Poetry Wednesday: Her Ladyship, Mary Chudleigh

‘Tis hard we shou’d be by the Men despis’d,
Yet kept from knowing what wou’d make us priz’d:
Debarr’d from Knowledge, banish’d from the Schools,Boxing Glove
And with the utmost Industry bred Fools.
Laugh’d out of Reason, jested out of Sense,
And nothing left but Native Innocence:
Then told we are incapable of Wit,
And only for the meanest Drudgeries fit:
Made Slaves to serve their Luxury and Pride,
And with innumerable Hardships try’d,
‘Till Pitying Heav’n release us from our Pain . . .

—From “The Ladies’ Defense” by Lady Mary Chudleigh

Lady Mary Chudleigh was a devout Angelican, which was the safest way to go in the late 17th century, and also a staunch defender of the rights of women, which was less so, though it probably helped to be part of the aristocracy, and also contemporaries with Mary Astell and Judith Drake.*

We don’t know much more about Her Ladyship—I couldn’t even find a confirmed portrait— except from her poems and essays, from which several scholars have gathered that her husband was a heavy-handed tyrant.

To the Ladies
(Lady Mary Chudleigh)

Wife and servant are the same,
But only differ in the name :
For when that fatal knot is ty’d,
Which nothing, nothing can divide :
When she the word obey has said,
And man by law supreme has made,
Then all that’s kind is laid aside,
And nothing left but state and pride :
Fierce as an eastern prince he grows,
And all his innate rigour shows :
Then but to look, to laugh, or speak,
Will the nuptial contract break.
Like mutes, she signs alone must make,
And never any freedom take :
But still be govern’d by a nod,
And fear her husband as a God :
Him still must serve, him still obey,
And nothing act, and nothing say,
But what her haughty lord thinks fit,
Who with the power, has all the wit.
Then shun, oh ! shun that wretched state,
And all the fawning flatt’rers hate :
Value yourselves, and men despise :
You must be proud, if you’ll be wise.

But attitude doesn’t equal autobiography—Sir George Chudleigh did allow his wife to publish her poems and essays under her own name,** which hardly seems the act of an insecure despot, and her unfinished works and other papers were saved after her death. The Chudleighs also had perhaps a few more children than one might expect from a bad marriage of their elevated class . . . but that’s really just impertinent guesswork.

What I do know is that her poems are witty and wise and occasionally snarky—and we have the same taste in men:

The Wish
(Lady Mary Chudleigh)

Would but indulgent Fortune send
To me a kind, and faithful Friend,
One who to Virtue’s Laws is true,
And does her nicest Rules pursue;
One Pious, Lib’ral, Just and Brave,
And to his Passions not a Slave;
Who full of Honour, void of Pride,Don Juan
Will freely praise, and freely chide;
But not indulge the smallest Fault,
Nor entertain one slighting Thought:
Who still the same will ever prove,
Will still instruct and still will love:
In whom I safely may confide,
And with him all my Cares divide:
Who has a large capacious Mind,
Join’d with a Knowledge unconfin’d:
A Reason bright, a Judgement true,
A Wit both quick, and solid too:
Who can of all things talk with Ease,
And whose Converse will ever please:
Who charm’d with Wit, and inward Graces,
Despises Fools with tempting Faces;
And still a beauteous Mind does prize
Above the most enchanting Eyes:
I would not envy Queens their State,
Nor once desire a happier Fate.

I know what I just said about autobiography, but I like to imagine that Sir George filled her “Wish” and that his admiration for her was more than skin, or pocket, deep.

A Song
(Lady Mary Chudleigh)

Why, Damon, why, why, why so pressing?
The heart you beg’s not worth possessing:
Each look, each word, each smile’s affected,Celia
And inward charms are quite neglected:
Then scorn her, scorn her, foolish Swain,
And sigh no more, no more in vain.

Beauty’s worthless, fading, flying;
Who would for trifles think of dying?
Who for a face, a shape, wou’d languish,
And tell the brooks, and groves his anguish,
Till she, till she thinks fit to prize him,
And all, and all beside despise him?

Fix, fix your thoughts on what’s inviting,
On what will never bear the slighting:
Wit and Virtue claim your duty,
They’re much more worth than gold and beauty:
To them, to them, your heart resign,
And you’ll no more, no more repine.

Not bad advice, even after 300 years.

Her essays are worth a look, too—not only for the history but for her fantastic turns of phrase and impeccable logic.  No matter one’s views on feminism, there’s no question that the woman could lay down an argument.

