Miner, Earl, ed. Selected Poetry and Prose of John Dryden.
New York: The Modern Library, 1985.
"ANSWER, THE" Anne Finch (1717) The friendship Anne Finch shared with Alexander Pope was celebrated in their writing. In her poem "The Answer" it was Pope's work titled "Impromptu" to which Finch replied. Pope had at first written a poem to Finch subtitled "Occasioned by four satirical verses on women wits in The Rape of the Lock." The lines in Pope's Mock-Heroic had suggested that certain females scribbled plays as a type of "treatment" for "hysteria," the root hyster derived from the Greek word meaning "womb." He humorously compared the writing by such women to the "physic" that others ingested to treat a disorder. Finch took his comments so much to heart, the two may have argued about them publicly. Pope then wrote "Impromptu," flattering Finch and implying she possessed much more talent than the female poets she often referenced in her poetry.
Finch begins "The Answer" by referencing the effect of Pope's "so genteel an air" in disarming her to the point that "The contest I give o'er." The term contest could refer to any conflict the two experienced, but most specifically, to that sparked by Pope's dismissive remarks about women. However, by the third line she warns, "Alexander, have a care, / And shock the sex no more," where sex refers to females. She warns Pope against condescension by illustrating the manner by which most men condescend to women when she writes that women well know they "rule the world"
during their entire lives, while "Men but assume that right." She cleverly reverses the condescension, as women tolerate men's false assumptions. She next accuses men of immature actions in the presence of female beauty, and of inequity when their mates become annoyed by such behavior, as they establish themselves first "slaves to every tempting face, / then martyrs to our spite."
Finch also employs a classic reference to make her point, reminding Pope of "one Orpheus," referring to a mythical Greek poet. Orpheus's wife, Eurydice, was forced to remain in hell when Orpheus disobeyed instructions by the god of the underworld, Hades, not to look behind him as he departed Hades's realm. He proved too weak to resist the temptation to look, thus betraying his wife. Finch assumes a tart tone, stating that had Orpheus "been bred" in London, he would have "polished too his wit." Wit remained an important term in early 18th-century writing, a characteristic that distinguished excellent poets from mediocre ones; Finch uses it in irony. She frames a tale in which she imagines Orpheus incensing through his poetry the very "heroines," women like those who later dismembered the mythical Orpheus, whom he intends to impress. The classical heroines repaid his betrayal of Eurydice, and Finch includes gruesome imagery of the river Hebrus, which "rolled his skull / And harp besmeared with blood."
Finch's tone returns to mock-appreciative in line 25, as she makes clear Pope is nothing like Orpheus. He treats women's "follies gently." She adopts the figurative language (figure of speech) of metaphor to add, "And spin[s] so fine the thread, / You need not fear his awkward fate." Spinning and weaving had long been connected to storytelling and literature, especially alluding to Penelope, wife of Ulysseus, who wove her father-in-law's funeral shroud each day, then unraveled it at night in order to keep suitors at bay during her husband's years of absence. That Finch would compare Pope's work to the female art of spinning thread remains ironic. When she adds, "The lock won't cost the head," she refers to "The Rape of the Lock," in which the heroine loses a lock of her hair but retains her virginity under duress. Finch again displays wit by extending her comparison of Pope to women. She assures Pope that all of his female readers greatly admire him, and "What next we look for at your hand / Can only raise it more." Still, she advised him to "sooth the ladies." She confesses, "We're born to wit, but to be wise / By admonitions taught." She tells Pope that wit comes naturally to women, so they will enjoy his poetry, but wisdom must be taught, through, she adds tongue in cheek, warnings by forces greater than they.
ANTITHESIS Antithesis is a rhetorical device that employs opposites for emphasis in a balanced contrast. In one example from George Herbert's "Affliction," the contrast occupies two lines: "Yet lest perchance I should too happy be / In my unhappi-ness," but in a chorus response in Richard Crashaw's lengthy "In the Holy Nativity of Our Lord God," the contrast appears in a single line, structured as separate independent clauses: "Summer in winter. Day in night." In reference to holy forces Crashaw suggests a disturbance in the natural order. Alexander Pope used antithesis to great advantage to reflect his fascination with paradox, a part of his neoclassicist view. In An Essay on Man he follows his famous line "Hope springs eternal in the human breast;" with antithesis in "Man never Is, but always To be blest," emphasizing that human nature looks to the future for its blessings, rather than to the present. He concludes that work with several lines representing antithesis:
All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see;
All Discord, Harmony, not understood;
All partial Evil, universal Good.
