12 November - Katherine Fowler Philips (1631-46) Jul 14, 2008 21:57:46 GMT 2
Post by moira on Jul 14, 2008 21:57:46 GMT 2
Katherine Fowler Philips (1631-46)
Although once very well-known as the "Matchless Orinda" (one of these over-the-top condescending phrases), I must in this century begin with a brief life:
Here is a brief life:
Katherine Fowler Philips (1631-46), daughter of John Fowler, a London merchant, and Katherine Oxenbridge, was married at age 16 to a man of 48, James Philips of Cardigan, a Parliamentarian. Her poetry was held up as a "model" for women who wanted to write. She translated two tragedies by Corneille; one of her plays was acted with great success in Dublin. She died of smallpox; her poems appeared in 1664, unauthorized. Today some feminist critics read see her poetry as lesbian, and a good deal of it is about her intimate friendships with women and she does seem to have invested strong erotic emotion in her relationships with these women. Like many women then and still Philips relied on such friendships to get her through life. Lyn Mikel Brown's very good, Girlfighting: Rejection and Betrayal is actually about the centrality of female friendship in women's lives. Philips' themes also include those of the civil war and internecine politics (seen in the first poem), retirement, contempt for false ambition & society, love of her husband & children. There's a very moving poem on the death of a young son.
One of my published papers (in Philological Quarterly) is on Katherine Philips, and I've put it online. What I sought to do was identify her women friends (who is Lucasia? who Rosania and so on), and I tried to present an arrangement of the poems which would make for an appealing edition. It turned out I was right in my suppositions:
I called it "Orinda, Rosania, Lucasia et aliae: Towards a New Edition of the Works of Katherine Philips."
I first offer Philips's two most frequently reprinted, and thus probably popular and thought-well of poems:
This one was published as to "Ardelia" and titled "A retir'd friendship:"
Come, my Ardelia, to this bowre,
Where kindly mingling Souls a while,
Let's innocently spend an houre,
And at all serious follys smile
Here is no quarrelling for Crowns,
Nor fear of changes in our fate;
No trembling at the Great ones frowns
Nor any slavery of state.
Here's no disguise, nor treachery
Nor any deep conceal'd design;
From blood and plots this place is free,
And calm as are those looks of thine.
Here let us sit and bless our Starres
Who did such happy quiet give,
As that remov'd from noise of warres.
In one another's hearts we live.
We should we entertain a feare?
Love cares not how the world is turn'd.
If crouds of dangers should appeare,
Yet friendship can be unconcern'd.
We weare about us such a charme,
No horrour can be our offence;
For misheif's self can doe no harme
To friendship and to innocence.
Let's mark how soone Apollo's beams
Command the flocks to quit their meat,
And not intreat the neighbour -- streams
To quench their thirst, but coole their heat.
In such a scorching Age as this,
Whoever would not seek a shade
Deserve their happiness to misse,
As having their own peace betray'd.
But we (of one another's mind
Assur'd,) the boistrous world disdain;
With quiet souls, and unconfin'd,
Enjoy what princes wish in vain.
The second is also known for having been much admired by Keats. It was entitled when first published:[/size]
To My Excellent Lucasia, on our friendship. 17th July 1651
I did not live untill this time
Crown'd my felicity,
When I could say without a crime
I am not Thine, but Thee.
This Carkasse breath'd and walk'd and slept,
So that the world believ'd
There was a soule the motions kept;
But they were all deceiv'd.
For as a watch by art is wound
To motions such was mine:
But never had Orinda found
A Soule till she found thine;
Which now inspires, cures and supply's,
And guides my darken'd brest:
For thou art all that I can prize,
My Joy, my Life, my rest.
No Bridegroomes nor crown'd conqu'rour's mirth
To mine compar'd can be:
They have but pieces of this Earth
I've all the World in thee.
Then let our flames still light and shine
(And no bold feare controule)
As innocent as our designs
Immortall as our Soule.
For myself I often like her verse towers of meditation in solitude better, but these do fit in the poetic criteria which so values Donne and Pope and has been used as a whipping post to say, "Well, now do you really want to assert that Anne Bradstreet or Phillis Wheatley came up to this?" (passages from Donne and Pope imagined inserted here). The answer is, "No" and "so what?" Katherine Philips has poems the equivalent of anything Donne or some of the other 17th century metaphysical poets wrote. I'll make a claim that Anne Finch and Mary Wortley Montague (and others too in the 18th century) could outdo Pope in his medium. We are so influenced by aura, by fame which bathes texts in numinosity we begin to forget what's in front of us. Shakespeare's sonnets are often awkward and obscene, (I'm talking really obscene) and are plucked out of the context which might allow us to understand them.
You can see how superb Philips can be with Donnian wit, and metaphysical psychology in the following:
Why is't it do difficult to see
Two bodyes and one minde?
And why are those who else agree
So differently kind?
Hathe nature such fantastique art,
That she can vary every heart?
Why are the bonds of friendhsip tyed
With so remisse a knot,
That by the most it is defyed,
And by the rest forgot?
Why do we step with so light sense
From friendship to indifference?
If friendship sympathy impart,
Why this ill-shuffled game,
That heart can never meet with heart,
Or flame encounter flame?
What doth this crueltie create?
And the tight couplet art Pope perfected -- which grew out of metaphysical poety in its encounter with Dryden. This one harks back to Ben Jonson, an early practitioner. Philips mourns the death of her baby son:
EPITAPH. ON HECTOR PHILIPS. At St Sith's Church
What on Earth deserves our Trust?
Youth and Beauty both are dust.
Long we gathering are with pain
What one Moment calls again.
