Friday, February 15, 2019

You Know Who Writes; and I Who 'Tis that Reads

A Letter to Daphnis April: 2d 1685
by Anne Finch


This to the Crown, and blessing of my life,
The much lov'd husband, of a happy wife.
To him, whose constant passion found the art
To win a stubborn, and ungratefull heart;
And to the World, by tend'rest proof discovers
They err, who say that husbands can't be lovers.
With such return of passion, as is due,
Daphnis I love, Daphnis my thoughts persue,
Daphnis, my hopes, my joys, are bounded all in you:
Ev'n I, for Daphnis, and my promise sake,
What I in women censure, undertake.
But this from love, not vanity, proceeds;
You know who writes; and I who 'tis that reads.
Judge not my passion, by my want of skill,
Many love well, though they express itt ill;
And I your censure cou'd with pleasure bear,
Wou'd you but soon return, and speak itt here.

I've mentioned before that husbands are shortchanged in poetry, outside of appearing as cuckolds, and in good poetry even more so, the major exception being Christine de Pisan's Ballade XXVI from the Autres Ballades. But I like this one as well; and has a clean air about it, relying more on sincerity than poetic footwork, without being lax in the latter.

Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, was all of her life in a difficult positon of one kind or another, with her marriage to Heneage Finch (the 'Daphnis' in the early poem above is a publication-substitute for his name in the original) being at times the only thing that seems to have gotten her through. She and he were royalists in a time when loyalty to the king was not always an advantage. When James II was deposed and Heneage Finch refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to William and Mary, he lost his court position and income, and they spent a number of years continually harassed and only surviving with the help of old friends who were better positioned than they. They finally managed to find some peace sheltered by Heneage's nephew, Charles Finch, Earl of Winchilsea, and both Heneage and Charles encouraged Anne to pursue her literary activities; one volume of her poetry was published in her lifetime. When Charles died without an heir, Heneage Finch became the new Earl, and Anne the Countess of Winchilsea. It brought an end to their peace; Charles, while not a fool, had had credit extensive enough that his death plunged Heneage and Anne into legal battles that lasted years. In addition, the new title, brought them back into the notice of the court, and they were several times afraid for their lives due to tensions over the Jacobite rebellions. Anne, who had had severe bouts of depression for years, became ill for the last several years of her life and died in 1720. Then Anne Finch, poetess, was forgotten until a man named William Wordsworth happened to pick up her sole volume and read it; he praised it publicly and this led to renewed interest and the slow, scholarly uncovering of poems in manuscript.

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