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Katherine Philips: The Matchless Orinda
by Eileen Kinch

hen we think of well-known women writers and playwrights during the English Renaissance, Katherine Philips is not a name that often comes to mind.  Unlike her contemporary Aphra Behn, Philips lived a short, conventional life and avoided scandalous writing.  Yet Philips preceded Behn in producing work for the stage, and her translation of Corneille’s Le Mort de Pompee was the first heroic play to be performed in the 1660s.  She also contributed to the development of the heroic couplet.  Her poems, first published in 1664, engage the political realities of the interregnum and the restoration of the English monarchy, as well as celebrate women’s friendship.  Philips’ literary popularity waned after 1710 but is now experiencing a revival.  She appears in recent anthologies, and scholars are re-examining the work of this overlooked and underestimated writer.


Katherine Fowler was born in 1632 to John and Katherine Oxenbridge Fowler in Bucklersbury, London.  According to her cousin, Mrs. Blackett,[1] she could read at the age of four and was later able to listen to sermons and commit them to memory.  Her cousin also noted that Katherine liked poetry and wrote verses at school. When she was eight, Katherine went to a girls’ boarding school run by Puritan Mrs. Salmon in Hackney. Popular among middle and upper class families in the seventeenth century, these schools taught languages and music, skills that helped young women function in “polite society,” and served Katherine well later in life (Thomas, Katherine Philips 3).  She learned music, French, and some Italian.  It was also at this school that Katherine nurtured her love of poetry and began writing, as well as made lifelong friendships.

John Fowler was a cloth merchant, and died when Katherine was ten or eleven. Her mother later remarried Sir Richard Philipps of Pembrokeshire, Wales.  It is unknown when Katherine finished her schooling in London, but she lived in Wales when she, at age sixteen, married James Philips, a relative of her stepfather, in 1646.  James Philips, a widower, was thought to be fifty-four.[2] She lived with him in the Priory at Cardigan, Wales, and became a stepmother to Frances Philips, the daughter of her husband’s first wife (Thomas, Collected Works of Katherine Philips, vol. 1, 344). Katherine Philips, who had been reared and trained in greater London for polite society, now lived in a small town.  Philip Souers, one of Philips’ biographers, speculates that Cardigan may have been similar to Aberystyth, another town in west Wales, where animals ran loose in the street at that time in history (Souers 24).  Philips’ poem, “A Country-Life” (ca. 1650) was likely inspired by her life in Wales.

Although “A Country-Life” may have drawn inspiration from Philips living in Wales, the poem’s main focus was on the politics and turmoil of civil wars in England and the surrounding kingdoms of Scotland and Ireland.  “How Sacred and how Innocent/A Country-life appears,” wrote Philips, “How free from Tumult, Discontent, From Flattery or Fears!” (lines 1-4).  Her isolation in Cardigan had its advantages: “Secur’d in these unenvy’d Walls/I think not on the State” (44-45).  Philips’ country life may have protected her from the immediate tumult and discontent of civil war—but her husband’s life was very much intertwined with the state.  In 1649, James Philips became High Sheriff of Cardigan, and later, in 1653, he represented Cardigan in Parliament, a position he held until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.  James received other honors, including the High Court of Justice and a place on the Army Committee.  He also had a London office.  James prospered under the Cromwellian government, and that, in addition to her retired life in Cardigan, afforded Philips the time and space to focus on her work and to correspond with friends.  When she traveled with her husband to London, she often visited her friends and socialized with Henry Lawes, a former court musician, and likely took in the cultural scene.

Philips gave birth to two children.  Her first child, Hector Philips, died a few weeks after birth.  The elegy, “On the death of my first and dearest childe, Hector Philipps, born the 23rd of Aprill, and dyed by 2nd of May 1655,” was set to music by her friend Henry Lawes.  She wrote an epitaph for her son, who was buried at St. Syth’s Church.  Philips also had a daughter named Katherine in 1656, but there is no mention of her in any surviving poems.  She wrote epitaphs for other family members, including her mother’s third and final husband, and her mother-in-law.  She also wrote a poem on the death of her stepdaughter, Frances Philips, in 1660. 

