In which I continue my poetic education

As I recall it, I learnt very little of or about poetry at school. (But it was a long time ago.) My ignorance is appalling. So it’s been educational as well as fun to post poems from time to time over the last few months, and I think I should do it more often. Here is one for this week.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, The Lover: A Ballad (1748)

At length, by so much importunity press’d,
Take, C—-, at once, the inside of my breast;
This stupid indiff’rence so often you blame,
Is not owing to nature, to fear, or to shame:
I am not as cold as a virgin in lead,
Nor is Sunday’s sermon so strong in my head:
I know but too well how time flies along,
That we live but few years, and yet fewer are young.

But I hate to be cheated, and never will buy
Long years of repentance for moments of joy,
Oh! was there a man (but where shall I find
Good sense and good nature so equally join’d?)
Would value his pleasure, contribute to mine;
Not meanly would boast, nor would lewdly design;
Not over severe, yet not stupidly vain,
For I would have the power, tho’ not give the pain.

No pedant, yet learned; no rake-helly gay,
Or laughing, because he has nothing to say;
To all my whole sex obliging and free,
Yet never be fond of any but me;
In public preserve the decorum that’s just,
And shew in his eyes he is true to his trust;
Then rarely approach, and respectfully bow,
But not fulsomely pert, nor yet foppishly low.

But when the long hours of public are past,
And we meet with champagne and a chicken at last,
May ev’ry fond pleasure that moment endear;
Be banish’d afar both discretion and fear!
Forgetting or scorning the airs of the crowd,
He may cease to be formal, and I to be proud.
Till lost in the joy, we confess that we live,
And he may be rude, and yet I may forgive.

And that my delight may be solidly fix’d,
Let the friend and the lover be handsomely mix’d;
In whose tender bosom my soul may confide,
Whose kindness can soothe me, whose counsel can guide.
From such a dear lover as here I describe,
No danger should fright me, no millions should bribe;
But till this astonishing creature I know,
As I long have liv’d chaste, I will keep myself so.

I never will share with the wanton coquette,
Or be caught by a vain affectation of wit.
The toasters and songsters may try all their art,
But never shall enter the pass of my heart.
I loath the lewd rake, the dress’d fopling despise:
Before such pursuers the nice virgin flies:
And as Ovid has sweetly in parable told,
We harden like trees, and like rivers grow cold.

(Makes quite a riposte to this, maybe?)

Lady Mary was a woman worth knowing more about, by the way. There’s more of her writing here. Apparently, she largely educated herself as a child, and she travelled to Turkey with her husband (who was a diplomat), from whence she wrote many letters – including bringing word of the Turkish method of inoculation against smallpox to England.

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9 Responses to In which I continue my poetic education

  1. Well, shoot! There you go, winning the last one with the faair Aphra, and now I have to find something else. Learning poetry through peer pressure, that’s me. But not tonight. Too much to do, including sleep, so that the very nice editor who sent a very nasty reminder message can get her book review soon!

  2. Chris Williams says:

    This is beginning to remind me of the bit in Martin Millar’s novel _Dreams of Sex and Stage-diving_, in which two characters conduct a vicious war of one-upmanship in an attempt to find the most obscure reference to Herring’s ‘Queen Mab’.

  3. Melinama says:

    Man, what a sad poem. This is how all the women doing internet dating feel.

  4. Sharon says:

    Me competitive? Can’t think what you mean.

    Melinama, I promise to find something more cheerful next time.

  5. NDR says:

    She wrote extensively to Alexander Pope about Turkey, which he used to make his map of the Trojan War.

  6. Brandon says:

    The Twickenham Museum has a useful introductory website for her:

  7. But it’s good competition! The kind that makes friends and colleagues rise to their highest potential …

    … or possibly to higher levels of procrastination ;-)

  8. Brandon says:

    Stupid me, I clicked on all the links you provided except the Twickenham Museum one! Sorry about that….

  9. Sharon says:

    ADM, right now I should be writing a report on last year’s research trip (for the people who gave me the money to do it). (And it’s overdue already.) I know when I get down to it, it won’t take long… but I’ve got to get to that point first… :(

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