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Anne Finch's Aviary: or, why she never wrote "The Bird and the Arras".

Readers of Anne Finch's "The Bird and the Arras" have analyzed its portrayal of the trapped bird as a symbol of women or women writers within a patriarchal structure. Lucy Brashear considers the poem a "chilling poetic revelation of the circumscribed life of a woman" living in late-seventeent-hand early eighteenth-century England. (1) For Katharine M. Rogers the bird's obstacles symbolize the man-made conventions that confine a woman, especially a woman writer. (2) The opening of this twenty-one-line poem offers much to support these interpretations, with the female bird stymied in her search for Nature's shade by an arras that deceives her:
   By neer resemblance see that Bird betray'd
   Who takes the well wrought Arras for a shade
   There hopes to pearch and with a chearfull Tune
   O're-passe the scortchings of the sultry Noon.
   But soon repuls'd by the obdurate scean
   How swift she turns but turns alas in vain
   That piece a Grove, this shews an ambient sky
   Where immitated Fowl their pinnions ply
   Seeming to mount in flight and aiming still more high.
   (1-9) (3)

"The Bird and the Arras" may indeed figure Finch's condemnation of women's and women writers' restrictions under patriarchy. Such themes appear in Finch's "The Introduction" where the speaker asks, "Did I, my lines intend for publick view, / How many censures, wou'd their faults persue" (1-2), and in "The Unequal Fetters," where wives are "in Fetters bound / By one that walks a freer round" (14-15). (4) "The Bird and the Arras" may suggest a concern with the constraints on women and women writers insofar as the poet and bird resemble each other. Bur in the second half of the poem, introduced by the hiatus shown here, the bird escapes its constraints:
   But we degresse and leaue th' imprison'd wretch
   Now sinking low now on a loftyer stretch
   Flutt'ring in endlesse cercles of dismay
   Till some kind hand directs the certain way
   Which through the casement an escape affoards
   And leads to ample space the only Heav'n of Birds.

Significantly, a human, whose understanding is superior to the bird's, rescues the creature from the deceptive artful interior and dissolves whatever parallel may be implied between the bird and women or women writers. But this is only one difficulty with existing interpretations of lines whose transmission history has been badly obscured.

Restored to their transmission history, the lines constituting "The Bird and the Arras" are only part of Finch's reflections on other matters. The deceiving art of the arras may suggest certain social constraints, but these lines in their original context connect more directly with Finch's attention to the hazards, nature, and duties of representation occasioned by her experiences in the Stuart court and her political exile in England after the revolution of 1688. "The Bird and the Arras" was never constructed as a discrete poem by Finch. Myra Reynolds assembled it as such for her edition of Finch's works published by the University of Chicago Press in 1903. (5) Reynolds extracted these lines, without acknowledging them as extractions, from two sections (lines 1-15 and 30-35) of a longer poem by Finch titled "Some occasional Reflections Digested (though not with great regularity) into a Poem" (6) This longer poem appears in Finch's folio manuscript, mostly transcribed in the middle and late 1690s when the poet was in her thirties. (7) Never before printed, "Some occasional Reflections" is included at the end of this essay, with the lines Reynolds excerpted as "The Bird and the Arras" in italics.

The answer to why Finch never wrote "The Bird and the Arras" as a discrete poem can be found in her changes to the function of birds in her work. Before 1700, birds illustrate her recurrent interest in the theme of representation and figure her doubly precarious position as a woman writer and sympathizer with the exiled Stuarts. (8) The theme of representation appears in many works by Finch as she explored the powers and limits of language to represent: "all great passions, are above discourse," she explained in "The Losse" (line 6). (9) Writing to her husband, she argued that
      thoughts of a poetick mind,
   Will never be, to syllables confin'd,
   And whilst to fix, what is conceiv'd, we try,
   The purer parts, evaporate, and dye.
      ("A Letter to Flavio" 25-28)

Attuned to such difficulties in linguistic representation, Finch also remarked on the necessity of caution with words, as in her characterization of the sigh as "Safest Messenger of Passion" ("A Sigh" 9). The theme of representation repeatedly enriched her assertion of her pro-Stuart politics and her achievements as a woman writer. In Finch's works that feature birds--"Some occasional Reflections," "The Preface," "The Introduction;' "On my Selfe" "The Consolation" "The Bird," and "To the Nightingale"--these creatures appear "in figures of speech about herself;' as Jean Mallinson has noted. (10) All of these works featuring birds were written in the first half of Finch's writing career (before 1700), and they mark a stage in the various techniques she used to represent her sympathies with the exiled Stuarts after the revolution.

Finch's sympathies with the Stuart court were deeply personal. Born Anne Kingsmill, she served as Maid of Honor to Mary of Modena (consort to James, then Duke of York). Kingsmill stepped down from her post in 1684 when she married Heneage Finch, who was a gentleman of the bedchamber in James's court. (11) Following the revolution of 1688, Heneage was arrested for treason in 1690 when he tried to flee England to meet James II in France. Later, in 1690, the charges against Heneage were dismissed, but he refused to swear allegiance to William and Mary and remained a nonjuror for the rest of his life. (12) In the difficult and sometimes dangerous climate for a woman writer who continued to express her sympathies for the exiled Stuarts, Finch used images of birds (which she usually gendered female) in her earlier poetry to naturalize her gender and her politics as well as assert her claim for protection from those who might attack her gender, her politics, or her poetry. (13)

After years of circulating her poetry in manuscript and releasing (with or without her consent) only a few poems anonymously to print, in her early fifties Finch collected some of her work to be printed in Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions (1713) and necessarily shed her avian persona. Her changes to the original manuscript poem from which Reynolds would assemble "The Bird and the Arras" expose Finch's reorientation of her work for a wider audience culminating in her one print volume. From the manuscript poem "Some occasional Reflections Digested (though not with great regularity) into a Poem," Finch took two sections, which she made into the poems "Glass" and "Fragment" for her print volume. The only lines from "Some occasional Reflections" that Finch did not make into one or more poems for print--that is, the remainder she discarded--were those combined by Reynolds to form "The Bird and the Arras." (14) Finch's recasting of the longer manuscript poem not only directly contrasts the decision made by Reynolds, but also corresponds to Finch's larger design for presenting her work to the public in print and her abandonment of the bird as one of her personae. From addressing a limited coterie audience to whom she announced her need for protective shade, Finch increasingly designed poems for print culture that relied more on the open shelter of fable. In selecting and reframing her work for print, she eliminated all poems featuring the restricted bird that would soar in order to feature an Aesopian narrator who "objectively" exposed the folly and vice of birds and beasts. In her print volume, birds serve largely as characters whose moral and political roles are subjected to critique in fables when debates about Britain's most recent succession crisis and its relation to the protracted peace negotiations (eventually summed up as the Treaty of Utrecht) were at their height. Queen Anne, whose children were all dead, was not expected to live much longer. The political implications in Finch's fables were buttressed by her inclusion of other works in the print volume that in part or in whole conveyed her allegiance to the exiled Stuart family (for example, "A11 is Vanity;' "The Petition for an Absolute Retreat" "Psalm the 137th"). To answer more fully why Finch never recast, as Reynolds did, the lines on the bird and the arras as a separate poem requires an analysis of the function of birds in her earlier manuscript volumes, a consideration of how the parts and allusions of "Some occasional Reflections" work together, and a longer view of Finch's changes to her poetic aviary in print and in her final manuscript collection.