Many of Philips’ poems in the 1650s focus on friendship.  She wrote a number of poems addressed to close friends Anne Owen and Mary Aubrey, as well as other poems that contemplate ideal or Platonic friendship, a theme that occurs often in Renaissance literature.  She corresponded with Jeremy Taylor, a cleric, about the nature of friendship and its relation to Christianity.  Taylor’s response (A Discourse on the Nature, Offices and Measures of Friendship, 1657) focused on friendship between men, and conceded that women could be good friends to them, but did not mention friendship between women (Hageman 574). It was during this period that Philips referred to a Society of Friendship, which was probably simply a network or circle of friends, rather than a deliberately organized group.  It included friends she knew from Mrs. Salmon’s school, including Anne Owen and Mary Aubrey, as well as other friends she met or with whom she corresponded over the years, such as Sir Charles Cotterell and Francis Finch, who also wrote a discourse addressed to Philips on friendship.  Members of her group received special names, often from pastoral plays or literature.  Philips called herself Orinda; Anne Owen was Lucasia; and Mary Aubrey was Rosania. She circulated her writings among her friends, who commented and probably shared her writings with their friends.  For Philips, friendship was an important corrective to the spirit of the times.  Friendship provided harmony and stability in the midst of political turmoil and civil war (Collected Works, vol. 1, 330).

While friendship had political implications, it was also very personal to Philips.  In “To My excellent Lucasia, on our friendship,” she writes:

For as a Watch by Art is wound
To motion, such was mine:
But never had Orinda found
A soul ‘till she found thine.  (lines 9-12)

Philips often refers to heart emblems and the intermingling of souls in her friendship poems, and she wrote a number of poems about the sorrow of parting with her friends.  She was hurt when the devotion she felt for her friends was not reciprocated, something Philips explored in “Injuria amicitiae.”  This poem may have been inspired by her not being invited to Rosania’s wedding: “Lovely Apostate!  What was my offense?” she wrote.  “Or am I punished for obedience?” (lines 1-2). Even though Philips was hurt, she still wrote a poem wishing her friend well in “Rosania’s Private Marriage.”  After Lucasia got married, she wrote, “the marriage of a Friend [is] the funeral of a Friendship” (Letters from Orinda to Poliarchus 53), probably because Lucasia moved far away.  Yet Philips’ desire to gather others in friendship was remembered by Sir Edward Dering, one of her friends, after her death as a phenomenon that “in time would have spread very farr [sic], and have been improved with great and yet unimagined advantage to the world” (quoted in Hageman 571).

Philips had many friends.  Some of her male friends, including Edward Dering, Francis Finch, and Henry Lawes, contributed poems to a collection to honor William Cartwright, a playwright who had died in 1642, seven years before the execution of the British monarch, Charles I.  Philips contributed “In Memory of Mr Cartwright,” to this volume, and was the only woman to be included.  Philips’ poem, written in iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets, points out that the present time needs more of Cartwright’s “Raptures” and “Flame from [his] blest Genius” to release the “horrid Ignorance” that “benights the Times.”  Philips calls for the “Splendor of restored Poetry.” Patrick Thomas detects a shift in Philips’ political sympathies from neutral toward Royalist in this wording, which implies that the larger society could also benefit from the restoration of the monarchy (Collected Works, vol. 1, 357).  This is in contrast to another poem of Philips from 1651, “A Retir’d Friendship, to Ardelia,” which advocates political neutrality and retreat from the turmoil of war through friendship and nature (357).

 Philips was raised in a Puritan household when religion was highly political.  Her cousin, who lived with her as a young girl, remembered that Philips was “much against the [Anglican] bishops and prayd God to take them to him” (Thomas, Katherine Philips 3).  Philips was educated at a school run by a Puritan schoolmistress, and Philips married a man who supported the Cromwellian government.  It is unclear chronologically when Philips began to have obvious Royalist (and therefore Anglican) sympathies, but it was probably in the 1650s when she wrote “Upon the Double Murther of K. Charles,” an undated poem that responded to an attack on the executed king.  This poem was then used by her husband’s political enemies in the hopes of removing James from his position in the government.  Philips wrote an apologetic poem for her husband, “To Antenor [her name for him], on a paper of mine which J.J. threatens to Publish to prejudice him.” Since there is no record of James losing his position in the 1650s, it does not appear that the political enemies were successful.