One or two of these are available onlineand there are published collections*** as well that include some scathing examinations of the routine limitations placed upon the women of her time and also more of her poetry, which isn’t all on the scathing side—there are some real tearjerkers about the death of her daughter as well—but enough to ensure a good time.

I invite you to take a look.  Say hello to her Ladyship for me.


*Who have each been lauded as the First Feminist Ever, possibly because their essays kept being attributed to each other. Mary Astell usually wins, or so my Women’s Literature prof said.

**Judith Drake’s husband didn’t, which explains the confusion mentioned in the first footnote.

***On a completely unrelated note, my birthday is coming up in a couple of months . . .


Poetry Wednesday: More Females of the Species

In the baleful female infant this ferocity we spy,
charlotte-anna-perkins-gilmanIt glares in bloodshot fury from the maiden’s dewy eye,
But the really deadly female, when you see her at her best,
Has two babies at her petticoat and a suckling at her breast.

Yet hold! there is Another! A monster even worse!
The Terror of Humanity! Creation’s direst curse!
Before whom men in thousands must tremble, shrink and fail —
A sanguinary Grandma — more deadly than the male!

—“More Females of the Species”


Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman, was an early American feminist who wasn’t particularly subtle about her opinion of the treatment, neglect, and suppression of women in the latter half of the 19th century and the early 20th—or the many other social issues of her day.

I knew this, because my high school English teacher made us read the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which remains more frightening to me than anything that ever stemmed from Stephen King’s imagination,* and later, I read parts of her autobiography for a college class** and a few poems, too, which were as grave and pointed as the prose I’d read.

So I already knew she was strong, brilliant, and could write like whoa.

But I didn’t know until recently how beautifully sarcastic she could be:

I Would Fain Die a Dry Death
(Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman)

The American public is patient,
The American public is slow,
The American public will stand as much
As any public I know.
We submit to be killed by our railroads,
We submit to be fooled by our press,
We can stand as much government scandal
As any folks going, I guess,
We can bear bad air in the subway,
We can bear quick death in the street,
But we are a little particular
About the things we eat.

It is not so much that it kills us —
We are used to being killed;
But we like to know what fills us
When we pay for being filled
When we pay the Beef Trust prices,
As we must, or go without,
It is not that we grudge the money
But we grudge the horrid doubt.
Is it ham or trichinosis?
Can a label command belief?
Is it pork we have purchased, or poison?
Is it tuberculosis or beef?

There is really a choice of diseases,
To any one, little or big;
English: Meat at HEB Torreon Español: Carne en... And no man really pleases
To die of a long dead pig.
We take our risks as we’re able,
On elevator and train,
But to sit in peace at the table
And to be seized with sudden pain
When we are at home and happy —
Is really against the grain.

And besides admitting the poison,
Admitting we all must die,
Accepting the second-hand sickness
From a cholera-smitten stye;
Patiently bearing the murder,
Amiable, meek, inert, —
We do rise up and remonstrate
Against the Packingtown dirt.
Let there be death in the dinner,
Subtle and unforeseen,
But O, Mr. Packer, in packing our death,
Won’t you please to pack it clean!


Her poem “Christian Virtues,” which presents a mocking, pearl-clutching excuse for keeping the Have-Have Not status quo, is even snarkier—and still sooooo applicable today.  Go on, have a look.

Ms. Gilman loves rocking the status quo, she does.  She also seems to have had a particular hatred for stasis, complacency, and any kind of suppression, whether it be of individuals, socio-economics, or even science.

This next one, which was the first to make me realize that she could totally bring the  funny, takes on evolution,*** underdogs,^ creativity, and human civilization.

I also find it personally encouraging:

Similar Cases

But of course, Ms. Gilman’s major crusade was to better the lot of women—which needed a lot of bettering—and to encourage all women, even those who were living comfortable lives, to transcend the status quo and help each other.  She wrote several more serious poems to that end, as I mentioned way up there somewhere.

However, the stanzas at the top of this post—and the title—are from a poem that, in my opinion, takes all of her frustrations and irritations with the dismissal of women and lets it all go, full blast.   And I  love it.

“More Females of the Species” was written in response to Rudyard Kipling’s “The Female of the Species” . .  . though to tell you the truth, I don’t know how Mr. Kipling really felt about women—jungles, inner fortitude, and manly strength, yes, women, no—and I don’t know how he meant his poem to be taken, because I’m too lazy to look up other people’s opinions and this post is pushing reasonable length as it is.  I mean, the last few lines could be a jab at men who are afraid of women’s political opinions, but maybe the whole thing is simply about mistrust . .  .

