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Philips, Katherine (1632-1664)  
page: 1  2  

"To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship"

The relationship between Lucasia and Orinda is further developed and clarified in "To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship," for which the traditional soul-body dichotomy is the metaphorical basis. In this poem, Orinda's soul is not only given life by Lucasia, but Lucasia's soul actually becomes the animating force of her lover's body: "never had Orinda found / A soul till she found thine" (11-12).

The lovers are united in one immortal soul, and their relationship grants to the speaker attributes similar to those of a "bridegroom" or "crown-conquerer." Philips presents the metaphor in an overstatement that extends the cosmic aspects of their loving: "They have but pieces of the earth, / I've all the world in thee."

The lovers' relationship is one of traditional courtly desire transformed into a union with a soul-mate through whom one may participate in heaven. Their love also remains "innocent" because they are both women. Given their mutually female design, the speaker can "say without a crime, / I am not thine, but thee" and encourage their "flames" to "light and shine" without "false fear" since they are "innocent as our design, / Immortal as our soul."

The speaker invokes both spirituality and innocent design as justifications for such language of excess, even though convention would allow her the license to claim another's soul as her own because of their affection alone. But, as female lovers, they need more than a mere statement rejecting the ordinary. So Orinda's argument is that she and Lucasia are "innocent" because as women they do not have the necessary equipment to fulfill society's notion of "the sex act."

In a culture that defines sexual behavior according to penile instrumentality, sex exclusive of men is not merely unthinkable, it is impossible. Therefore, to address the question of relationship in these poems is to redefine conventional definitions of eroticism and sexuality.


During her lifetime, Philips's literary reputation was enhanced by the praise of important English writers who considered Orinda "Matchless." Known to be a "" in both art and life, she was a model lesbian poet.

Although she has been reclaimed by twentieth-century feminist literary critics, the sexual aspect of Philips's poetry has sometimes been denied. An informed reading of her work, however, demonstrates clearly the sensibility that prioritizes erotic attraction between women, acts on it, and celebrates it, not merely as an idea but in fact.

Arlene M. Stiebel

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Andreadis, Harriette. "The Sapphic-Platonics of Katherine Philips, 1632-1664." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 15.1 (1989): 34-60.

Easton, Celia A. "Excusing the Breach of Nature's Laws: The Discourse of Denial and Disguise in Katherine Philips' Friendship Poetry." Early Women Writers 1600-1720. Anita Pacheco, ed. London: Longman, 1998. 89-107.

Mermin, Dorothy. "Women Becoming Poets: Katherine Philips, Aphra Behn, Anne Finch." ELH 57.2 (1990): 335-356.

Souers, Philip Webster. The Matchless Orinda. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931.

Stiebel, Arlene. "Not Since Sappho: The Erotic in Poems of Katherine Philips and Aphra Behn." Homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment England. Claude J. Summers, ed. Binghamton, N.Y.: Haworth, 1992. 153-171.

_____. "Subversive Sexuality: Masking the Erotic in Poems by Katherine Philips and Aphra Behn." Renaissance Discourses of Desire. Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth, eds. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993. 223-236.


    Citation Information
    Author: Stiebel, Arlene M.  
    Entry Title: Philips, Katherine  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 13, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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