The restoration of the monarchy in 1660, however, reversed fortunes for James.  Charges were brought against him for sentencing a Royalist to death under the Cromwellian government.  He was cleared of the charges, but was later “disqualified” from being the Minister of Parliament for Cardigan (Katherine Philips 46). James also experienced financial difficulty.  He had acquired sequestered estates under the protectorate government, and had also mortgaged his estate to buy Crown lands.  With the restoration, these lands needed to be returned (Souers 105-107). The likelihood of financial ruin and the loss of reputation put her husband into a depression that Philips wrote about in the poem “To My Antenor.” Although Philips had Royalist-leaning sympathies in the 1650s, she now purposely wrote poems that praised the monarchy, including “On the faire weather at the Coronacion,” and “To the Queene on her arrival at Portsmouth.” In addition to giving fuller expression of her own opinions, these poems may have also been attempts to gain favor with the restored government, especially given the situation in which her husband now found himself.

An important friendship for Philips and her husband was that of Sir Charles Cotterell (Poliarchus), the Master of Ceremonies for King Charles II.  Philips does not say exactly how Cotterell helped James Philips in his difficulties (it seems that James may have feared execution), but Philips wrote in one of her letters to Cotterell that her husband “was full of the sense of your Goodness toward him” and would “never be able … to express his infinite Gratitude for the Care you were pleas’d to take of his concerns” (Letters 15-16). 

When Philips sailed for Dublin in 1662, she had at least two errands in mind.  One was to accompany her friend Lucasia (Anne Owen), who married Marcus Trevor, to her new home.  Philips had hoped that Cotterell might marry Lucasia, and did everything she could to encourage the match, but Lucasia was not interested in Cotterell.  Philips thought it right to see Lucasia safely to Dublin after she got married, possibly as a gesture of her continuing friendship (Letters42).  Philips’ other errand was to look into an investment her father had made in an effort to gain income for James (Souers 157 and Letters 76).  While Philips was in Dublin, she met Roger Boyle, the Earl of Orrery. She was working on an English translation of a scene from The Death of Pompey, and Boyle liked it so much that he encouraged her to complete the translation of the play.

Philips worked on her translation in some haste, as she heard that there was another translation project of Pompeyalso happening in London.  She consulted Cotterell in the editing process, sometimes sending him copies of her work and asking for corrections.  The play was performed at the Smock Alley playhouse in Dublin in February 1663. It was quite a production, since her well-connected friends provided costumes and composed a prologue and epilogue.  The performance even included songs (for which Philips wrote the words) between the acts.  Two months later, the play went into print in Dublin, although her name did not appear in the translation, except for a reference to “a lady” in the opening pages.  It is likely that this was her wish, since she later wrote that she had “never writ[ten] a Line in [her] Life with Intention to have it printed” (Letters 209).  Her Pompey was also printed in London.  When she acquired a copy of the rival Pompey translation written in London, she disliked how Edmund Waller and his team disregarded the original French wording, employed “frequent double Rhymes in an heroic Poem,” and committed “many Additions and Omissions of the Author’s Sense” (Letters 81). She later started a translation of Corneille’s Horace, a work that was unfinished at the time of her death in 1664.

After Philips completed her business in Dublin, she returned to Wales in the summer of 1663.  Her husband’s mood had improved: “But I thank God,” she wrote to Cotterell, “I find him now quite another Person” (Letters 173).  The isolation in Cardigan, however, must have been a real contrast to the active literary life Philips led in Dublin. By the fall, she was already plotting with Cotterell and Rosania to find a reason to bring her to London. 

In January of 1664, Philips discovered that a publisher had gotten hold of her poems without her permission and planned to publish them under her name.  This distressed Philips very much.  Her poems had been written to be circulated among her friends, not among the general public.  She also distrusted the printer to render her verses accurately.  “This is the most cruel Accident that could ever have befallen me; for it has cost me a short Fit of Sickness since I heard it” (Letters 211). Cotterell advised Philips to provide an authorized version of her work, but Philips did not want to do even that. Instead, she wrote vindications of herself in letters, making clear that publication had not been her idea or her wish. Having her poems in print was something like indecent exposure, and she implored Cotterell and her other friends to suppress the volume, which they did their best to do.

Philips left for London in March of 1664.  She visited the poet Abraham Cowley (for whom she had written a Pindaric ode) at Barn-Elms, continued writing verses that commemorated deaths and marriages, and worked on her translation of Horace.  In June, Philips caught the small pox, and Rosania tended Philips in her final illness.  She died on June 22, 1664 at the age of 32, and was buried in London.  Although Philips was resistant to her poems being published, we know of her poems precisely because they were printed. There were several posthumous editions of her work, Poems on Several Occasions, all based on the 1664 volume (a few copies must have still gotten out, despite her friends’ efforts): 1667[3], 1669, 1678, and 1710.  Her work was also published in several miscellanies. 

