Unladylike verse from the paststeemCreated with Sketch.

in poetry •  3 months ago

A poem written by a woman some 400 years ago may not be as polite as you would have thought.

Penning A Letter, George Goodwin Kilburne. Image: WikiCommons

Lovely ladies all

Women are usually portrayed as the “fairer sex”, genteel and, of course, ladylike. That's certainly the impression one gets from looking at old paintings, like the one above.

When not genteelly and smilingly writing wistful, sweet letters, they are captured gazing adoringly at their powerful, boastful husbands, or plump, rosy-cheeked children.

Even the poor, ordinary woman is always portrayed as a rock of kindness and care, working hard to feed her family and bathing herds of little children.

Little Beggar Girl and Woman Spinning, Giacomo Ceruti. Image: WikiCommons)

Unseemly behaviour

Could it be that not all women used to behave as portrayed in these paintings? Could it be that not all women swooned under emotional loads? Could it be that not all women endured the excesses of their menfolk with grace and good humour?

Well, maybe it is.

Take this bit of writing by a woman from around the 1630's*:

Image: Harvard Library

See what I mean? Oh, you don't? Okay, its a bit difficult to read. It's a poem written by a woman in answer to a man who wrote an unkind letter to her.

Was it a sweet poem, extolling the virtues of love and forgiveness?

Not exactly. Here is the text:

Ouch! Slam!

This was discovered by Erin A McCarthy who is doing post-doc research into early women's writing. As she said in a Tweet:

One of the grosser female-voiced early modern poems I have encountered.

* I asked Ms McCarthy when this would have been written. Her reply:

The manuscript was compiled in the 1630s, so no later than that. I haven’t located any other copies yet. However, given the other poems in the collection, I wouldn’t put it much earlier.

Also posted on Weku, @tim-beck, 2019-01-11

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