1848-1914 and 1862-1913
Michael Field was the penname of Katherine Bradley and her niece, Edith
Cooper. Katherine raised Edith from childhood, and when Edith was sixteen,
Katherine attended classes with her at Bristol University. Katherine published
her own poetry under pseudonym (Arran Leigh), but once she and Edith began
writing together, they assumed the name of Michael Field.
Katherine and Edith wrote numerous plays and poems in collaboration.
Even their journal (which reveals that they were lovers) was a shared
effort. The women claimed that their collaboration was so complete that
once a work was done, they could no longer recognize which line each had
contributed. Their writing reflects entwined thoughts and ideas that raise
their love into spiritual realms.
The first volume of poetry by Michael Field was published in 1889. The
women acknowledged Henry Wharton's 1885 edition of Sappho (the first to
translate the poems as lesbian) as a source of inspiration. While their
poems spoke openly of love between women, they did not seem to suffer
social ostracism. Robert Browning declared Michael Field a genius, and
referred to Katherine and Edith as his "two dear Greek women."
Katherine and Edith traveled extensively together until they acquired
a dog (Whym Chow) who they did not want to leave. In 1906, when Whym Chow
died, their loss led to their conversion from atheism to Roman Catholicism.
The poetry they produced after this point lost its previous sensual and
pagan feel and began to reflect their religious outlook.
In 1913, Edith died of cancer. Katherine used the next eight months to
compile several more books of poetry, before succumbing to the disease
Biography by Alix North
'It was deep April'
It was deep April, and the morn
The world was on us, pressing sore;
My love and I took hands and swore,
world, to be
Poets and lovers evermore,
To laugh and dream on Lethe's shore,
To sing to Charon in his boat,
Heartening the timid souls afloat;
Of judgement never to take heed,
But to those fast-locked souls to speed,
Whoe never from Apollo fled,
Who spent no hour among the dead;
With them to
Indifferent to heaven and hell.
I love her with the seasons, with the winds,
As the stars worship, as anemones
Shudder in secret for the sun, as bees
Buzz round an open flower: in all kinds
My love is perfect, and in each she finds
Herself the goal: then why, intent to teaze
And rob her delicate spirit of its ease,
Hastes she to range me with inconstant minds?
If she should die, if I were left at large
On earth without her-I, on earth, the same
Quick mortal with a thousand cries, her spell
She fears would break. And I confront the charge
As sorrowing, and as careless of my fame
As Christ intact before the infidel.
Atthis, my darling, thou did'st stray
A few feet to the rushy bed,
When a great fear and passion shook
My heart lest haply thou wert dead;
It grew so still about the brook,
As if a soul were drawn away.
My darling! Nay, our very breath
Nor light nor darkness shall divide;
Queen Dawn shall find us on one bed,
Nor must thou flutter from my side
An instant, lest I feel the dread,
At this, the immanence of death.
The love that breeds
In my heart for thee!
As the iris is full, brimful of seeds,
And all that it flowered for among the reeds
Is packed in a thousand vermilion-beads
That push, and riot, and squeeze, and clip,
Till they burst the sides of the silver scrip,
And at last we see
What the bloom, with its tremulous, bowery fold
Of zephyr-petal at heart did hold:
So my breast is rent
With the burthen and strain of its great content;
For the summer of fragrance and sighs is dead,
The harvest-secret is burning red,
And I would give thee, after my kind,
The final issues of heart and mind.
'Maids, not to you my mind doth change'
Maids, not to you my mind doth change;
Men I defy, allure, estrange,
Prostrate, make bond or free:
Soft as the stream beneath the plane
To you I sing my love's refrain;
Between us is no thought of pain,
Soon doth a lover's patience tire,
But ye to manifold desire
Can yield response, ye know
When for long, museful days I pine,
The presage at my heart divine;
To you I never breathe a sign
Of inward want
When injuries my spirit bruise,
Allaying virtue ye infuse
With unobtrusive skill:
And if care frets ye come to me
As fresh as nymph from stream or tree,
And with your soft vitality
My weary bosom
'Come Gorgo, put the rug in place'
Come Gorgo, put the rug in place,
I love to see thee in thy grace,
But wherefore thus thy proud eyes fix
Upon a jewelled
Art thou so glad the sardonyx
Bethink thee! `Tis for such as thou
his lofty seat;
`Tis at thy beauty's bidding how
life shall fleet;
Those fairest hands - dost thou forget
to thrill and cling?