Work: Translation and Poetry

Katherine Philips was known for her translation of The Death of Pompey during her lifetime, and much less so for her poems.  The question might be asked:  If Katherine Philips helped with song-writing for the performance of Pompey, and did not seem to mind when Pompey went into print, why did she resist so much when it came to her poems?  Some scholars speculate that getting her poems in print was her aim all along, and the resistance was part of an act. Yet Philips’ distress seems genuine enough, and the answer to the question may be found in the genre. There were a number of women translators during the European and English Renaissance.  Translation was, as Katherina Wilson points out in her editorial introduction of the volume Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation, more culturally appropriate for women to do, as opposed to the actual writing of verses, which was culturally appropriate for men. Translation did not involve creating anything original, although women translators did add their own emphases or add or take out lines when preparing their own translations (Women xxx).  Philips knew that Pompey was not her creation, so she accepted and enjoyed her role as translator.  Pompey was neither published with Philips’ name, nor her initials (Souers 232). 

Authoring original poetry and having it published under Philips’ name was an act of exposure, as she wrote to Dorothy Temple; she feared having her “private folly so unhandsomely exposed” (Souers 222).  Exposure had sexual connotations, as critic Bronwen Price points out: “female speech, especially in the public domain, was equated with sexual promiscuity” (224).[4]  Female writing was female speech simply written down.  Judging by Philips’ apologetic poem to her husband in the 1650s when his reputation was threatened by a poem she had written, she probably did not want her writing to reflect badly again on James, especially now that he was in an uncertain place in regard to his political career and reputation.  Philips had political (and domestic) reasons in choosing to translate The Death of Pompey; it was a play about the assassination of a military and political leader, followed by Julius Caesar taking up the throne. This had obvious connections to the restoration of the monarchy in Philips’ context.  Philips was seeking patronage for her writing and probably a royal favor or pardon for her husband.  Perhaps she also understood or feared that exposure of her poems could ruin her chances with Boyle and Cotterell, her friends who had the king’s ear.

Other scholarship proposes another reason why Philips may have been so averse to publishing her poems.  Some scholars read her friendship and pastoral poems as coded expressions of Philips’ homoerotic preference for women, and this was something she wanted or needed to hide.  Harriette Andreadis takes issue with a mere platonic reading of Philips’ friendship poems, pointing out that Philips used an “acceptable, even fashionable, mode of male heterosexual [friendship] discourse” to channel her feelings for women (49).  Overlooking or “misreading” the erotic content through a masculine, heterosexual platonic lens denies Philips’ “lesbian experience” (60).  (This view adds a layer of nuance to Philips’ jealousy of Rosania’s and Lucasia’s marriages.)  Andrea Brady disagrees, pointing out that this kind of reading puts “retrospective limits on the modes and … references in Philips’ work” (302). Twentieth and twenty-first century understandings of sexuality are rooted in nineteenth century constructs, and Philips wrote two hundred years earlier.[5]Wording that may seem sexual to a modern-day reader, for example, may have actually been seventeenth century language for friendship (Llewellyn 464). Whatever Philips’ motivation was in writing friendship poems, she nevertheless, to borrow a phrase from Susan Lanser, “put female friendship on the literary map” (180).   Female friendship had not been philosophically considered before in writing.

Jeremy Taylor and Francis Finch, friends of Philips, both wrote treatises on friendship, and either at her request or at the request of her friends. Yet Philips wrote her own poem-treatises on friendship, and she focused on friendship with her female friends. In “Friendship in Embleme,” Philips describes ideal friendship as the sharing of hearts —and finishes by saying that she and Lucasia reflect this ideal: “So there’s no Friendship meant by this/ But such as will transmit to Fame/ Lucasia and Orinda’s Name” (lines 66-68). For Philips, friendship involved fire that was holy: “They [the hearts] flame, ‘tis true,” she wrote, but “those Flames  … are Noble and Divine.”  She compares the flames to the burning bush that the biblical Moses witnessed, as “Warm’d and enlighten’d, not consumed” (lines 13 and 16, 19-20).  The poem-treatise goes on to use the image of a compass to show friendship’s faithfulness and steadiness (an image also used by Donne to describe marriage), and explores the mutuality in friendship.  Friends are one in heart and mind, but “are only two in this,/T’reclaim each other when they miss” (45-46).  Furthermore, friendship “springs” from “good Angels” “to teach the World heroick Things” (53-54).  Writing about friendship from a female perspective was new and original, even if it was only meant to be read by a limited circle of readers.