And without knowing, I can’t tell for sure if Ms. Gilman’s poem was meant to be a knife-edged sarcastic response or if she’s simply taking his point of view to the next level.  It could go either way.

So I’m going to ask you.

Mr. Kipling’s poem is here.

Ms. Gilman’s is here.

What do you think?


*Seriously. Not only did it put me off wallpaper and the color yellow for a long time, it made me extremely angry. It still does, not only because it’s based in reality—Ms. Gilman’s own “treatment” for postpartum depression—and crap like this still happens.

**Unlike the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” she recovered from her “hysteria,” moved to California, and divorced her husband (whose name was Stanton, in case you come across any first editions of her earlier work).  I cannot fully express how much I admire this woman’s strength.

***I’m not sure when this poem was written, but the Scopes Trial was in 1925 and Ms Gilman passed in 1935, so maybe.


Poetry Wednesday: Don’t Let Me Call You Sweetheart, Honey (A Guest Post by Cha Cha)

My friend Cha Cha not only wrote me a fabulous guest post, but she did it with
poetry—because lyrics are poetry set to audible music. 

Thanks, Cha!
My friend Sarah has been nagging me (kindly) to write a guest blog for a while now, but I’ve been stumped on a topic. With a few language degrees under my belt I am capable of talking about anything with a fair amount of ability, but that doesn’t mean I would say anything of interest, to a reader or to myself.

Then I drove home today.

I recently moved to Iowa from a state that wasn’t Iowa. Needless to say, my home state did not celebrate country music in the same way that Iowa does. Normally I avoid listening to country music with energy I usually reserve for things like suddenly having to run cross country to avoid flesh-eating zombies (although the flaw in this plan is that zombies are slow moving, and at most I would have to keep up a steady ramble). However, there are days when I feel compelled to listen to country.

As a music form it does have a lot going for it. It certainly, in its repetitive stanza formula, creates a listening experience that sucks one in. On some level I feel compelled to listen to country out of a feeling of when-in-Rome. This is, according to air time, the music of Iowans. To live among them I should acquaint myself with their music. Basic cultural integration.

Then I hear lyrics that yank me forcefully out, things like (and I’m paraphrasing) “I can’t wait to see you grow with child” or “Won’t you look lovely with a kid on each hip.”

Aside from the feminist issues that these lyrics raise (I’ve never heard a woman say she can’t wait to see a man with a child on each hip), there is a part of me that screams about the destruction done to the music of MY people, the British and the Irish. So much work has been done proving that country music in America rose out of the Appalachian interpretations of British and Irish music, particularly ballads, that came over with the immigrants.

When I listen to classic British and Irish ballads, sung by, perhaps, a luminary voice like Kate Rusby and then realize it has “evolved” into a form of music that includes the real lyric “I’d like to check you for ticks,” more than a little bit of me dies.

Now we have a form of music that celebrates women as child bearers and nothing more, or in the last lyric’s case, a possible victim of Lyme disease. But before I ride off into the sunset on my high horse of righteous indignation, I look back at the original ballads and realize that they too, were songs sung, many by men, talking about the pale skin of the beautiful woman waiting for them back home. Perhaps my indignation should not be at the butchering modern country music has done to my beloved ballads of the past, but rather about a lack of evolution over the many decades. Women can now wear pants, but the change hasn’t quite made it to the music.

Yes, we have strong songs by strong women, but many are songs of rage about men who did them wrong, which to me, is not much more than a gender reversal of the songs about men who lost their women, their dog, and their trucks.

Instead of simply complaining, I would like to propose an alternative song, a love song from a man’s point of view (yes, yes, I’m a woman) about how he is looking for more than gingham and child-rearing hips. In a test of my ability to do simple math, I kept it to the ABCB format of most traditional British ballads with a 9898 count:

Don’t Let Me Call You Sweetheart, Honey
(Cha Cha ©2012*)

Don’t let me call you “sweetheart,” honey,
Diminutives ill-suit your fire.
Instead, I’ll call you what you wish, ma’am:
“Miss,” “dame,” “madam,” it’s your desire.

I shan’t talk treacle of your beauty
Through lens of procreation sole,
Ovarian traits aren’t all there are
There’s brains, inventions, arts, and goals.

Pale-skinned rapture can go to Hades.
Thy beauty’s in thy frontal lobe,
Thy preference for equal rights
Ignites my soul, ignites my soul.
Take thy shoes of sensibility
March past the rednecks as you stroll,
They can keep their surface beauties.
I like my women real and whole.