He thus supports the common belief that opposites prove necessary, each supporting the understanding of the other, his overall suggestion being the importance of balance. Pope also includes in his Imitations of Horace antithetical phrases such as " 'Tis the first Virtue, Vices to abhor / And the first Wisdom, to be Fool no more." These lines are examples of a closed couplet, which often engaged antithesis. John Milton employs antithesis in book 1 of Paradise Lost, as his speaker declares that the human mind "Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n," creating a pleasant sensation with his interchange of nouns, a prime example of sound supporting sense.
"APOLOGY, THE" Anne Finch (1713) In her poem "The Apology" Anne Finch engages in an approach common to women writers of her era. She feels she must defend her desire to write. She does so first by questioning why she should not be allowed to write, when others take up the pen freely, and then includes other women in her verse with whom she may contrast and compare herself. Rather than a vehement declaration, the lines form a frustrated complaint, the tone never becoming petulant or accusatory, but remaining rather thoughtful, as if musing.
Finch opens with her speaker's stating that the fact that she writes is true, and asking to be told "what rule" states that "I am alone forbid to play the fool." Others can write, whether foolish or not, so why should not she? She favors the idea of following "a wandering muse" through a grove, emphasizing Finch's fondness for the country and nature. Other women, such as "Mira," paint their faces "to paint a thought; / Whilst Lamia to the manly bumper flies," where bumper means "a glass of wine." Those are activities deemed acceptable for women, neither requiring intellect nor imagination. Mira even attempts to pretend to think. The speaker suggests that writing surely proves more acceptable than those activities. Lamia has "borrowed spirits" of alcohol in order to make her eyes "sparkle": writing poetry does the same for the speaker, her passion needing no "borrowed spirit." Finch adopts the idea of emotion, the inspiration for art, as producing heat, when the speaker next asks, "Why should it be in me a thing so vain / To heat with poetry my colder brain?"
At line 11 her tone alters, becoming a bit more serious, as she states, "But I write ill and therefore should forbear," criticizing her own ability. However, not yet fully convinced, she adopts a name often used for a shepherdess in pastoral poetry to ask whether "Flavia" should stop letting people see her face at age 40, "Which all the town rejected at fifteen?" Perhaps Finch suggests that writing is as natural to her and as much a part of her as her appearance. If people did not like her appearance as a young woman, that would not cause her to hide herself from society years later.
Because weakness was expected in women, and they were deemed better subjects of poetry than writers of it, the speaker states in lines 15-16, "Each woman has her weakness; mine indeed / Is still to write though hopeless to succeed." Finch engages in false modesty, for her poetry was perfectly acceptable, and she did succeed in publishing it. She grows bolder in the next two lines, comparing herself for the first time to male writers: "Nor to the men is this so easy found / Even in most works with which the wits abound." Perhaps feeling she has overstepped her limits, Finch draws back in the penultimate line as her speaker acknowledges, "(So weak are all since our first breach with Heaven)." She refers to the belief that women remained responsible for the often miserable human condition because of Eve's sin, or "breach" in the garden. Feminist critics, however, would find the format as a parenthetical statement of interest, as one might theorize Finch expressed that as an afterthought, only to appease the "wits" who might feel insulted by her previous lines. She concludes that as a result of that breach, "There's less to be applauded than forgiven," where forgiven alludes to original sin that requires God's forgiveness.
Finch returns full circle, as she began by stating there is no reason she should not be allowed to join the ranks of other "fools" who write poetry. Men are allowed to write, even when the quality of their writing is less than admirable. If men argue that women will not write works of quality, were their statement true, it simply relegates them to the same acceptable level as those lesser male poets.
"APPARITION, THE" John Donne (1633)
John Donne's poetry includes several efforts never meant to be taken seriously, including "The Apparition." He adopts the voice of a lover scorned who imagines himself literally killed by that scorn. He then fantasizes how his spirit will revisit the woman who murdered him. The tone remains light, and because the first line turns on hyperbole, "When by thy scorn, O murderess, I am dead," the reader understands its
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