Although Philips may have tried keep her poetic originality out of print, she also did something original with the Death of Pompey, despite her role as translator: hers is the first English translation of a play by Pierre Corneille, a French dramatist.  Based on the evidence presented in Catherine Cole Mambretti’s article, “Orinda on the Restoration Stage,” Pompey is significant to the history of heroic drama: it was the first heroic play to be performed entirely in English couplets. English heroic plays have connections to the “rhyming dramatic dialogue” in French drama (Mambretti 236).  Charles II, bored with current English plays, asked Roger Boyle, the Earl of Orrery, to write a heroic play in English, based on the French style.  Boyle did so, but there is no evidence that the first heroic play written, Altemera, was actually performed; it may have only been read in a private setting. Pompey is, therefore, the first “clearly documented production of a heroic drama into English heroic couplets” (Mambretti 244).

The heroic couplet came into vogue during Philips’ lifetime.  The decasyllabic line was in formation as early as Chaucer (and possibly before), according to W.B. Piper’s study, The Heroic Couplet.  The line was a “staple measure of English verse” by 1585 or 1590 but was not often rhymed as couplets in nondramatic poetry (32).  Piper examines the development of the heroic couplet from Chaucer to authors in the eighteenth century.  His seventeenth century treatment includes Edmund Waller and Abraham Cowley (authors that Katherine Philips read or knew), but no woman writers are included in his study.  He considers the form to be perfected by John Dryden and Alexander Pope. Interestingly enough, Piper and Philips agree on the weaknesses of Waller’s couplets: he sometimes used double rhymes, or two-syllable rhymes that end on the unstressed syllable. Philips had complained to Cottrell that Waller used “frequent double Rhymes in an heroic Poem” (Letters 81).  

 Heroic couplets take decasyllabic rhyming couplets to another level.  Heroic couplets are distinctive for their elevated subject matter, and also for their end-stopped or closed lines, strategic pauses, and rhetorical devices, such as parallelism and antithesis. As we can see from the passage below, Philips worked with these devices:

Cleopatra: I have ambition, but it is confin’d,
It may surprise my Soul, but never blind.
T’upbraid me with these bounds there is no need,
I know my reach, and shall not that exceed.     (Pompey II.III. 32-35)

Cleopatra’s lines are end-stopped, and the mid-line caesurae in lines 32, 33, and 35 are exactly in between the first and last five syllables, making the lines balanced.  We see antithesis (ambition vs. confined) in line 32, and parallelism in lines 32 and 35: ambition and reach, and confin’d and not exceed.  In the last line of the following passage, Philips makes one verb carry the work of two opposing ideas (obey reasons vs. power):

Photinus:  When things, Sir, are determin’d by the Sword,
Justice is nothing but an empty word;
And he who then Affairs would rightly weigh,
Must not his reasons, but his pow’r obey … (I.I.48-51)[6]

Scholar Richard Davis proposes that the heroic aspect of rhyming couplets in English may originate with Philips herself.[7]  As she translated Corneille, she worked for “the decorum, closure and balance she clearly perceived in her original” (Davis 7).  The balanced heroic couplet often attributed to Dryden and Pope was practiced first by Philips.  Dryden, who wrote popular heroic plays in the Restoration era, did acknowledge “Corneilles rhyme” as an influence in his work (Mambretti 249), and it seems almost certain that he would have read Philips, who completed the first English translation of a play by Corneille.  There is evidence from one of Dryden’s letters indicating that he knew, or at least knew of, Philips. Philips played a role in influencing other writers, in addition to being an early, if not the earliest, writer-practitioner of the heroic couplet. 

Philips’ contemporaries were reading her Pompey, including Edmund Waller, one of the rival London translators of Pompey. He told Philips that he would “borrow” some of her lines “to mix with his own,” if his version of Pompeywere ever performed (Letters 149).  Waller’s play was performed in 1664, but how close his version is to Philips’ (and if he actually did borrow some of her lines) is an area for further study.  Despite King Charles’ receiving a copy of Philips’ Pompey from Cotterell, Waller’s version had more success at court; his play was performed by the king’s acting company.  Waller’s Pompey might have been more favored because Philips emphasizes a strong Cornelia while Waller’s (and Corneille’s original) does not.  One of the final songs in Philips’ play directs praise to Cornelia more than Caesar (Shifflett 106, 133).  As a restored king, Charles II would have had reasons for emphasizing Caesar’s role, rather than Cornelia’s. 

