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Philips, Katherine (1632-1664)  
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Katherine Philips, called "The Matchless Orinda" and considered "The English Sappho" of her day, was born into the London merchant class and educated at boarding school. When her father, John Fowler, died, Katherine's mother remarried and moved to Wales, taking her daughter with her. In August 1648, when she was sixteen years old, Katherine married a wealthy Welsh Puritan, James Philips, who was thirty-eight years her senior. They had two children, a boy, Hector, who died in infancy, and a girl, who outlived her mother.

During her marriage, Katherine frequently managed her husband's business affairs, but more commonly she devoted herself to literature and the pursuit of female friendships. Through her "Society of Friendship," a formally organized unit whose members took classical pseudonyms, Philips maintained a social network of women-identified women, whose relationships with each other she documented in her poetry.

These poems were circulated in manuscript to great acclaim during Philips's life, but not printed until 1664, the year of her death from smallpox at age thirty-two. Also known in her lifetime for her translations from the French of several plays by Corneille, Philips is best known today for her poems, authoritatively printed in one short posthumous volume in 1667.

About two thirds of Philips's printed poems are about erotic relationships among women. Although the female lovers she addresses were married, as was Philips, their marriages were the conventional domestic arrangements of the period, implying neither love nor sexual attraction.

Philips writes poems using the adopted names, "Orinda" for herself, "Rosania" for Mary Aubrey, and "Lucasia" for Anne Owen. She also writes openly to them and others using their full names or initials. Several of her poems are to other women in their circle, namely "Pastora" and "Phillis," whose joyous relationship is modeled as a contrast to Orinda's solitude when she is no longer with Lucasia.

Until 1652, "Rosania" (Mary Aubrey) and Philips were lovers. Poem #68, "on Rosania's Apostacy and Lucasia's friendship," presents Orinda's justification for leaving Rosania in favor of Lucasia.

From 1652 until 1662, Philips and Anne Owen were lovers. The first poem in Philips's short volume is "To The Truly Noble Mrs Anne Owen, on my first Approaches." In later poems, Owen as Lucasia is welcomed into the society of friendship, praised, loved, and courted by Orinda. When Owen's husband died, Philips, in poem #92, consoled her. When Owen remarried in 1651 and went to live in Ireland, Philips went also. She stayed for a year until her own husband recalled her.

Her ten-year relationship with Anne Owen was at the center of Philips's short life. Over half of her poems, such as "Orinda to Lucasia," "To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship," and "To my Lucasia, in defence of declared Friendship," celebrate that relationship. "Parting with Lucasia" details Orinda's grief at their separation, as does "Orinda to Lucasia parting October 1661 at London."

"Orinda to Lucasia"

"Orinda to Lucasia," in a traditional pastoral mode, illustrates the importance of the female beloved. Lucasia is the sun who will restore the light and energy of day (life) to Orinda, who cries for her "friend" to appear as the birds, flowers, and brooks call for their own renewal at a delayed sunrise.

The "sun" is "tardy," so that the "weary birds" must "court their glorious planet to appear." The "drooping flowers . . . languish down into their beds: / While brooks . . . Openly murmer and demand" that the sun come.

But Lucasia means more to Orinda than the sun to the world, and if Lucasia delays too long, she will come in time not to save Orinda, but to see her die. Traditional lovesickness unto death from a cruel mistress becomes transformed in this poem to an urgent request for the presence of the willing beloved who will grant life if she comes speedily, but will be the speaker's chief mourner should she die.

The conventional terminology of opposites as an indication of lovesickness appears--light versus dark, day versus night, presence and absence, life and death--while the elements of nature that reflect the lover's state of being are microcosmic in relation to the magnitude of Orinda's feelings.

Through the lens of customary literary metaphors, the relationship of the two women is erotically presented in a clever reworking of the romance tradition and idealized classical friendship that highlights the sexual reality inherent in the concrete, physical terminology of the poem.

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Katherine Philips.
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