Seaven years Childless Marriage past,
A Son. A son is born at last;
So exacty limm'd and Fair,
Full of good Spirits, Meen, and Aire,
As a long life promised
Yet, in less than six weeks, dead.
Too promising, too great a Mind
In so small room to be confind's:
Therefore, fit in Heav'n to dwell.
He quickly broke the Prison shell.
So the Subtle Alchymist,
Can't with Heremes-seal resist
The Powerful Spirit's subtler flight,
But 'twill bid him long good night . . .
She was a translator too: she translated two of Corneille's plays, one of which was produced on the stage. One of my favorite poems by her is her translation of a 17th century ode to "solitude:"
Barbara L. In-Reply
Ah, yes, Katherine Phillips. This is the poet I had said I was looking into.
I'd not known her before in spite of all the metaphysical conceit (pun intended) lavished on Donne and his ilke in courses of formal study I endured. I'd rather liked "To My Excellent Lucasia, on our Friendship " (quoted by Ellen in her original post), with its metaphysical conceit of the watch, and the totality of the joining ("I am not Thine, but Thee) that is reminiscent of the metaphysicals, particularly Donne in his early work.
Of course Philips never attained to the bawdy as Donne did; and was, according to one study of her, put forward as a woman whose writing one would find appropriate, as opposed to that of the "detestable" Aphra Behn. Philips was not for all that merely a poet of polite appropriateness. She speaks boldly, loves boldly, and is not only an example of the préciosité of the women poets of her day. In a section of a longer poem, "Friendship in Emblem, or the Seale, to my dearest Lucasia," Philips closely echoes Donne's "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning," with its use of the compass to anchor and elaborate the idea of constancy.
I'm also led to wonder at this point if the passionate intensity of the relation between women, erotically platonic, if you will, is not what has provided models, examples, background, no matter
how indirectly, for the infusions of the erotic (and perhaps platonic) Boston marriages Faderman first brought to general attention-- and may be behind, as well, the passionate intensity shared by Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, lesbian in nature or not.
At any rate, here follows the compass poem of Katherine Phillips, filled with the argumentative texture of devotion that so distinguished Donne:
The compasses that stand above Express this great
immortall Love; For friends, like them, can
prove this true, They are, and yet they are not,
two. And in their posture is express'd Friendship's
exalted interest: Each follows where the other
Leanes, And what each does, the other meanes.
And as when one foot does stand fast, And t'other
circles seeks to cast, The steddy part does
regulate And make the wanderer's motion streight:
So friends are onely Two in this, T'reclaime
each other when they misse: For whosoe're will
grossely fall, Can never be a friend at all. And as
that usefull instrument For even lines was ever
meant; So friendship from good = angells springs,
To teach the world heroique things. As these are
found out in design To rule and measure every
line; So friendship governs actions best,
Prescribing Law to all the rest. And as in nature nothing's
set So Just as lines and numbers mett; So
compasses for these being made, Doe friendship's
harmony perswade. And like to them, so friends
may own Extension, not division: Their points,
like bodys, separate; But head, like soules, knows no such fate.
In response to Barbara,
Katherine Philips's reputation and the supposed great chastity of her verses (ironic if you consider the actual strong erotic and lesbian content) has often been used as a stalking horse to repress other women. She is presented as the model woman: all modesty she. This is in contradistinction to the still famous Aphra Behn and probably comes out of Behn's not only writing for the stage (and thus to sell frankly bawdily and interacting ruthlessly the way one would have to), but Behn's single status and open affairs (in the poetry). (Note bene: Germaine Greer has recently written a refutation of most of the conventional beliefs about Behn, a persuasive one.) So the demands on women: be modest (preferably silent), non-assertive and obedient, married, having endless children were for a long time attached to Philips.
See how she embodied these ... etc etc.
As I wrote you can also see she was married off at a younger age to man nearly 40 years older than she (common at the time). He was a friend of her stepfather I believe. Again common. And she died young in agony (not fun small pox).
Philips did herself buy into this mode. She made a fetish of her obedience to conventions -- to protect herself. When she did put a play on stage (as she did) she played the game of not appearing to want this. She never did openly disagree with the husband -- she was dependent on him and times were dangerous as he had been a parliamentarian.
Today too she is sometimes suitable for people's agendas.
Still there's this fine poetry, deeply felt and within the limits of what she felt she was allowed to express, true. I like the towers of meditative verse -- which are often ignored but are a large percentage of the poems. I like the content and themes -- like many during the English civil war she inveighs against the venom and cruelties and fears the factions (who were murderous and greedy enough -- as when individuals seized other people's legally-owned estates).
I find interesting though that what is more common -- or the deep undergirding of the poems is the betrayal and rejection she experienced from her women friends. She pressed too hard and demanded too much loyalty, emotion, and the individual friend would back off, sometimes in order to marry, but sometimes sheerly unwilling to give or to receive what Philips so desperately needed and wanted. She was
perhaps just more intense and frank than many a woman who relies very strongly on women's friendships to get her through life. One problem is we've lost so much of what surrounded the poems; they are just plucked out of context altogether that we miss much that the nuances really present and read them coarsely as celebrations of friendship (erotic, lesbian or otherwise) when the themes are much
more intertwined with social realities of life, politics, and also can show us why women's relationships do go so sour -- beyond the realities that many people are more shallow and only want casual connections they can step back from, want to protect themselves first and foremost and so on.
So I'd say Philips is valued for the wrong reasons (so too Behn as a careerist, when according to Greer, Behn was only attempting desperately to stay alive and enjoying herself). Even if Philips's prosody
and imagery is so very fine, polished, beautiful, skilful, moving and what in fact has kept her an admired poet over the centuries and kept her poems (a very few, the same ones over and over again) in print in anthologies are the sociological and identity agendas of her readers.