the words “my Love” and later, “my Dear ” make it clear that it is, indeed, a lover- whether they repent their departure. He says they went with “sudden, unintelligible phrase, And frighten’d eye, Upon your journey of so many days, Without a single kiss, or a good-bye.” The lover’s mumbling and frightened eyes show the guilt of leaving a good relationship, or the fear of goodbye. The phrase ‘journey of many days’ signifies that the partition will be long-term.
A different angle to look at this in- one that we may consider only if we know Patmore’s history– could be that he is referencing his first wife’s life slipping away, and describing her fear and guilt at the departure.
Departure | Analysis, Lines 10 – 24
I knew, indeed, that you were parting soon;
And so we sate, within the low sun’s rays,
You whispering to me, for your voice was weak,
Your harrowing praise.
Well, it was well
To hear you such things speak,
And I could tell
What made your eyes a growing gloom of love,
As a warm South-wind sombres a March grove.
And it was like your great and gracious ways
To turn your talk on daily things, my Dear,
Lifting the luminous, pathetic lash
To let the laughter flash,
Whilst I drew near,
Because you spoke so low that I could scarcely hear.
When the poet continues by describing his happier moments with his lover, as they talked under the sun, he says he enjoyed listening to their ‘harrowing praise’ but he “could tell what made your eyes a growing gloom of love, As a warm South-wind sombres a March grove.” Here he uses a simile to liken his lover’s expression to the warm south winds. He also describes it as a ‘growing gloom of love’ rather than the more positive adjectives one might expect to be associated with love. It gives off a feeling of melancholy and foreshadowed endings- after all, the poet says it is that expression that made him suspect the upcoming farewell.
When the poet recalls how his lover quietly talked about everyday things, laughing as the poet moved forward to listen, he thinks “it was like your great and gracious ways.” This is the second time we see this phrase, this time in an optimistic manner. It reiterates how revered this lover was in the eyes of the poet. He seems to associate them with only the most gentle and compassionate nature.
Departure | Analysis, Lines 25-32
But all at once to leave me at the last,
More at the wonder than the loss aghast,
With huddled, unintelligible phrase,
And frighten’d eye,
And go your journey of all days
With not one kiss, or a good-bye,
And the only loveless look the look with which you pass’d:
‘Twas all unlike your great and gracious ways.
Following this memory, the poet bemoans the departure of his lover, wondering how and why it could have happened. The line “More at the wonder than the loss aghast” is the perfect encapsulation of all his emotions– he cannot believe his so-gracious lover could have left him in such a manner. Hence, his aghast feelings stem more from the sorrowful incredulity of the situation rather than the loss itself. The person whom he held at such a high regard shocked him- he cannot even mourn the loss because he is still stunned by the uncharacteristically cruel farewell
The poet then repeats three lines from earlier, describing once more the way his lover left him: “With huddled, unintelligible phrase, and frighten’d eye, and go your journey of all days with not one kiss, or a good-bye.” However, there is one difference– previously, he said ‘journey of many days,’ which pushed a ray of hope that though the separation is long-term, there may be a chance for return. But by the end of the poem, he says ‘journey of all days’ which effectively finalises their split. He does not expect his lover to return anymore- the departure is a permanent one. Another point to note: the first time he said this line, he ended it with a question mark. He was asking his lover how they could leave in such a way, without even a goodbye. Now, as he works through his memories and sentiments, his questions and exclamations become simple statements. He has come to terms with what has happened, and is accepting it for what it is, no matter how dolefully he does so.
The poem closes with a recollection of the last gaze his lover gave him: a loveless one. A rather sorrowful, borderline bitter ending to what was a loving relationship (we may assume their good relationship from the pedestal at which the poet held his lover and the grief their farewell gave him). The poet sees an affection-less smile from his lover for the first time. This is a sad sort of irony– it is the first loveless smile he has seen from his lover, but also the last smile his lover will ever give him. A simultaneous first-and-last, almost oxymoronic.
Patmore ends the poem with: “And the only loveless look the look with which you pass’d: ‘Twas all unlike your great and gracious ways.” The final line resonates with the readers, because it truly feels like a full circle of thoughts, of emotions and pain, and of unanswered questions and eventual acceptance. This full-circle is especially impactful because the opening line and the concluding line of the poem are the same- “It was unlike your great and gracious ways.” The loveless smile he received at the end was so unlike his lover, not at all in line with their ‘great and gracious ways.’ The only difference is the punctuation, very cleverly orchestrated by Patmore. What started with an exclamation point ended with a full stop- a journey through stunned unhappiness and emotional confusion: from profuse disbelief and pain to a solemn and despondent acceptance.