From “A Married State”
by Katherine Philips
A married state affords but little ease
The best of husbands are so hard to please.
This in wives’ careful faces you may spell
Though they dissemble their misfortunes well.
Someone wrote on Twitter the other day that being in lockdown reminded her of being married. This little excerpt from Katherine Philips’ poem is for all those quarantined with a less-than-perfect housemate.
My own housemate is a dear. He is dear even as he follows me around with supportive words on hand washing, although sometimes I have to remind myself of how dear he is when he doesn’t follow me around with supportive words on hand washing.
Reader, I wash my hands often and well.
You can link to the complete poem here.
Katherine Philips (1631/32 – 1664) was an English poet and translator. She was an intelligent child who read the Bible by the time she was four. Her father was a cloth merchant and had her educated at boarding school. She spoke several languages.
She was 16 when she married a Welsh landowner and member of Parliament. It was a strange match—he was 38 years older and the son of her mother’s second husband from another marriage. She and her husband (—cough—step-brother) had opposite political positions (her pro-royalist connections saved him from the executioner after King Charles II took the throne), but they seem to have been happy. Important to note that she wrote her sardonic anti-marriage poem in her early teens before she was married.
Still, her view of marriage seems jaundiced. When a friend remarried after widowhood, Philips wrote to her, “one may generally conclude the Marriage of a Friend to be the Funeral of a Friendship.”
Her husband encouraged her literary endeavors. She wrote over a hundred poems, many on the theme of female friendship which she wrote about in the tropes of courtly love. She translated and staged a play in London and Dublin, the first woman ever to have done so. She was the founder of the Society of Friendship, a literary group that wrote letters and poems to each other. Members of the group addressed each other with nicknames—hers was “The Matchless Orinda.”
She had two children. Her son died in infancy. She wrote his tombstone epitaph (in verse) and another poem, “On the Death of My First and Dearest Child, Hector Philips.” In spite of the elegant phraseology, a mother’s raw grief rips through—
Tears are my muse, and sorrow all my art,
So piercing groans must be thy elegy.
Those piercing groans. Wow. Lines like that remind me how we are the same in our suffering, century to century, country to country.
She died in her early thirties of smallpox.
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