After Philips died in 1664, she inspired an outpouring of commendatory verse, which was included in the 1667 and subsequent editions of her works.  Roger Boyle, Abraham Cowley, James Tyrrell, Thomas Flatman, and one Philo-Philippa, an anonymous admirer, all wrote poems in honor of Philips. Cowley and the editor who prepared Philips’ work for publication (we assume this was Charles Cotterell), both compared Philips to Sappho in that she was a great woman poet.  There was no other model for a woman writer at that time except Sappho.[8]  Every writer of commendatory poems mentions that Philips is a woman, but there is, as Paula Loscocco points out, attention given to her “as a poet writing successfully within the neoclassical idiom of her day” (261). Boyle and Philo-Philippa praised her translation of dramatic poetry, which was not framed in terms of Philips’ gender.

Restoration-era neoclassical verse also valued a balance of poetic qualities considered to be masculine andfeminine.  In a poem that appeared in the 1664 edition (and later editions), Cowley compares Philips’ verses to angels, which are more strong than men and more sweet than women (Letters 22).   Yet “sweetness” was a feminine quality that could be used by men in their verse, too.  In Dryden’s Essay on Poesie in 1668, he writes about the “sweet, and flowing” verses of Mr. Waller (qtd. in Loscocco 262). By the late seventeenth century, however, the balance of masculine and feminine qualities gave way to to a preference for masculine writing.  In 1699 correspondence, Dryden considered Philips’ writing to be masculine, because it was strong (273). 

Masculine and feminine poetic qualities began again to be only associated with the gender of the poet, and this contributed to Philips’ decline in reputation as a writer. In 1712, Thomas Newcomb criticized women poets in general and Philips in particular. Unfortunately, his opinion proved to be influential, because the 1710 reprinting of Philips’ work was the last, although it seems likely that his comments merely hastened what was inevitable; Philips’ work would have fallen out of fashion anyway, like Cowley’s (Loscocco 275).  In response to changing nature of the times in the 1680s, Anne Killigrew noted in her poem, “Upon the Saying that My Verses were made by another,” that in Philips’ day, at least being a woman writer was praiseworthy: “What [Orinda] did write, not only all alow’d,/But ev’ry Laurel, to her Laurel, bow’d!” (Killigrew 46). 

As time wore on, critics referred to Philips’ writing as “cajoling,” “florid,” and effusive (Andreadis 35), as well as “affected” and “silly” (Orvis 8).   Even biographer Souers writes in 1931: “On the actual merits of her writing, little enthusiasm is possible” (277) and instead praises her letters to Cotterell.  Yet other poets appreciated her; Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, took on the persona Ardelia in her work, a clear allusion to Philips, and John Keats referred to her in correspondence.  Some of her verses were even written down by Washington Irving in his notes from a visit to Haddon Hall in 1816, where he viewed an old window inscribed, probably by a diamond, with some of Philips’ lines.

In the 1980s and beyond, Philips’ work has been revived by feminist and LGBTQ scholars who seek to reclaim forgotten women poets, as well to explore sexuality and gender in older texts.[9]  Scholarship on Philips is a growing field, and The Noble Flame of Katherine Philips, published by Duquesne University Press in 2015, is the first volume of collected scholarly essays about her.  Yet for all of its cutting edge scholarship, a weakness of this book is not enough attention given to formal analysis, especially in regard to the use of the heroic couplet in Philips’ work.  In fact, Pompeyreceives very little scholarly attention in these essays.

Philips did not authorize a version of her poems.  Her poems circulated in manuscript, sometimes with different versions of the same poem, so we have no way of knowing what she herself wanted.[10]  They were put in order for publication in 1664 by the publisher, with the most politically expedient poems first, an order that the editor (assumed to be Cotterell) preserved in 1667.  It also appears the editor made some changes to the poems, as well as to her letters to Cotterell, which first appeared in print in 1705.  “Textual authority,” as David Orvis puts it, is a question when it comes to reading Philips.  Which text(s) do we assume to be closest to Philips?  But even more important—how do we read someone’s work, especially if she did not want it to be published?  Is it in keeping with Philips’ wishes to comment (even as this essay has done) on works that the she intended to be read only by her friends, in a particular context?

Despite Philips’ best efforts to the opposite, her poems were published, and we know more of her works because of publication.  It seems fair, then, to give special focus to The Death of Pompey, a text that she did feel comfortable publishing, for its contribution to the history heroic drama and the development of the heroic couplet.  Thanks to being published, however, Philips inspired other woman poets, as well as earned the admiration of other male poets.  We are also aware that she thought women could be good friends to each other, and that friendship with others was something she sought and aspired to. Perhaps, as readers, we can continue to circulate and comment on her work, as if we were part of her literary circle.

