Sunday, December 03, 2006

Three Angry Poems by an Eighteenth Century Feminist

Ellen Moody posted the following--in her words--scathing poems to the Wompo list. I very much admire Ellen’s contributions to the Wompo list and on the list that she moderates, Women Writer’s Through the Ages. Ellen is always teaching me something; I appreciate that. She also is a fierce feminist, which I also appreciate.

The Emulation

Say, Tyrant Custom, why must we obey
The impositions of thy haughty Sway;
From the first dawn of Life, unto the Grave,
Poor Womankind's in every State, a Slave.
The Nurse, the Mistress, Parent and the Swain,
For Love she must, there's none escape that Pain;
Then comes the last, the fatal Slavery,
The Husband with insulting Tyranny
Can have ill Manners justify'd by Law;
For Men all join to keep the Wife in awe.
Moses who first our Freedom did rebuke,
Was Marry'd when he writ the Pentateuch;
They're Wise to keep us Slaves, for well they know,
If we were loose, we soon should make them so.
We yield like vanquish'd Kings whom Fetters bind,
When chance of War is to Usurpers kind;
Submit in Form; but they'd our Thoughts control,
And lay restraints on the impassive Soul:
They fear we should excel their sluggish parts,
Should we attempt the Sciences and Arts;
Pretend they were design'd for them alone,
So keep us Fools to raise their own Renown;
Thus Priests of old their Grandeur to maintain,
Cry'd vulgar Eyes would sacred Laws Profane.
So kept the Mysteries behind a Screen,
There Homage and the Name were lost had they been seen:
But in this blessed Age, such Freedom's given,
That every Man explains the Will of Heaven;
And shall we Women now sit tamely by,
Make no excursions in Philosophy,
Or grace our Thoughts in tuneful Poetry?
We will our Rights in Learning's World maintain,
Wit's Empire, now, shall know a Female Reign,
Come all ye Fair, the great Attempt improve,
Divinely imitate the Realms above:
There's ten celestial Females govern Wit,
And but two Gods that dare pretend to it;
And shall these finite Males reverse their Rules,
No, we'll be Wits, and then Men must be Fools.

Another, this time on the hypocrisy social norms elicits from some women:

To Marina

Plague to thy husband, scandal to thy sex,
Whose wearying tongue does every ear perplex;
False to thy own false soul, thou dost declare
How lust and pride do reign and revel there,
Tell the world too how nicely chaste you are.
This dull, compulsive virtue's owned: for who,
With one so odious, would have aught to do?
But this misfortune you too oft condole,
Whilst loosest thoughts debauch your willing soul.
Thy best discourse is but mere ribaldry,
Telling how fond all that e'er see thee be,
And, loving all thyself, think'st all in love with thee.
With pious heart thou studies! vanity,
And talk'st obscene by rules of modesty.
Thus sins nick-named speak the infernal saint,
Whose shining robes are tawdry clothes and paint:
Extravagance and cheats you mark for wit,
Thou abstract of contention, fraud and spite.
If Socrates could have made choice of thee,
Thou wouldst have baffled his philosophy,
And turned his patience to a lunacy.
The restless waters of the raging sea
Are a serene and halcyon stream to thee:
They keep their banks and sometimes can be still,
Thou art all tempest, know'st no bounds in ill.
Pride, lust, contention reign and yet repine:
Vesuvius' noise and flame has less of hell than thine.

And lastly, she triumphs:

To Philaster
        Go perjur'd Youth and court what Nymph you please,
Your Passion now is but a dull disease;
With worn-out Sighs decieve some list'ning Ear,
Who longs to know how 'tis and what Men swear;
She'll think they're new from you; 'cause so to her.
Poor cousin'd Fool, she ne'er can know the Charms
Of being first encircled in thy Arms,
When all Love's Joys were innocent and gay,
As fresh and blooming as the new-born day.
Your Charms did then with native Sweetness flow;
The forc'd-kind Complaisance you now bestow,
Is but a false agreeable Design,
But you had Innocence when you were mine,
And all your Words, and Smiles, and Looks divine.
How proud, methinks, thy Mistress does appear
In sully'd Clothes, which I'd no longer wear ;
Her Bosom too with wither'd Flowers drest,
Which lost their Sweets in my first chosen Breast ;
Perjur'd imposing Youth, cheat who you will,
Supply defect of Truth with amorous Skill :
Yet thy Address must needs insipid be,
For the first Ardour of thy Soul was all possess'd by me.

The above poems come from the Net and also Roger Lonsdale's _Eighteenth-Century Women

Although other of Sarah Fyge Field Egerton's bitter poems appear in Germaine Greer's _Kissing
the Rod_ (an anthology of 17th century poems by women), in poetry Egerton kissed no rods --
whatever she was coerced into doing outside poetry. Egerton is famous for writing a long verse
response at age 14 to a leeringly misogynistic poem (not atypical of the era) called Robert Gould's
"A Late Satyr Against the Pride, Lust and Inconstancy, &c of Woman."

Sarah Fyge was born in 1670, London, her father a physician and city councilman. At around the
age she wrote her reply to Gould, her father sent his "disobedient" daughter into the country and
married her off, unwillingly, to Edward Field, an attorney. Field died in the mid-1690s, leaving her
childless and well-to-do. Sarah remarried not long afterwards to a much older man, a second
cousin (probably once again coerced as this pattern of marrying much older men you are related
to was common in this era -- to aggrandize and keep the money in the family); his name was
Thomas Egerton. In 1710 she sued Egerton for divorce on grounds of cruelty, and he sued her
and her father in chancery for the estate left her by Field. Egerton accused Sarah of adultery and
going to London with a married man, Henry Pierce. (We know something about this because
Mary Delarieve Manley included the story of this divorce in a popular scandal chronicle where
Manley is unsympathetic to Egerton, describing her as hideously ugly [she may not have been]
and quoting her husband as saying, "Deliver me from a poetical wife.") The divorce suit was
unsuccessful on both sides, and they remained tied to one another legally until 1720. He then
died. She died in 1723, leaving a tiny legacy to the "poor" of her parish, but we are told this
money was lost through the abuses of her executors. Greer says her monument depicts her a
victim of her era and fate, an "image she often elaborated in her poetry", e.g.,

        In vain I strive to be with quiet blest
        Various sorrows wreck't my destin'd brest,
        And I could only in the grave find rest.


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