Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Incomparable Orinda

A seventeenth century poetess, whose pen name was Orinda. From the Poetry Foundation:
As James Philips's wife, Katherine Philips lived from 1648 until her death in 1664 at his family home, Cardigan Priory. Cardigan is in the southwestern corner of Cardiganshire and thus only a short distance from Pembrokeshire, where many of her friends and relatives lived. Knowing that she also maintained many of her London friends throughout her adult life, one might speculate that Philips often, or at least sometimes, accompanied her husband when he went to London for meetings of Parliament. Certainly she was in London in the spring of 1655, for her only son, Hector, who died in infancy, was buried there in Saint Syth's Church. And from the title of the poem Philips wrote to mourn the death of her twelve-year-old stepdaughter, Frances Philips, we know that the girl died in 1660 in Acton—a London suburb where Katherine Philips's mother (by then married to a fourth husband, Maj. Philip Skippon) resided. Katherine and James Philips's only daughter (also a Katherine), born in Cardigan in April 1656, would live to marry Lewis Wogan of Boulston, Pembrokeshire, and to bear fifteen children—fourteen of whom lie buried with their parents in Boulston Church.

In the two poems Philips wrote on the death of her young son, she uses Judeo-Christian numerology to express the intense pain of a bereaved mother who, after seven years of marriage, bore a son who was "in less than six weeks, dead" ("Epitaph on Hector Philips"). She also uses the number forty, which is associated with periods of privation and pain—periods (such as the Israelites' forty years of wandering) followed by relief and joy. Moreover, forty is the number of days after childbirth when a mother is "churched," and Philips begins her poem "On the death of my first and dearest childe" with the stanza "Twice Forty moneths in wedlock I did stay, / Then had my vows crown'd with a lovely boy. / And yet in forty days he dropt away; / O! swift vicissitude of humane Joy!" Instead, then, of returning to the church to offer a monetary gift and prayers of thanksgiving for her son's birth, this mother can offer only poetry: "An Off'ring too for thy sad Tomb I have / Too just a tribute to thy early Herse, / Receive these gasping numbers to thy grave; / The last of thy unhappy Mothers Verse." As she puns on the word numbers in that poem, so Philips puns on the word mourning in the epitaph: "So the Sun, if it arise / Half so Glorious as his Ey's, / Like this Infant, takes a shroud, / Bury'd in a morning Cloud."

Among Philips's poems are many elegies and epitaphs, at least four of which were actually carved on church monuments. The only one known to survive is inscribed on John Lloyd's monument in Cilgerron Church, a few miles southeast of Cardigan. The others are the epitaph for young Hector Philips, who was buried in a church that a few years later burned in London's Great Fire of 1666, and two commemorating John Collier (described in John Fowler's will as his "servant and cozen") and Collier's daughter Regina, who were buried in Beddington, Surrey, in January 1650 and September 1649, respectively. Other poems occasioned by deaths of friends and relatives include verses in memory of Mrs. Mary Lloyd of Bodidrist in Denbighshire; a poem memorializing "the most Justly honour'd Mrs Owen of Orielton"; an epitaph on James Philips's mother; a poem on the death of Sir Walter Lloyd; and an Publius written in memory of her stepfather Philip Skippon. Philips also wrote two poems addressed to women who had lost their husbands—"To my dearest friend, on her greatest loss" and "To Mrs. Wogan ... On theDeath of her husband"—and she wrote two elegies on members of the royal family—"On the death of the Duke of Gloucester" and "On the Death of the Queen of Bohemia." (Read more.)

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