The birds of Finch's earlier manuscript poems typically figure poetic power and ambition tempered by the restraints of authorial modesty, gender decorum, and politics. Such uses of birds contrast her boldness in other passages and works that assert the value of women writers and Finch's political convictions (for example, "Tine Appology" "The Circuit of Appollo" and "The Lord Dundee"). Using the bird as alter ego, she drew on the long-standing convention linking lyrist and songbird. More particularly for Finch, this avian alterego enlisted a notion of Nature commonly used earlier by Royalist writers and then adopted by pro-Stuart and Jacobite writers: as a manifestation of the hierarchy of divine creation, Nature exemplified the divine right of monarchs within that hierarchy. (15) Like her contemporaries, Finch understood the empirical details of nature as participating in this divine and political order of nature, but, less typically, she articulates an unusual degree of identification with the natural objects represented, seen, for example, in her description of the trapped bird. (16) Thus, by drawing on existing conventions of natural description to affirm her allegiance to the Stuarts, attending to certain details of nature, and occasionally identifying with the creatures, Finch's "nature" poems move variously among the political, physical, and spiritual domains.

In her mostly prose preface to the folio manuscript book, she describes in an elated tone her poetic powers likened to a bird in flight. For Finch and her contemporaries, the association of flight with sublime aspirations often mingled in the eras increasing interest in topograpical poetry, blending imaginative and empirical vision. Describing the Eastwell estate, where her husband's nephew, Charles Finch, welcomed them after their losses from the revolution of 1688, she links her poetic flight to wonder, fancy, genius, and "free sight":
   And now, when ever I contemplate all the several beautys, of this
   Park, allow'd to be (if not of the Universal yett) of our Brittish
   World infinitely the finest,
      A pleasing wonder, through my fancy moves,
      Smooth as her lawnes, and lofty as her Groves.
      Boundlesse my Genius seems, when my free sight,
      Finds only distant skys to stop her flight. (17)

This passage exemplifies Finch's repeated definitions of her poetic faculty as a joyous wandering among natural phenomena that manifest the hierarchy of divine creation. Her free sight demonstrates her creative faculty and free will, which flourish in spite of her restricted social and political circumstances. Whereas the bird in "The Bird and the Arras" is stopped by the arras and then by the windowpane, Finch's poetic flight in "The Preface" is stopped only by "distant skys" that is, by the limits of her perceptual abilities.

Flanking this passage on poetic exuberance are two "arrases," however. One of them, an anecdote about her first poetic attempt, precedes the description of her flight. "Some of the first lines I ever writt" she recounts, "were part of an invocation of Apollo," to which she supposed the god answered thus: "I grant thee no pretence to Bays, / Nor in bold print, do thou appear" (xiii). In the category of women poets, Apollo tells her, she will never gain the praise granted to "Orinda," Katherine Philips. Another "arras" appears in "The Preface" after Finch's account of her poetic flight. Although she aspires to represent the landscape around her, which includes a feature known locally in Kent as Parnassus Hill, she contrasts her abilities with John Denham's in his Coopers Hill. She explains that although her local Parnassus deserves lines greater than Denham's praising Cooper's Hill, "the unhappy difference is, that he by being a real Poet, cou'd make that place, (as he sais) a Parnassus to him; whilst I, that behold a real Parnassus here, in that lovely Hill, which in this Park bears that name, find in my self, so little of the Poet, that I am still restrain'd from attempting a description of itt in Verse" (xv).

These professed limitations on her poetry shape the search for shade and isolation in some of Finch's earlier poems, where birds sing "darkling" of her condition as political remnant. (18) The aspiring yet vulnerable bird is countered by the poet's bold statements not only in other poems but sometimes in the same work. Her poem "On my Selfe" imagines an absolute isolation in which the speaker declares "I on my selfe can Live" (9). (19) "On my Selfe" appears only in the earliest extant manuscript of Finch's work, an octavo volume that McGovern argues was likely begun in 1690 when Finch awaited news about her husband's fate as he faced charges of treason. (20) The poem combines adamantine self-reliance with the need for protective shade: bereft of help, the poet as bird is capable of enduring all trials "When in the Sun, my wings can be display'd, / And in retirements, I can bless the shade" (11-12). In "The Introduction;' the first poem in both her octavo and folio manuscript books but never printed in her lifetime, we see Finch's juxtaposition of bold critiques with the figure of the vulnerable bird. (21) Most of the poem criticizes the constraints on women's education and the prejudices against women writers, which it counters by offering examples of heroic women, including Deborah of the Hebrew Bible. The poem concludes, however, with the pressures that may limit such achievements in Finch's own era:
   And if some one, wou'd Soar above the rest,
   With warmer fancy, and ambition presst,
   So strong, th' opposing faction still appears,
   The hopes to thrive, can ne're outweigh the fears.
   Be caution'd then my Muse, and still retir'd;
   Nor be dispis'd, aiming to be admird;
   Conscious of wants, still with contracted wing
   To some few freinds, and to thy sorrows sing;
   For groves of Lawrell, thou wert never meant;
   Be dark enough thy shades, and be thou there content.

Darkness brings safety to the poet whose identity mingles with the muse and bird.

In "The Consolation," which appears in both the octavo and folio manuscript books, Finch's isolation and joyful poetic flight arise from her sympathy with the exiled Stuarts. The faithful bird figures her continued devotion to the court of James II--that is, her Jacobite sentiments if not active Jacobitism--and her hope for the day he will return. (22) The soaring lark here rises with Phoebus and plays "in his beams" as a favorite does in a monarch's eyes:
   See, Pheebus breaking from the willing skies,
   See, how the soaring Lark, does with him rise,
   And through the air, is such a journy borne
   As if, She never thought of a return.
   Now, to his noon, behold him proudly goe,
   And look with scorn, on all that's great below.
   A Monark he, and ruler of the day,
   A fav'rite She, that in his beatos does play,
   Glorious, and high, bur shall they ever bee
   Glorious, and high, and fixt where now we see?
   (1-10) (23)

Their fall conforms to the cycle of nature, "She to the Earth, and he below the Deep" (12), as does their reascent. When "the swift hand of rime / Renews the morning, and again they climb" (13-14), the speaker identifies with the bird as she hopes for another restoration: "Then lett no cloudy change, create my sorrow, / I'll think 'tis night, and I may rise to morrow" (15-16).

