»  Coventry Patmore's "Magna est Veritas"


Magna est Veritas

by Coventry Patmore, 1823-1896


•  Background

In the Latin Vulgate Bible, the first Book of Esdras (equivalent to the book of Ezra in the King James Bible) contains the verse:  Magna est veritas et prævalet — "Great is truth, and it prevails." This is commonly misquoted as Magna est veritas et prævalebit — "Great is the truth and it will prevail." (The fictional English schoolboy Billy Bunter, asked to construe this line of Latin, came up with:  "The truth is great and it will prevail a bit," which probably corresponds more closely to our experience of life than does the original.) Coventry Patmore took this line and ran with it.

This poem appeared in Patmore's book The Unknown Eros, published in 1877, when Patmore (1823-1896) was already in his fifties. He had converted to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism twelve years before, and is generally considered a spiritual poet, if not precisely a religious one. He was living in East Grinstead at the time; but that is an inland town, and so obviously is not the place he is visiting in the poem. If anyone knows what that place was, I'd be interested to learn it.

[Added later :  A reader offers this:
I too have been wondering about the place the poem is written about. As it is in Eros, I think it must be Hastings. He moved here in 1877, and stayed I think for many years, before the lease on his house ran out and he had to move. He writes about Hastings in "Amelia," and he knew Hastings from the age of five — his first honeymoom ("The Angel in the House" No. 1) was spent here.

So I think the little cove is the beach under the the cliffs beyond the yacht club, known now as Rock a Nore. It would be reasonably far from the little town.
Sound plausible to me.]


•  Play the reading


•  Text of the poem

Here, in this little Bay
Full of tumultuous life and great repose,
Where, twice a day,
The purposeless, glad ocean comes and goes,
Under high cliffs, and far from the huge town,
I sit me down.
For want of me the world's course will not fail;
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;
The truth is great, and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.