My woman Pulitzer stands up for
Nobel prizes shall line her walls.
Her logic is cooler than polar ice.
Were Einstein here, he’d take her calls.

Efficiently her bus’nesses run,
Her armies march a well-planned path.
Her chess skills leave me without breath,
(She truly liked The Grapes of Wrath.)

Pale-skinned rapture can go to Hades.
Thy beauty’s in thy frontal lobe,
Thy preference for equal rights
Ignites my soul, ignites my soul.
Take thy shoes of sensibility
March past the rednecks as you stroll,
They can keep their surface beauties.
I like my women real and whole.

She needn’t do all I have mentioned.
It’s not at all what I require.
But, ladies, hear this simple ballad,
And know what works to light my fire.

Stuff the blond hair and your sundresses.
We don’t all wish for this tableau.
I want a partner with hopes of strength,
A plan, a dream, a row to hoe.

When morning comes, don proud thy armor:
Your trusty bra of eighteen hours.
Go forth and conquer what you battle,
With your smarts and with your powers.

Pale-skinned rapture can go to Hades.
Thy beauty’s in thy frontal lobe,
Thy preference for equal rights
Ignites my soul, ignites my soul.
Take thy shoes of sensibility
March past the rednecks as you stroll,
They can keep their surface beauties.
I like my women real and whole.

I actually stole the structure straight from “Scarborough Fair” which was NOT going through my head as I wrote this. Going back, it’s rather trippy to match the rhythm with the tune.

Hope this qualifies as a guest post for Sarah. If not, well, perhaps it will be a while before she nags me (kindly) again.

Thanks for reading.

Book Review: Not All Princesses Dress in Pink

It’s difficult to explain feminism to a seven-year old, mostly because she’s never known a time when women couldn’t do pretty much whatever they wanted to do.

As I read somewhere* around the time Elena Kagan was sworn in, women are finally moving past the era of firsts.  The most remarkable thing about the appointment of a female Supreme Court Justice is that it wasn’t remarkable.  Justice Kagan took her lumps ‘twixt appointment and oath, but not for her gender.**

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But there’s one area in which my kids hold remarkably . . . traditional views:  princesses.

Princesses sit on thrones all day and wear jewelry and nail polish.  Princesses wear fancy clothes and go to balls.  They wear glass slippers and shoes my three-year old calls ‘heel-highs.’  They have tea parties all day long.

They might fight dragons and save the day, too, but at the end of it, they go back to their off-shoulder gowns and have, or so I’m told, private fashion shows and elegant dinners.  Because that’s who princesses are—fundamentally pink.

None of the alternative fairytales I can find—The Paper Bag Princess,*** Cinder Edna, CinderErma^seem to have opened my daughters’ minds to the possibilities.

But Jane Yolen (yes, that Jane Yolen^^), Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and Anne-Sophie Lanquetin may have the solution.

These princesses play sports.  They farm.  They build things.  They secure their crowns on top of their bike helmets with tape.  They wear hand-me downs.  They hip-hop in overalls, with and without princes.  They get the job done.

From the first lines, my kids were captured:

Not all princesses dress in pink.
Some play in bright red socks that stink,
blue team jerseys that don’t quite fit,
accessorized with a baseball mitt,
and a sparkly crown.

“You mean, tomboys can be princesses?” asked my seven-year old switch-hitter.

“And princesses can be tomboys,” I said.  “Princesses can be anyone they want to be.”

“Can they wear pink, too?” asked my three-year old.

“Yes, and sparkly crowns” I said.  “But it isn’t required.  Princesses don’t have to be or act any certain way, just because they’re princesses.”  Wisely, I shut up here—my kids can sense lectures like they sense fear and weakening parental objections.

“Hmmm . . .” said my seven-year old.  “Read it again.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”



*If you know who wrote this, let me know, please.

**Though she was castigated by some for her weight, because the all-knowing BMI is apparently a better measure of intelligence than attending Harvard Law School, teaching at the University of Chicago Law School, being a Congressional advisor, becoming the first female dean of Harvard, and being Solicitor General.  I think this says a lot more about the IQ of some people than of anything else.  Sheesh.

***”Was the paper bag pink, Mommy?” asked my three-year old.

^I tell this one out of memory, since my Dad has the only copy I’ve ever seen:  Cinder Erma got herself to the royal ball, etc., but then found that she had nothing in common with the prince and was absolutely bored with being a princess.  So she left, opened a shop, and eventually married the man who owned the bookstore next door.

^^If you don’t know why she’s that Jane Yolen, you’ve got some catching up to do.