[1] Account found in John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, quoted in Patrick Thomas, Katherine Philips (‘Orinda’), 2-4.

[2] A conflicting source states that further examination of the marriage certificate reveals James Philips was twenty-four years old, not fifty-four.  Having not viewed the marriage certificate myself, I cannot verify this information.

[3] A 1667 edition is owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library.

[4] Exposure and unseemliness were not things that Philips’ contemporary Aphra Behn seemed to fear.  Quaker women who preached publicly during the same time period often encountered resistance and ridicule (and sometimes punishment).

[5] The word lesbian, as Andreadis uses it, is anachronistic.  Wording accurate to the eighteenth century would be sapphist or tribade, according to Susan Lanser.

[6] My thanks to Richard Davis for this observation.  E-mail to the author, August 15, 2016.  I also thank him for other help and conversations.

[7] The origin and development of the English heroic couplet are debated in scholarly literature. Some, like Piper, point to Latin works; he identifies an early use of heroic balance and rhetorical devices in Marlowe’s translation of Ovid’s Amores. Others, like Davis and Mambretti, point to seventeenth century French drama as an immediate precursor. 

[8] Sappho was not always known for her love of women.  In Philips’ time, she was famous primarily for being a woman poet.

[9] Katherine Philips’ poetry has begun to be used in other artistic media.  Her lines were featured in the film Sea Without Shore in 2015.

[10] Thanks to Paul Trolander, who guided my thinking.  E-mail to the author, October 26, 2016.  His website, www.katherinephilips.org, has also been a helpful resource.

Poems by Katherine Philips

Friendship in Emblem, or the Seal.  To my dearest Lucasia.


The hearts thus intermixed speak

A Love that no bold shock can break;

For Joyn'd and growing, both in one,

Neither can be disturb’d alone.


That means a mutual Knowledge too,

For what is't either a Heart can doe,

Which by its panting Centinel

It does not to the other tell?


That Friendship Hearts so much refines,

It nothing but it self designs:

The Hearts are free from lower ends,

For each Point to the other tends.


They flame, 'tis true, and sev’ral ways,

But still those flames do so much raise

That while to either they incline

They yet are Noble, and Divine.


From Smoke or Hurt those Flames are free

From Grossness or Mortality

The hearts (like Moses’ bush presum'd):

Warm'd and enlighten'd not consum'd.


The Compasses that stand above

Express this great imortal Love;

For friends like them can prove this true,

They are, and yet they are not, two.


And in their Posture is expresst

Friendship’s exalted Interest:

Each follows where the other leans,

And what each does, the other means.


And as when one foot does stand fast,

And t'other Circles seeks to cast,

The steddy part does regulate

And make the Wanderer's Motion straight.


So Friends are only two in this,

T'reclaim each other when they miss:

For whosoe’re will grossly fall,

Can never be a Friend at all.


And as that useful Instrument

For even Lnes was ever meant

So friendship from good Angels springs

To teach the World heroick Things.


As these are found out in design

To rule and measure ev’ry Line;

So Friendship governs Actions best,

Prescribing unto to all the rest.


And as in Nature nothing's set

So just as lines and numbers met;

So Compasses for these b’ing made,

Do Friendship's Harmony persuade.


And like to them, so Friends may own

Extension, not Division:

Their Points, like Bodies, separate;

But Head, like Souls, knows no such Fate


And as each part so well is knit,

That their Embraces ever fit,

So Friends are such by Destiny,

And no third can the place supply.


There needs no Motto to the Seal:

But that we may the Mind reveal

To the dull Eye, it was thought fit

That Friendship only should be writ.


But as there is Degrees of Bliss

So there's no friendship meant by this,

But such as will transmit to fame

Lucasia's and Orinda's name.

Orinda on Little Hector Philips

Twice forty months of Wedlock I did stay,
Then had my vows crown'd with a Lovely boy,
And yet in forty days he dropt away,
O swift Visissitude of humane joy.

I did but see him and he dis-appear'd,
I did but pluck the Rose-bud and it fell,
A sorrow unforeseen and scarcely fear'd,
For ill can mortals their afflictions spell.

And now (sweet Babe) what can my trembling heart
Suggest to right my doleful fate or thee,
Tears are my Muse and sorrow all my Art,
So piercing groans must be thy Elogy.