Complicating the speaker's early identification with birds and the desire for shade is the manuscript poem titled "The Bird" (also in both the octavo and folio manuscript books). Here, the speaker grows suspicious of a bird and perceives the shade as a conspiratorial realm. The poem begins with the speaker's desire to praise and immortalize the bird (3), thereby emphasizing the speaker's poetic ambition. Initially described as "kind" (1) and "dearest trifle of my heart" (6), the bird is the speaker's "domestick music" (5) whose inexpressible softness is
      sofrer then light
   When just escaping from the night,
   When first she rises, unaray'd,
   And steals a passage through the shade.
   (9-12) (24)

The speaker offers protection to the now domesticated bird but also asks the bird to protect her heart from the dangers of love (19-20, 22). At this point, the poem turns abruptly from praise to accusation of the bird as the speaker imagines that in the wild the bird must have been "A false accomplice" with that other winged being, Love (30). What begins as a poem that unites the speaker's poetic ambition with her love of the bird and desire for protection from Love's "sly designs" (40) shifts tumultuously from trust, to treachery, to circumspect alliance where skepticism and uncertainty predominate. (25) The poem's amatory politics may disguise or include governmental ones, recalling the love poems of Renaissance courtiers. (26) Is Finch, for example, figuring her suspicion of a confidant to whom she, or another, has entrusted political secrets? This poem that ambitiously imagines its own fame as it seeks to immortalize the bird presents a rare occasion when Finch's speaker represents her person and art endangered by the protection she seeks.


These avian contexts are part of the manuscript frame for the lines that Reynolds combined into "The Bird and the Arras." In the folio manuscript, "Some occasional Reflections" is the fifth to the last poem, which is her elegy on the death of King James II, written in 1701. Many of Finch's poems are difficult to date precisely, but based on its position in the folio manuscript and its exploratory reflections on her avian alterego and the nature of representation, "Some occasional Reflections" was probably written after some or all of her manuscript poems that figure her poetic persona as a bird. The first fifteen lines of "Some occasional Reflections" correspond to the lines before the hiatus in Reynolds's "The Bird and the Arras," where the hazards of "neer resemblance" between art and nature delude the bird and prevent it from finding its way back to nature. (27) Instead of the modesty trope used in "The Preface" and in the concluding lines of "The Introduction" in "Some occasional Reflections" the speaker makes no explicit apologies as she explores sensory experience and the purpose of representation. The bird's isolation and gender are consistent with Finch's avian personae in the manuscript poems described above, and the scenario of the trapped bird indeed suggests the poet's concern with the forms and hazards of representation whether or not they refer more specifically to poetic conventions or patriarchal constraints (as Brashear and Rogers argue in their interpretations of "The Bird and the Arras").

Less noticed by recent readers is Finch's allusion to the power and deception of representation in the painting contest between Zeuxis and Parrhasius, which complicates the meaning of the suffering bird. (28) The story of this contest, told by Pliny in his Natural History, was well known to Finch and her contemporaries and appeared in treatises about painting and the sister arts. As told in Henry Cornelius Agrippa's The Vanity of Arts and Sciences, Horace's opinion of the sister arts--"Painters and Poets have free leave / With equal power to dare and to deceive"--is considered in relation to the story of Zeuxis and Parrhasius, "who contending both for Excellency, the first shewed painted Grapes, so like, that the Birds flew to feed upon them." Parrhasius, however, "shew'd a Coverlet only Painted; which was so rarely done, that when the First went to put it aside that he might see the Workmanship that was under, and found his Error, he was forc'd to yield the Victory to the Latter: whereas, he had only deceiv'd the Birds, but Parrasius [sic] an Artist." (29) Echoing Zeuxis's achievement, Finch's lines imitate nature: the bird and the nature referred to outside the window. She also imitates nature imitated: the arras, "obdurate Scean" (5), not only foils the bird with its representation of "ambient Sky" (7) but also shows "immitated Fowl" (8), further confusing the bird. But Finch's lines alter the point of view in the contest between Zeuxis and Parrhasius by concentrating on the bird's experience rather than the artists' achievements. The first part of "Some occasional Reflections" indeed invites a double vision of the bird as creature of nature and figure of the poet, particularly as the bird's desire for protection from "the Sultry Noon" (4) to sing its tune identifies it as a figure of the pastoral poet, who habitually seeks umbra. This bird, then, is the figure of the poet, the object represented by poet and by the arras-weaver, and the mis-perceiver of the woven representation. Gently mocked by Finch as a figure of the competitive poet, the bird "outstrip's" the imitated birds on the arras in a "moments pride" (10) in the contest for sublime ascent:
   'Till the dash'd Cealing strikes her to the ground
   No intercepting shrub to break the fall is found
   Recovering breath the window next she gaines
   Nor fears a stop from the transparent Panes.
   (12-15) (30)

After her defeat by the beguiling nature imitated in the arras, the bird finally sees real nature beyond the window but fails to see the glass.

"Some occasional Reflections" not only introduces the perspective of the object/nature imitated (nature deceived by art, as in the ancient narrative) but again transforms the contest between Zeuxis and Parrhasius in an autobiographical section at the end of the poem where Finch describes herself deceived by the lush representations at court (the artist deceived by art, as in the ancient narrative). Between these two deceiving occasions, she further complicates the allusion to Zeuxis and Parrasius by including a fourteen-line interlude that reflects on glass's capacity to represent. She describes the creation of glass as an inspired art--not unlike painting or poetry--with almost primordial power: turning to "man," she asks, "what inspiration was thy guide" to divide "Light and Air" (16, 17)? From this inspired view of an ordinary windowpane, Finch considers the powers of glass in a mirror, the "flakes of sollid Ice" that "redouble all in place /And give thee back thy well or ill complexiond Face" (21, 22-23). These highly compressed lines describe glass's powers to separate light and air, represent nature, and, finally, make visible the soul itself. Playfully noting how a wine glass reveals both the wine's beautiful color and ultimately its flavor, the poet then reflects on wine's power to betray the drinker's soul, exposing his otherwise hidden iniquity. The allusive wit of her final reflection on the wine returns us to her allusion to Zeuxis and Parrhasius, where instead of the grapes in Zeuxis's painting deceiving the birds, the wine exposes the truth of the drinker. The apparently digressive reflections on glass as window, mirror, and drinking vessel provide a cognitive and perceptual transition that divides poets from birds, as glass divides the bird from the outdoors. In its explicit fragmentation, the poem may allude to Robert Boyle's Occasional Reflections upon Several Subjects, which recommends the spiritual benefits of meditation for using such fragments--"uncertain Parentheses ... or Interludes." "Grains of Sand and Ashes," these opportunities for reflection can be formed by "the skilful Artificer" into "that noble substance, Glass, by whose help we may both see our selves, and our Blemishes." (31)

