Whitney (1573) This poem was published in Isabella Whitney's second book of poetry, A Sweet Nosegay. It is the first of a set of three poems in which the poet engages in a literary conversation with "T. B." who was probably Whitney's friend, Thomas Berrie. In this complaint, Whitney bemoans her current misfortunes, which include, among other things, the loss of her position as a maid, and her lack of money and a job. It is part of an exchange between Whitney and T. B. couched as epistolary poems. In this Whitney is following in the tradition of Ovid's Heroides, which also comprises verse epistles, as well as imitating in print the upper-class practice of circulating manuscripts of poems among friends.
In "A Careful Complaint," Whitney addresses Dido, the queen of Carthage who was abandoned by her lover, Aeneas, and who killed herself in despair. Whitney tells Dido to stop crying and to give up her sorrows, implying that she, Whitney, has a greater right to complain. Then she retracts her previous command and tells Dido instead to continue crying, but to cry for Whitney. She acknowledges that Aeneas mistreated Dido by abandoning her, but she claims that her own misfortunes are far greater since Fortune has turned against her, has deprived her of her health, and wants her dead. She tells Dido that if she (Dido) had not succumbed to the desire to kill herself, then she might have been happy again. Dido could have forgotten about Aeneas after he left, since fire only burns while it has fuel, and annoying things cease to be annoying once they are gone. Whitney, on the other hand, cannot escape from her grief and pain since it will not abandon her.
Whitney concludes the poem by asking death to come quickly and asking the three Fates to end her life and her troubles. This last request may be exaggerated. Modern critics have noted that early modern women writers often used impending death as an excuse for publishing their work. Despite the stigma associated with publication, a woman who thought she was near death might be forgiven for writing (and publishing) instructions or ideas that she wanted to survive her. Thus, Whitney's use of Dido, who committed suicide, becomes all the more poignant. other critics have addressed the gendered implications of Whitney, comparing "Dame Fortune" to Aeneas.
See also "Will and Testament."
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