Thus whilst no eye is witness of my mone,
I grieve thy loss (Ah boy too dear to live)
And let the unconcerned World alone,
Who neither will, nor can refreshment give.

An Off'ring too for thy sad Tomb I have,
Too just a tribute to thy early Herse,
Receive these gasping numbers to thy grave,
The last of thy unhappy Mothers Verse.

A song, not from Corneille’s original, from the end of Philips’ The Death of Pompey:

After the Fifth Act by two Egyptian priests.


Ascend a Throne, Great Queen! To you
By Nature, and by Fortune, due;
And let the World adore

One, who Ambition could withstand,
Subdue Revenge, and Love command,
On Honour’s single score.


Yet mighty Roman Shades, permit
That Pompey should above you fit,
He must be Deifi’d.

For who like him e’er fought, or fell?
What Hero ever liv’d so well?
Or who so greatly dy’d?


What cannot Glorious Caesar do?
How nobly does he fight, and woo!
On Crowns how does he tread!

What Mercy to the weak he shews,
How fierce is he to living Foes?
How pious to the dead?


Cornelia yet would challenge Tears,
But that the Sorrow which she wears,
So charming is, and brave,

That it exalts her Honour more,
Than if she all the Scepters bore,
Her Gen’rous Husband gave.


Then, after all the Blood that’s shed,
Let’s right the living and the dead:
Temples to Pompey raise;

Set Cleopatra on the Throne;
Let Caesar keep the World h’has won;
> And sing Cornelia’s Praise.

Works Cited

Andreadis, Harriette. “The Sapphic-Platonics of Katherine Philips, 1632-1664.” Signs 15.1 (1989): 34-60.

Brady, Andrea. “The Platonic Poems of Katherine Philips.” Seventeenth Century 25.2 (2010): 300-322.

Davis, Richard. “All My Soul is There: Verse Translation and the Rhetoric of English Poetry.” 

Yale Review 90.1 (2002): 66-83.

Hageman, Elizabeth H. “The Matchless Orinda: Katherine Philips.” Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation.Ed. Katharina M. Wilson.  Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987.  566-608.

Killigrew, Anne. Poems. 1686.  Facsimile edition.  Ed. R.E. Morton.  Gainesville, FL: Scholars, 1967. 46.  Accessed 5-3-2016: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/killigrew/1686/ka-verses.html. Web.

Lanser, Susan S. “Befriending the Body: Female Intimacies as Class Acts.” Eighteenth Century Studies 32.2, 1998-1999. 179-198.

Llewellen, Mark. “Katherine Philips: Friendship, Poetry and Neo-Platonic Thought in Seventeenth Century England.” Philological Quarterly 81.4 (2002): 441-468.

Loscocco, Paula. “‘Manly Sweetness’: Katherine Philips Among the Neoclassicals.” Huntingdon

Library Quarterly 56.3 (1993): 259-279.

Mambretti, Catherine Cole. “Orinda on the Restoration Stage.” Comparative Literature 37.3 (1985): 233-251.

Orvis, David and Ryan Singh Paul, eds. The Noble Flame of Katherine Philips.  Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 2015.

Philips, Katherine. Letters from Orinda to Poliarchus.  The second edition with additions. London, 1729. [Reprinted by Ecco.]

Philips, Katherine. Poems by the most deservedly admired Mrs. Katherine Philips, the matchless Orinda.  To which is added Monsieur Corneille’s tragedies of Pompey and Horace, with several translations out of French.  London, 1710. [Reprinted by Ecco.]

Price, Bronwen.  “A Rhetoric of Innocence: The Poetry of Katherine Philips, ‘The Matchless Orinda.’” Write or Be Written.  Eds. Barbara Smith and Ursula Appelt. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2001.

Shifflett, Andrew. “‘How Many Virtues Must I Hate’: Katherine Philips and the Politics of Clemency.” Studies in Philology 94.1 (1997): 103-135.

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

Thomas, Patrick.  Katherine Philips (‘Orinda’). University of Wales Press, 1988.

---.  The Collected Work of Katherine Philips, the Matchless Orinda. 2 vols. Saffron Walden, United Kingdom: Stump Cross Books, 1990-1992.

Wilson, Katherina, ed. “Introduction.” Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987. ix-xxl.

Katherine Philips
Years: 1632-1634
Birthplace: UK
Language(s): English
Entry By: Eileen Kinch
32 Poems
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