These first thirty-five lines of "Some occasional Reflections" thus rapidly shift foci and corresponding natural, moral, and spiritual orders. The arras shows the danger of art's capacity for "neer resemblance," which is the nature of artistic imitation and hence cannot be the nature sought by the bird: the window's capacity to separate light from air deceives the bird still more thoroughly when the bird finally sees nature bur cannot reach it. Most important, however, is the bird's ignorance, making the bird function as a counterexample, both to the guilty bibulous human who betrays his faults via the wine glass and to the poet who can see and reflect on the powers of glass to delude, reflect, and expose. The manuscript poem's attention to both the bird's desire to escape from a domestic setting and the physical, moral, and spiritual qualities of representation (exemplified by glass) suggest parallels with Finch's views of her position as a woman writer seen in her earlier uses of birds. In the larger context of "Some occasional Reflections" however, the sections on the bird excerpted by Reynolds allegorize Finch's separation of herself from this avian alter ego, a separation achieved not only by her allusions to the story of Zeuxis and Parrhasius, which emphasizes the qualitative differences between deceiving a bird and deceiving an artist, but also by the section that follows the interlude on glass. (32) With the final focus in the section on glass resting on a moral and spiritual view of the hidden human self, it is not surprising that when the speaker returns to the bird still "Flutt'ring in endlesse cercles of dismay" (32), she ends the bird's associations with the poet's identity. A human hand releases the bird from the room "to ample Space the only Heav'n of Birds" (35).

This pattern of visual perception first marred by natural and moral limits and then clarified by a restoration of the natural and moral hierarchy is repeated in the last and most explicitly autobiographical section of "Some occasional Reflections." These concluding self-reflections subordinate questions of art, nature, and representation to divine authority in lines that Mallinson has aptly described as "a kind of progress of the soul." (33) In these last lines, Finch recalls her days at court in the 1680s and her despair after the revolution:
      So here confin'd and but to female Clay
   As much my Soul mistook the rightfull way
   Whilst the soft breeze of Pleasures tempting air
   Made her believe Felicity was there
   And basking in the warmth of early time
   To vaine Amusments dedicate her prime
   Ambition then alur'd her tow'ring Eye
   For Paradice she heard was plac'd on high
   Then thought the Court with all itts glorious Show
   Was sure above the rest and Paradice below
   There plac'd too soon the flaming Sword appear'd
   Remov'd those Powers whom Justly she rever'd
   Adher'd too in their wreck and in their ruine shar'd

Here the speaker's movement suggests flight, particularly in the manuscript context that includes the lines on the bird, but the earlier resemblance between poet and bird now defines their difference. The speaker's perceptual confusion, unlike the bird's, reveals her spiritual error as she has sought paradise below instead of above. Thus, the image of the soul in flight, hampered by the material but seeking the divine realm, prevails in this concluding self-reflection. Finch's soul, "confin'd and but to female Clay" moves in a landscape of ideas and desires: "the soft breeze of Pleasures tempting air,' "the warmth of early time," where Felicity, Amusements, and Ambition delude her.

Whereas the bird's misperception of nature could be resolved by a human hand, affirming the hierarchy of knowledge and creation, the speaker's spiritual misperceptions of paradise can only be resolved by steadily reflecting on the afterlife:
   Th'Expanse the Light the Harmony the Throng
   The Brides attendance and the Bridal song
   The numerous Mantions and th'immortal Tree
   No Eye unpurg'd by Death must ever see
   Or Waves which through that wond'rous Citty rowl
   Rest then content my too impatient Soul
   Observe but here the easy Precepts given
   Then wait with cherfull hope till Heaven be known in Heaven.

These closing lines restore the divine over the mortal realm, which, as Finch saw it, William's reign had violated by usurping James II's divine right to rule. (34) Temporarily dazzled and misled by the sensory attractions of the court, the speaker is restored to perspicacious spiritual vision, where "observance" is understood as refining her vision and developing her will to follow divine precepts. Although Finch's husband, Heneage, transcribed her works in the manuscript that includes "Some occasional Reflections," revisions in her own hand reveal important emphases in the conclusion. The phrase "Observe but here the easy Precepts given" was originally "Observe but here the Laws and Precepts given." Finch's revision emphasizes an allegiance to spiritual precepts by removing the worldly oaths that her husband refused as a Nonjuror. In spite of her radical deletion of "laws," however, even the revised line articulates a spiritual restoration as opposed to a political, Jacobite, one. This emphasis on spiritual over political restoration appears in two cancelled lines (originally lines 54-55), where the speaker asserts she does not feed a "hope that boasts but mortal birth / Or springs from man though fram'd of Royal earth."

As a statement of her developing poetic and political purposes, "Some occasional Reflections" removes the bird as the poet's alter ego and redefines the poet's work from seeking shade for her art (as earlier in the poem the bird sought shelter from the scorching sun) to observing the divine in her acts of representation. Thus, insofar as a parallel persists between the bird and the poet, the manuscript poem seen in its entirety juxtaposes the arras and glass that foiled the bird's freedom with the worldly objects that diverted the poet from a paradise not susceptible to political change. Carol Barash has described "Some occasional Reflections" as "an unwieldy manuscript pindaric that attempts to make connections between gender and both monarchic and poetic authority." (35) Although to some degree unwieldy and undigested, the poem's reflections incrementally explore the representation of nature, art, and politics to affirm the poet's focus on moral and spiritual observation.


Having decided to see a collection of her work in print, Finch necessarily abandoned earlier figures of her avian poetic self that sought the shade. Absent from the print volume of 1713 are Finch's "The Preface," "The Introduction," "On my Selfe" "The Consolation" and "The Bird." (36) Finch does include her earlier manuscript poem "To the Nightingale," which in the folio manuscript immediately follows "Some occasional Reflections." The placement of "To the Nightingale" after "Some occasional Reflections" in the manuscript accentuates their similarities despite their more obvious differences. Both poems feature the bird in conjunction with the problems of representation. Whereas in "Some occasional Reflections" the problem is initially the bird's difficulty with a visual representation, in "To the Nightingale" the problem is with the poet's search for words to equal the bird's song. As with "Some occasional Reflections;' "To the Nightingale" initially presents a clash between nature and art. The conflict between the bird and art in "Some occasional Reflections" injures the creature, but the conflict between nature and art in "To the Nightingale" vanquishes the poet. (37) The poet's defeat in "To the Nightingale" provides a variation on the limits of linguistic representation described in other poems by Finch, such as "The Losse": "all great passions, are above discourse" (line 6). The dose of "To the Nightingale;' however, emphasizes the limits of those poets, who, out of jealousy, misrepresent and denigrate the work of better writers.

