Isle of Lesbos: Poetry : Historical : Katherine Fowler Philips

 

Katherine Fowler Philips
1631-1664

Katherine Fowler was born in London to a merchant class family. She was educated in boarding school and was married at age 16 to James Philip, a man of 54. Katherine's husband encouraged her literary interests and, in general, left her to her own affairs. She spent her time in London, while he stayed primarily on the coast of Wales. Katherine had two children, one who died in infancy.

Katherine developed an organization of women that she called "The Society of Friendship," within which the members each assumed classical pseudonyms. Katherine was known as Orinda. In her poetry, she referred to herself and her friends using their pseudonyms.

Her poetry was greatly admired in her time, and she was often referred to as "The Matchless Orinda." While most of her poetry was about her women lovers and was sensual in nature, the poems were viewed as expressions of platonic love, rather than sexual love. Because women did not possess the body parts to complete a heterosexual sex act, their love was seen as pure--something which Katherine remarks upon herself in her poem "To My Excellent Lucasia, On Our Friendship."

Katherine's three most significant relationships were with Mary Awbrey (Rosania), Anne Owen (Lucasia), and Elizabeth Boyle (Celimena). She was involved with Lucasia for ten years and wrote over half her poems to this lover. Celimena was her most brief relationship--Katherine fell in love with her in 1664, the year of Katherine's death from smallpox. She was 33.

While her manuscripts circulated while she was alive, Katherine Philip's work was not formally published until 1667, three years after her death.

Biography by Alix North

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Selected Works

Friendships Mystery, To My Dearest Lucasia

Come, my Lucasia, since we see
That miracles Men's Faith do move,
By wonder and by prodigy
To the dull angry World let's prove
There's a Religion in our Love.

For Though we were design'd t'agree,
That Fate no liberty destroys,
But our Election is as free
As Angels, who with greedy choice
Are yet determin'd to their joys.

Our hearts are doubled by the loss,
Here Mixture is Addition grown;
We both diffuse, and both ingross:
And we whose minds are so much one,
Never, yet ever are alone.

We court our own Captivity
Than Thrones more great and innocent:
`Twere banishment to be set free,
Since we wear fetters whose intent
Not Bondage is but Ornament

Divided joys are tedious found,
And griefs united easier grow:
We are our selves but by rebound,
And all our Titles shuffled so,
Both Princes, and both Subjects too.

Our Hearts are mutual Victims laid,
While they (such power in Friendship lies)
Are Altars, Priests, and Off'rings made:
And each Heart which thus kindly dies,
Grows deathless by the Sacrifice.

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To My Excellent Lucasia, On Our Friendship

I did not live until this time
Crown'd my felicity,
When I could say without a crime,
I am not thine, but thee.

This carcass breath'd, and walkt, and slept,
So that the world believe'd
There was a soul the motions kept;
But they were all deceiv'd.

For as a watch by art is wound
To motion, such was mine:
But never had Orinda found
A soul till she found thine;

Which now inspires, cures and supplies,
And guides my darkened breast:
For thou art all that I can prize,
My joy, my life, my rest.

No bridegroom's nor crown-conqueror's mirth
To mine compar'd can be:
They have but pieces of the earth,
I've all the world in thee.

Then let our flames still light and shine,
And no false fear controul,
As innocent as our design,
Immortal as our soul.

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Where to Read More...

  • Katherine Philips, a web page including selected works.
  • Katherine Fowler Philips, Poems by the Most Deservedly Admired Mrs. Katherine Philips, The Matchless Orinda (London: Herringman, 1667)
  • Katherine Philips, Collected Works of Katherine Philips edited by Elizabeth H. Hageman and Andrea Sununu (Oxford University Press, 1996)
  • Katherine Philips, Horace, conclusion by John Denham (1664)
  • Katherine Philips, Letters by the Late Celebrated Mrs. Katherine Philips (from Rochester's Familiar Letters) (1697)
  • Katherine Philips, Letters by the Late Celebrated Mrs. Katherine Philips (from Rochester's Familiar Letters) (1705)
  • Katherine Philips, Letters From Orinda to Poliarchus (1703)
  • Katherine Philips, Poems by the Incomparable Mrs. K.P. (1664)
  • Katherine Philips, Poems by the most deservedly Admired Mrs. Katherine Philips, the Matchless Orinda, to which is added Monsieur Corneille's Pompey and Horace, Tragedies (1667)
  • Katherine Philips, Pompey (1663)
  • Elaine Hobby, "Katherine Philips: Seventeenth Century Lesbian Poet," What Lesbians Do in Books, Elaine Hobby and Chris White, Editors (London: The Women's Press, 1992) pp 183-204
  • Philip Webster Souers, The Matchless Orinda (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931)
  • Arlene Stiebel, "Not Since Sappho: The Erotic Poems of Katherine Philips and Aphra Behn" Homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment England, Claude J. Summers, Editor (Binghamton, New York: Haworth, 1992) pp 153-171
  • Arlene Stiebel, "Subersive Sexuality: Masking the Erotic in Poems by Katherine Philips and Aphra Behn" Renaissance Discources of Desire, Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth, Editors (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993) pp 223-236

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