Thursday, February 5, 2015

An Apology For Her Poetry - Duchess of Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish

I language want to dress my fancies in,
The hair's uncurled, the garment's loose and thing.
Had they but silver lace to make them gay,
They'd be more courted than in poor array;
Or, had they art, would make a better show;
But they are plain; yet cleanly do they go.
The world in bravery doth take delight,
And glistening shows do more attract the sight:
And every one doth honor a rich hood,
As if the outside made the inside good.
And every one doth bow and give the place,
Not for the man's sake but the silver lace.
Let me intreat in my poor book's behalf,
That all will not adore the golden calf.
Consider, pray, gold hath no life therein,
And life, in nature, is the richest thing.
Be just, let Fancy have the upper place,
And then my verses may perchance find grace.

Duchess of Newcastle on Tyne, Margaret Cavendish, was quite the woman.  She wrote poetry, fiction, dramas, and even dabbled in science.  She was highly educated and her writings remain a very valuable source of information about her times.  Like many during her life, she had to flee England for political reasons, though was able to return with the restoration of the monarchy.  Her works weren't particularly well-received in their time, twice being the source of mockery by other authors, though her reputation today is substantially improved.

In this poem, she claims that her poems are wanting (lacking) of language in which to dress.  Simply put, she's apologizing that she isn't a terribly gifted poet, and would like to ask you to think about what the poems mean, instead of just criticizing their lack of art.  Of course, her verse is actually well-constructed, with rhymes that flow naturally and enhance the meaning of the verse, but I suspect she was being a bit humble, as expected of a woman, noble or not.

My favorite line from the poem must be, "And every one doth honor a rich hood, as if the outside made the inside good."  She's criticizing poets who think that dressing their verse up in beautiful words, in "silver lace" doesn't do much to improve them if they lack message.  It applies to much more than poetry, too.

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