Finch may have wished to include this poem in the 1713 volume for its poetic merit and for its focus on the theme of representation. That the poem incorporates fable with its concluding moral coordinates with Finch's extensive use of fable in the print volume. In revising the poem for print, Finch removed certain association between the speaker and the bird. These changes to the print text of "To the Nightingale" corroborate Finch's interest in distancing her print personae from the earlier birds in her manuscript poems that figured her marginality as a woman and political minority. (38) In both the manuscript and print texts the speaker initially resembles the bird before emphasizing the distance between the bird's music and the poet's words:
   Poets, wild as thee were born,
      Pleasing best, when unconfind,
      When to please is least dessign'd,
   Soothing bur their cares to rest,
      (Cares do still their thoughts molest)
      And still, the anxious Poets breast
   Like thine, when best he sings, is plac'd against a Thorn.
   (9-15) (39)

In the print text, however, Finch excised an overt reference to the bird's subversive political associations, which could be read as a more particular resemblance between poet and bird. The change is introduced by an apparently minor substitution: in line 14 of the manuscript text, shown above, the poet's breast is "anxious"; in the print text it is "unhappy" In the manuscript text, after the poet fails to imitate the sublimity of the nightingale's song, the poet's condition of suspenseful anxiety is displaced onto the bird:
   Hiding thus, in night, thy head,
   Sure, thou'rt to some Faction wed,
   Or to false opinions bred.
   (32 34)

The 1713 edition omits these accusatory lines and in turn their implications about the poet's politics, signaled by the obvious political content of Faction but also the frequently heterodox religious and political convictions referred to as opinions. (40) These changes in print to the only poem featuring a bird in her 1713 volume selected from her earlier manuscripts show Finch's attention to eliminating associations between her poetic persona and the bird, in this case a bird accused of suspicious political and religious convictions. As Barash has argued, the poem's variants in print indeed dilute its political content, but it is important to add that Finch's dilution of political content in this lyric works in conjunction with her transfer of political content to the birds and beasts of fables in the print volume. (41)

These fables frequently address what was for her the continuation of a succession crisis that began in the 1680s and was again intensified by the approaching end of Queen Anne's reign. Birds in the print volume participate in the "burst of bird typology" that characterized the last years of Anne's reign and articulated British fears about the succession crisis as the Queen's death loomed. (42) Fables had been tools of political debate throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but in the early eighteenth century they were a favored medium for "traditional moralists who fought to restore Stuart sovereignty and vigorously ridiculed Whigs by pinning them down as a variety of impious, squalid, noisy fowls" as Tomoko Hanazaki has demonstrated. (43) Both Jayne Elizabeth Lewis and Charles H. Hinnant have argued that "The Bird and the Arras" should be thought of as a fable, and it is likely, given Finch's program of fables in the 1713 volume, she may have expected that the lines describing the struggling bird could be read as the wrong kind of fable, awkwardly aligning what could be construed as a figure of her aspiring poetic self with satirized fowl in the volume's other fables. (44)

Birds in the print volume primarily illustrate moral and political positions that are subjected to critique. Thus, inelegant cocks and owls out number songbirds in the 1713 volume. A showy cock, conventionally representing at this time the commander-in-chief Marlborough, scares a vain and ignorant rat in "The Young Rat and his Dam, the Cock and the Cat"' (45) Despite the wise counsel of his mother rat, the young rat, "Rais'd in his Mind, and mended in his Dress" (12), thinks himself wise when he "from a Nutshell, wimbl'd by a Worm, / Took Snuff, and cou'd the Government reform" (16-17). (46) His foolishness is confirmed by his admiration of a cat, which he fails to recognize as his natural foe, and his fear of a cock, his natural prey. In "The Owl Describing her Young Ones;' the owl describes her chicks to the Eagle and makes a bargain with him so he won't eat them, but the owl has so exaggerated her children's beauty that the Eagle doesn't recognize them as fitting the mother's description and promptly makes them his supper. (47) The moral: "Faces or Books, beyond their Worth extoll'd, / Are censur'd most, and thus to pieces pull'd" (76-77). It is only in the moral that the reader is spurred to make the unflattering comparison of the owl with the author. Unlike Finch's earlier birds who sought protecting shade, the owl/author has stepped out of the shade to protect her brood/literary productions, but in this case, authors and owls are guilty not of sedition but vanity. Although often a figure of the monarch, this eagle provides an occasion to expose how vanity destroys the safety of those with less power. In Finch's fable of "The Eagle, the Sow, and the Cat" however, the eagle figures the monarch undone by false counsel. The Eagle, "Queen of Birds," especially suggests Queen Anne:
   The Queen of Birds, t'encrease the Regai Stock,
   Had hatch'd her young Ones in a stately Oak,
   Whose Middle-part was by a Cat possest,
   And near the Root with Litter warmly drest,
   A teeming Sow had made her peaceful Nest.
   (Thus Palaces are cramm'd from Roof to Ground,
   And Animals, as various, in them found.)

The cat approaches the na'ive sow, warning her that the Eagle will not be able to resist the "tempting Flesh" (16) of "every little Piglin" (12): "I heard her young Ones lately cry for Pig, / And pity'd you, that were so near, and big" (24-25). The sow, crazed with fear, leaves the oak and her young. Having rid the oak of the pig, the cat next manipulates the eagle, alerting her to the sow who, the cat claims, is threatening the "Foundation" (47). The cat urges the Eagle to go to Jupiter to seek his help, at which point the cat plunders the sow, piglets, and eaglets and makes "the House her Own" (65). In what may allegorize Marlborough's destructive influence on Queen Anne, the moral decries sycophants like the wily cat: "How wretched is the Fate / Of those, who know you not, till 'tis too late!" (66-67). Thus, in the 1713 volume, Finch excludes the avian personae that resembled her need for isolation and protection as a woman poet and supporter of the exiled Stuarts in order to present to a wider audience the politics of state, gender, and authorship using the techniques of Aesop, whereby truth emerges from the "objective" shade of fable.

