Monday, August 25, 2014

Aemilia Lanyer

Aemilia Lanyer (1569—1645) is the first woman writing in English to have sought patronage to publish a substantial volume of poetry. Her father was a court musician who died when she was just seven. She was eighteen when her mother died, and she attracted the attention of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, who was Queen Elizabeth's lord chamberlain. She became his mistress, for several years, but when she became pregnant by him, she was forced to marry one of the court musicians. This doesn't seem to be a promising start for a woman who eventually wrote important Christian verse. Another puzzling chapter in her life sees her visiting an astrologer, Simon Forman, several times in 1597.

Her book, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611), begins with several dedicatory poems; all are written to women, one of which is Mary Sidney Herbert—famous for her verse translations of the Psalms. She gives credit for her conversion to the countess dowager of Cumberland, to whom the book is primarily dedicated. The section known as "Eve's Apology", which is written from the perspective of Pilate's wife, is seeking to divert blame from Eve for the fall of mankind, in part by pointing out Adam's responsibility:
-----But surely Adam cannot be excused,
-----Her fault though great, yet he was most to blame;
-----What Weakness offered, Strength might have refused,
-----Being Lord of all, the greater was his shame:
-----Although the Serpent's craft had her abused,
-----God's holy word ought all his actions frame,
-----For he was Lord and King of all the earth,
-----Before poor Eve had either life or breath.

The central focus of the title poem, "Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum" ("Hail God King of the Jews"), is Christ's passion. The entire poem is 1,840 lines. The poem is interesting because of it's particularly female perspective—showing her to be an early voice of Christian feminism.

from Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum

Therefore I humbly for his Grace will pray,
That he will give me Power and Strength to Write,
That what I have begun, so end I may,
As his great Glory may appear more bright;
Yea in these Lines I may no further stray,
Than his most holy Spirit shall give me Light:
That blindest Weakness be not over-bold,
The manner of his Passion to unfold.
In other Phrases than may well agree
With his pure Doctrine, and most holy Writ,
That Heaven's clear eye, and all the World may see,
I seek his Glory, rather than to get
The Vulgars breath, the seed of Vanity,
Nor Fames loud Trumpet care I to admit;
But rather strive in plainest Words to show,
The Matter which I seek to undergo.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.