O foolish woman, dost thou set
Thy pride upon
Ah, Eros doth not always smite
Ah, Eros doth not always smite
Whose bitter point with sudden might
Rends the unhappy
Not thus forever purple-stained,
And sore with
Else were its living fountain drained
Too oft and
O'er it sometimes the boy will deign
Sweep the shaft's
And friendship rises without pain
Where the white
Sometimes I do despatch my heart
Sometimes I do despatch my heart
Among the graves
to dwell apart:
On some the tablets are erased,
Some earthquake-tumbled, some defaced,
And some that have forgotten lain
A fall of tears makes green again;
And my brave heart can overtread
Her brood of hopes, her infant dead,
And pass with quickened footsteps by
The headstone of hoar memory,
'Till she hath
With just her name writ and beloved,
From that she cannot be removed.
'So jealous of your beauty'
So jealous of your beauty,
You will not
That hymeneal duty
The lovely thing you are?
Come to your garden-bed!
Learn there another lesson:
Of having crimson dress on,
Is now a fruit,
Whose marvellous pale suit
Transcends the glossy red.
What, count the colour
Warming in August, duller
Than those most
Frail flowers that spread and die
Before the sun is hot!
Lady, the hues unsightly,
And best forgot,
Berries and seeds set brightly,
You to their ragged lot!
'Already to mine eyelids' shore'
Already to mine eyelids' shore
For thinking of the grief in store
When thou wilt
I dare not let thee leave me, sweet,
Lest it should
be for ever;
Tears dew my kisses ere we meet,
Since we can neither meet nor part,
Methinks the moral is, sweetheart,
That we must
Her soul a deep-wave
Dim, lucent of all lovely mysteries;
A face flowered
for heart's ease,
A brow's grace
soft as seas
A mouth, the
Like aspen-leaflets trembling in the breeze
From her tempestuous heart.
Such: and our souls so knit,
I leave a page half-writ --
The work begun
Will be to heaven's conception done,
If she come
'I sing thee with the stock-dove's
I sing thee with the stock-dove's throat,
That on its dearie so doth dote
It falls to
And from the fair, white swans afloat
A dirge must
In thee I have such deep content,
I can but murrnur a lament;
It is as though my heart were rent
By thy perfection,
And all my passion's torrent spent
She sits beside: through four low panes of glass
The sun, a misty meadow, and the stream;
Falling through rounded elms the last sunbeam
Through night's thick fibre sudden barges pass
With great forelights of gold, with trailing mass
Of timber: rearward of their transient glearn
The shadows settle, and profounder dream
Enters, fulfils the shadows. Vale and grass
Are now no more; a last leaf strays about,
Then every wandering ceases; we remain.
Clear dusk, the face of wind is on the sky:
The eyes I love lift to the upper pane --
Their voice gives note of welcome quietly
'I love the air in which the stars come out.'
Sweet-Briar in Rose
So sweet, all sweet -- the body as the shyer
Sweet senses, and the Spirit sweet as those:
For me the fragrance of a whole sweet-briar
Beside the rose!
'Lo, my loved is dying '
Lo, my loved is dying, and the call
Is come that I must die,
All the leaves are dying, all
Dying, drifting by.
Every leaf is lonely in its fall,
Every flower has its speck and stain;
The birds from hedge and tree
And the great reconciliation of this pain
Lies in the full soft rain.
Where to Read More...
- Michael Field, Underneath the Bow (London: George Bell and
- Michael Field, The Wattlefold: Unpublished Poems by Michael Field
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1930)
- Michael Field, Works and Days: From the Journal of Michael Field,
T. and D.C. Sturge Moore, Editors (London: John Murray, 1933)
- Emma Donoghue, We Are Michael Field (Outlines) (Absolute
- Mary Sturgeon, Michael Field (London: G.G. Harrap, 1922;
Freeport, New York: Arno Press, 1975)
- Chris White, "Poets and Lovers Ever More: The Poetry and Journals
of Michael Field," Sexual Sameness: Textual Difference in Gay and
Lesbian Writing, Joseph Bristow, Editor (New York: Routledge, 1992)