Within this printed aviary, it is clear that the lines salvaged by Reynolds as "The Bird and the Arras" could not be salvaged by Finch, who nevertheless wished to preserve other sections of "Some occasional Reflections." (48) Finch dismantled "Some occasional Reflections" into two distinct poems--"Glass" and "Fragment"--and reframed these now discrete poems by placing nine poems between them. "Glass," taken from lines 16 to 29 of the manuscript poem, is no longer related to the lines of the struggling bird, but in its new context stands as a distilled meditation of fourteen lines on representation and truth. Isolated, these lines now assert themselves as a sonnet in couplets, where the sound relations of its rhyme words create larger units: for example, although in couplets, the first eight lines use only two vowel and two consonant sounds in their rhymes, thus creating a larger unit that varies the traditional octave of the sonnet. (49) As a sonnet, the lines suggest the form's earlier use in poetic competitions, but the poem revises the contest between poets (and by extension the allusion to vying artists Zeuxis and Parrhasius in the earlier manuscript version) into a contest between material representation and spiritual exposure. In print, glass serves not to deceive, as it did the bird in "Some occasional Reflections," but to expose the truth of fallen humanity. No longer associated with the trapped bird or with Finch's political autobiography in "Some occasional Reflections," the lines appearing as "Glass" in 1713 are preceded by "A Moral Song" (on finding peace of heart) and followed by seven poems, the first five of which focus on keen perception or its obverse. The last two of the seven poems between "Glass" and "Fragment" are addressed to Finch's husband: "To Mr. F. now Earl of W." and "A Letter to the same Person," which treat the source of poetic inspiration and profess the inadequacy of language to represent true love. After these poems to her husband appears "Fragment"--the last thirty-nine lines of "Some occasional Reflections." Separated thus from its manuscript context of "Some occasional Reflections," the printed "Fragment" appears in 1713 as the third in a sequence of explicitly autobiographical poems.

"Fragment," taken from lines 36 to 75 of the manuscript poem, is adjusted slightly for print because the sections describing the trapped bird are gone. Line 37 of "Some occasional Reflections," which begins "As much my Soul," is altered to "ARDELIA'S Soul" (line 2 of "Fragment"), eliminating the poet's comparison with the trapped bird in the manuscript poem. Separated from the lines that now constitute "Glass" and the remnant that Reynolds would call "The Bird and the Arras," the personal and political elements of "Fragment" stand in greater relief than did the same lines in their manuscript form. Fragmented, the poem and its title may imply that the speaker is a fragment, as Barash has argued, bur the title also implies that the affairs of state, which began in 1688, are unfinished, especially in the context of the 1713 succession crisis and what would be the last months of Anne's reign. (50) That Finch's and the nation's relation to the exiled Stuarts is unfinished in "Fragment" is underscored by the poem's placement in the print volume. Immediately following "Fragment" is her "Psalm the 137th, Paraphras'd to the 7th Verse," a paraphrase that protectively "shades" Finch's comparison of the exiled court and its loyal followers with the Jews in bondage. Thus, Finch's lines that originally concluded the manuscript poem "Some occasional Reflections" carry a heightened political intensity in print, where the unfinished political crisis in "Fragment" introduces her politically coded paraphrase of a psalm that shows the plight of the banished chosen people.


As figures of the poet, birds nearly vanish from Finch's work after the death of James II. (51) The affiliation of poet and bird continues in her later poems, however, in images of the soaring soul, a convention of devotional poetry. In the last manuscript volume of her work, poems such as "A Suplication for the joys of Heaven," "The happynesse of a departed Soul," "An Aspiration," and "A. Contemplation" figure the soul in flight and affirm the poet's resolve announced in the final lines of "Some occasional Reflections" to "Observe but here the easy Precepts given / Then wait with cherfull hope till Heaven be known in Heaven" (74-75). (52) These devotional poems reorient Finch's attention to the purposes of representation, her marginalized political position, and patriarchy's restrictions on women. (53) "A Contemplation" the final poem in Finch's last manuscript book, most specifically affirms her resolve in "Some occasional Reflections" and integrates its "undigested" parts. (54) In sharp contrast to some of her earlier poetry's concerns with constraints, "A Contemplation" begins with the word Indulg'd to describe the speaker's joyfulness in "every active thought" (1). (55) Ambition now is "plac'd above the Sky" (4) in what may suggest either the poet's acceptance of her social restrictions or a transcendence of them. Indifferent to the domestic constraints that frustrated and injured the bird in "Some occasional Reflections," the speaker of "A Contemplation" soars to heights from which she sees a mortal realm that includes Wolsey, Charles I, and Marlborough, as well as the skies beyond. The speaker finds not the heaven of birds but hears the heaven of humans, where celestial music seems "to passe the bounds / Even of unbounded Space" (31-32). This harmonious coordination of what were tumultuous reflections in "Some occasional Reflections" is heard in the poem's meter. In contrast to the denser pentameter and frequent abruptness of her couplets in "Some occasional Reflections," which convey the speaker's frustration and turmoil, the hymnal stanza in "A Contemplation," with its alternating rhymes of tetrameter and trimeter, conveys the poem's devotional purposes as well as its sense of expanding clarity.

Unlike "Some occasional Reflections," whose title and body link occasion and artistic activity with multiple reflections, "A Contemplation" unifies divine and earthly domains: for example, after alluding to the Song of Songs (33-40), Finch then refers to her own marriage (49-52), which is inseparable from her religious and political convictions ("The Lord to whom my life is joyn'd / For Conscience here opprest" [49-50]). In coordinating the earthly and the divine, the poem "digests" Finch's concerns with women's place in society: in lieu of an implicit or explicit condemnation of patriarchal restrictions, she directly asserts a woman's political and social power by allotting twenty lines (65-84), the longest verbal portrait in her poem, not to Charles I bur to her beloved friend Lady Margaret Coventry (nee Tufton). Finch's account of Coventry's philanthropy and support of education may strike readers today as affirming a conservative "feminine" sphere of action, but Finch and some of her contemporaries saw access to education as crucial for women, who had been for so long Education's, not Nature's, fools ("The Introduction," 52).

The disappearance in Finch's later work of the frustrated avian persona who sought shelter, although yearning for flight, may be interpreted biographically as the poet's increasing confidence or even "cherfull hope." Did the death of lames II and the accession of Queen Anne contribute to hastening this shift? Did Finch free the birds in her aviary--as the anonymous hand released the bird trapped by the arras and glass--because time and circumstances lessened the fears that prompted the earlier search for shade? Perhaps her participation in wider literary networks, especially in London, made the isolated and vulnerable bird obsolete. (56) Although we cannot determine Finch's precise reasons for abandoning this persona, the decision was crucial to reorienting her work for the print volume, especially her increasing use of fables to address a wider audience. Although Finch never wrote "The Bird and the Arras," what she did write and revise in her poetic aviary shows that she perceived her work as socially and politically bold and consequently "shaded" it differently for manuscript and print. Leaving behind her early solitary persona that sought shelter from a range of attacks, Finch continued her attention to gender and governmental politics as she pursued the duties, difficulties, and pleasures of representation.

[Note: Italics indicate portions excerpted by Reynolds as "The Bird and the Arras." In Finch's Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions (1713), lines 16-29 are excerpted as "Glass" and lines 36-75 (with substantive variants noted in the essay above) as "Fragment."]

