Thursday, July 19

Isabella Whitney
fl. 1567-1573

“Isabella’s name is nowhere mentioned in C.S. Lewis’s encyclopedic survey of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (1954), and till recently it was absent from most other accounts of the period’s literature”.
After persuading the London printer Richard Jones to print a set of verse epistle on love and inconstancy, Isabella begun a series of moral adages, adapted from Sir Hugh Plat’s Flowers of Philosophy. According to the Act of Parliament in 1544, women could not and should not write her own will, let alone to publish it, lay certain claim to a certain legal, social, and economic independence. “Whitney adopts this stance in order to survey the institutions, occupations, and commodities of London and, in leaving her mock bequests, to articulate a series of sharp criticisms. She writes in the voice of an impoverished gentlewomen who is compelled by her circumstances to leave the city and does so in a mood that mingles regret, complaints, irony, and aggression”.

(The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Ed. 7. Vol. 1.)

“A communication which the author had to London, before she made her will”

The time is come I must depart
from thee, ah famous city.
I never yet, to rue my smart,
Whenever small cause there is that I
Should grieve from thee [to] go.
But many women foolishly,
Like me, and other mo’e,
Do such a fixed fancy set
on those which least deserve,
That long it is ere wit we get,
away from them to swerve.
But time with pity oft will tell
to those that will her try,
whether it best be more to me,
or utterly defy.
And now hath time me put in mind
of thy great cruelness,
That never once a help would find
to ease me in distress.
Thou never yet wouldst credit give
to board me for a year,
Nor with apparel me relieve
except thou payèd were
No, no thou, never didst me good,
Nor ever wilt, I know;
Yet I am in no angry mood,
but will, or ere I go,
In perfect love and charity
My testament here write,
And leave to thee such treasury
As I in it recite.
Now stand aside and give me leave
to write my latest will:
And see that none you do deceive
of that I leave them till.

Posted by Katayoun


serendip said...

Beautiful poem. I need to read about her. She sounds like a fascinating woman.

Anonymous said...

it was interesting. i like poems and i like this post.


Bita said...


her will and tastement is really good, if you want to read her.

thank you, i am glad you liked it.


Anonymous said...

a brilliant post, as usual. her leave of her beloved city is a familiar thing for Iranians who left their home.