Thursday, 8 January 2009

Swan of Lichfield

A little while ago I wrote a short story on bonkers Lunar Man Thomas Day, who took up two foundling children with the intention of making one of them into the perfect wife. That's a whole post in itself, but anyway, one of Day's friends during his days living at Stowe (on the outskirts of Lichfield) was the poet Anna Seward, otherwise known as the Swan of Lichfield.

I won't go into her biog here, but her entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is online if you're interested. She admired Darwin (and wrote his Memoirs), treated Johnson with a dim regard, and wrote some seriously witty and rather waspish letters (she once said that an unanswered letter was an 'expatiated sin'). Some regard her verse as doggerel, which is rather unfair. After all, Darwin saw fit to steal some of it for his long poem Botanic Garden, without either permission or acknowledgment. But I love her rather sarcastic defence of Darwin's descriptions of the sexual reproduction of plants in the above book: 'do not suppose that a virtuous girl, or young married woman, could be induced, by reading the Botanic Garden, to imitate the involuntary libertinism of a fungus or flower'.

Here's one of her poems:


And now the youthful, gay, capricious Spring,
Piercing her showery clouds with crystal light,
And with their hues reflected streaking bright
Her radiant bow, bids all her warblers sing;
The lark, shrill carolling on soaring wing;
The lonely thrush, in brake, with blossoms white,
That tunes his pipe so loud; while, from the sight
Coy bending their dropt heads, young cowslips fling
Rich perfume o'er the fields.--It is the prime
Of hours that beauty robes:--yet all they gild,
Cheer and delight in this their fragrant time,
For thy dear sake, to me less pleasure yield
Than, veil'd in sleet, and rain, and hoary rime,
Dim Winter's naked hedge and plashy field.

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Anonymous said...

Not bad, but alas, for that last line: I just can't help thinking "Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole..."

Mrs Woffington said...

Aw, com'on, she's pretty good...