Some occasional Reflections Digested (though not with great regularity) into a Poem
      By neer resemblance See that Bird betray'd
   Who takes the well wrought Arras for a shade
   There hopes to pearch and with a chearfull Tune
   O're-passe the scortchings of the Sultry Noon
   But soon repuls'd by the obdurate Scean 5
   How swift She turns bur turns alas! in vain
   That piece a Grove this shews an ambient Sky
   Where immitated Fowl their pinnions ply
   Seeming to mount in flight and aiming still more high
   All She outstrip's and with a moments pride 10
   Their understation silent does deride
   'Till the dash'd Cealing strikes her to the ground
   No intercepting shrub to break the fall is found
   Recovering breath the window next she gaines
   Nor fears a stop from the transparent Panes 15

      O man what inspiration was thy guide
   Who taught thee Light and Air thus to divide
   To lett in all the usefull beames of Day
   Yett force as subtil winds without thy Shash to stay
   T'extract from Embers by a strange device 20
   Then pollish fair these flakes of sollid Ice
   Which Silver'd o're redouble all in place
   And give thee back thy well or ill complexiond Face
   To vesels blown exceed the gloomy Bowl
   Which did the Wines full excellence controul 25
   These shew the Body whilest you taste the Soul
   Its Colour Spark'ls motion letts thee see
   Though yett th'excesse the Preacher warns to flee
   Least men att length as clearly spy through thee

      But we degresse and leave th'imprison'd wretch 30
   Now sinking low now on a loftyer stretch
   Flutt'ring in endlesse cercles of dismay
   'Till some kind hand directs the certain way
   Which through the casement an excape affoards
   And leads to ample Space the only Heav'n of Birds 35

      So here confin'd and but to female Clay
   As much my Soul mistook the rightfull way
   Whilst the soft breeze of Pleasures tempting air
   Made her believe Felicity was there
   And basking in the warmth of early time 40
   To vaine Amusments dedicate her prime
   Ambition then alur'd her tow'ring Eye
   For Paradice she heard was plac'd on high
   Then thought the Court with all itts glorious Show
   Was sure above the rest and Paradice below 45
   There plac'd too soon the flaming Sword appear'd
   Remov'd those Powers whom Justly she rever'd
   Adher'd too in their wreck and in their ruine shar'd
   Now by the Wheels inevetable round 50
   Thrown with them prostrate to the humble ground
   No more She take's (instructed by that fall)
   For fixt or worth her cares this rowling Ball
   Tow'rds a more Certain Station She aspires
   Unshaken by Revolts and owns no lesse desires 55
   But all in vain are Pray'rs extatick thoughts
   Recover'd moments and retracted faults
   Retirement which the World morossnesse calls
   Abandon'd pleasures in Monastick* walls
   These but att distance towards that purpose tend 60
   The lowly means to an exalted end
   Which He must perfect who alotts her stay
   And that accomplishd will direct the way
   Pitty her restlesse Cares and weary strife
   And point some Issue to escaping Life 65
   Which so dismiss'd no Pen or human speech
   Th'ineffable Recesse can ever teach
   Th'Expanse the Light the Harmony the Throng
   The Brides attendance and the Bridal song
   The numerous Mantions and th'immortal Tree 70
   No Eye unpurg'd by Death must ever see
   Or Waves which through that wond'rous Citty rowl
   Rest then content my too impatient Soul
   Observe but here the easy Precepts given
   Then wait with cherfull hope till Heaven be known in Heaven. 75

      *wye coledge in Kent formerly a priory [note in the manuscript]

University of North Carolina at Greensboro


I would like to thank the anonymous readers at PQ for their insightful suggestions and Michelle Dowd and Claudia Kairoff for their comments on earlier versions of this essay. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro: their funding of research for a larger project also led to this essay. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this essay do not necessarily reflect those of the NEH.

(1) Lucy Brashear, "Finch's 'The Bird and the Arras,'" Explicator 39 (1981): 22, also notes that Finch's family name underscores the poet's identification with the bird.

(2) Katharine M. Rogers, "Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea: An Augustan Woman Poet," Shakespeare's Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets, ed. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar (Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 1979), 42. More recently, Virginia M. Duff, "'[F]allen by mistaken rules': Anne Finch's 'The Bird and the Arras' and the Subtle Indictment of Domestic Confinement and Marriage Law," Eighteenth-Century Women 1 (2001): 42, has argued that "The Bird and the Arras" indicts marriage in particular and reflects "Finch's own long confinement at her husband's rural estate." Jean Mallinson, "Anne Finch: A Woman Poet and the Tradition," Gender at Work: Four Women Writers of the Eighteenth Century, ed. Ann Messenger (Detroit: Wayne State U. Press, 1990), 72, ultimately rejects reading the trapped bird "as an emblem of the predicament of women contained by social restraints and excluded from art," a reading that she sees as a twentieth-century imposition on the poem.

(3) Quotations of "The Bird and the Arras" are from Myra Reynolds, ed., Poems of Anne Countess of Winchilsea (U. of Chicago Press, 1903), 51. All quotations of Finch's poems include the line numbers in parentheses.

(4) Quoted from the folio manuscript book "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia," Folger Shakespeare Library, shelfmark N.b.3 (pp. 291-93). In all quotations from Finch's manuscripts, I have silently replaced the consonantal "u" with "v" and silently expanded contractions.

(5) Katharine M. Rogers, relying on Reynolds's edition, continued the transmission of "The Bird and the Arras": see Selected Poems of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1979).

(6) Throughout this essay I silently replace the spelling of "occasinal," as it appears in the poem's title, with "occasional." "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia" includes the only witness of"Some occasional Reflections." Carol Barash's study of Finch's work in manuscript and print provides a rare analysis of "Some occasional Reflections" (English Women's Poetry, 1649-1714: Politics, Community, and Linguistic Authority [Oxford U. Press, 1996], 276-78). Although Reynolds saw "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia" and used it as the copy-text for poems that did not appear in Finch's one print volume of 1713 (Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions), Reynolds preferred Finch's print volume for the copy-texts over manuscript texts of the same poems. Finding in Finch's 1713 volume the poems "Glass" and "Fragment" taken by Finch herself from "Some occasional Reflections," Reynolds may have thought it more consistent to present the remainder as a third poem. Insofar as the lines on the trapped bird indicate a sensitivity to nature and celebration of freedom, Reynolds's desire to save and assemble these lines into "The Bird and the Arras" was likely motivated by her view of Finch as a proto-Romantic writer ("Introduction" Poems, xvii). Several critics have refuted claims by Reynolds and others that Finch's depiction of nature resembles or anticipates "Romantic" nature: see, esp., Reuben A. Brower, "Lady Winchilsea and the Poetic Tradition of the Seventeenth Century," SP42 (1945): 61-80. Reynolds's extensive introduction to her edition provides multiple contexts and wide-ranging analyses still indispensible to understanding Finch's work.

(7) Barbara McGovern, Anne Finch and Her Poetry: A Critical Biography (Athens, GA: U. of Georgia Press, 1992), 70.

(8) The variety of poetic kinds and modes that Finch used is just one indication of the range of personae that she enlisted, including the Aesopian narrator, the satirist (despite Finch's claims to the contrary), the various Ardelias (often the pastoral poet or playful correspondent but also the poet of melancholy and victim of political oppression), the lyrist, the heroic and the mock-heroic writer, the elegist whose poems usually mourned both the dead and the condition of the state, the devotional poet, biblical paraphraser, and the odist who treated matters of spiritual and political significance (here I include "The Spleen" as such a poem as well as the more obvious examples, such as "All is Vanity" and "Upon the Hurricane"). Paula Backscheider analyzes Finch's range and versatility in "Anne Finch and What Women Wrote," Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2005), 28-79.

(9) "The Losse," "A Letter to Flavio," and "The Sigh" are quoted from the folio manuscript "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia." (10) Mallinson, "Anne Finch," 40. Reynolds characterized Finch's use of birds in her poetry as "slight, but of real significance" (Introduction, Poems, cxxvii).

(11) Although Anne Finch stepped down from her post after marrying Heneage, he continued as a member of James's court, before and after James was crowned. See McGovern's Anne Finch, esp. 20-31.

(12) McGovern provides a detailed account, 58-60. As a former suspect of treason and lifelong Nonjuror (whereby he lost all rights to public office and income, making him vulnerable to tines and imprisonment), Heneage remained an object of suspicion to succeeding governments.

(13) In "The Introduction" she describes the typical view of the woman writer as "an intruder on the rights of Men" (10), who is seen as so presumptuous that "The fault, can by no vertue be redeem'd" (12). According to "The Preface," her poems merit no more than "to be once read, and then carlessly scatter'd or consum'd," but they "are grown by the partiality of some of my friends, to the formidable appearance of a Volume; tho' but in Manuscript and have been solicited to a more daring manefestation, which I shall ever resist" (p. xiii, original emphases). She explains that she never would have circulated her work even in manuscript when she was at court "where every one wou'd have made their remarks upon a Versifying Maid of Honour; and far the greater number with prejudice, if not contempt" (p. xiv). Quotations are from "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia." Despite her claims to shun print, several early poems appeared anonymously in print miscellanies in the 1690s. Finch's poem on the death of King James, which would have been considered treasonous, was printed without her name in 1701.

(14) Although "Some occasional Reflections" is comparatively "undigested," as Finch describes it, she was interested in irregular forms, evident not only in her irregular odes but also in her poetic fragments. She labeled three poems as fragments in her print volume, including the one extracted from "Some occasional Reflections." (15) Several critics have emphasized the social and political dimensions that underpin Finch's representation of nature; see, for example, McGovern, Anne Finch, 78-88; Charles H. Hinnant, The Poetry of Anne Finch: An Essay in Interpretation (Newark: U. of Delaware Press, 1994), 135-65; and Nicolle Jordan, "Where power is absolute': Royalist politics and the improved landscape in a poem by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea," The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 46 (2005): 255-75. On the use of Nature in Stuart ideology, see Murray G. H. Pittock, Poetry and Jacobite Politics in Eighteenth-Century Britain and Ireland (Cambridge U. Press, 1994), 20-21. The doctrine of the divine right of kings could also be used by those who had opposed the Stuart succession: "in its philosophical aspect" the divine right of kings "is merely the form given by circumstances to a doctrine of sovereignty" (J. N. Figgis, The Divine Right of Kings [2nd ed., Cambridge U. Press, 1914], 246; quoted in J. C. D. Clark, English Society 1660-1832: Religion, Ideology and Politics during the Ancien Regime [Cambridge U. Press, 2000], 86).

(16) On Finch's intimate identification with the object represented, see Jennifer Keith, "The Poetics of Anne Finch," SEL 38 (1998): 465-80.

(17) "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia," xiv-xv; all quotations below of "The Preface" cite "Miscellany Poems" parenthetically by page number.

(18) The significance of shade in the Folger manuscript book as an image of modesty and a mode of protection appears in Finch's choice of epigraph for the volume: "I never list presume to Parnass hill, / But piping low, in shade of lowly, grove, / I play to please my self, albeit ill" (from Spenser, Shepheardes Calender, June, 70-72). The shade sought by Finch's birds appears in many other poems where the speaker describes shade as a space of poetic creativity, a locus amoenus where the speaker wanders (e.g., "Petition for an Absolute Retreat" and "An Invitation to Dafnis"). Ruth Salvaggio analyzes Finch's frequent references to the shade as the poet's interest in "profoundly feminine retreats" that offer shelter from Enlightenment systems of value and articulate her displacement ("Anne Finch: Placed and Displaced," Enlightened Absence: Neoclassical Configurations of the Feminine [Urbana: U. of Illinois Press, 1988], 106).

(19) "On my Selfe" is quoted from the octavo manuscript book, "Poems on Several Subjects Written by Ardelia" (Finch-Hatton MS 283, housed in the Northamptonshire Records Office). The most isolationist of Finch's poems, this was the only one of her early poems that was not re-transcribed from the earlier octavo manuscript into the subsequent folio manuscript book. (Her later poem on the hurricane, written in 1703, appears in draft form in the earlier octavo manuscript book but was not retranscribed into the folio manuscript probably because it soon appeared in print). The trope of isolation was often used by Royalists to affirm values of the political margin in their necessarily "private territory": see Hero Chalmers, Royalist Women Writers, 1650-1689 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004), 108, 200, who describes how this trope encouraged women's political agency, particularly in Katherine Philips's work, which in turn influenced Finch's.

(20) See McGovern, Anne Finch, 68.

(21) "The Introduction" is quoted from the folio manuscript book, "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia." (22) On the sun as symbol of the Stuart monarchy, see Pittock, Poetry and Jacobite Politics, 24, 112.

(23) "The Consolation" is quoted from the folio manuscript book, "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia." (24) "The Bird" is quoted from the folio manuscript, "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia." (25) See Hinnant, Poetry of Anne Finch, 56-58, on the poem's skepticism and discontinuities.

(26) Cf. David Fairer's comparison of Finch with Wyatt (English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century 1700-1789 [London: Longman, 2003], 131).

(27) Barash, English Women's Poetry, 276, reads this first section as suggesting the "danger of mistaking the figural for the real" where nature "proves a dangerous and overpowering myth, an alluring world of representations" that cannot be surmounted. In his interpretation of "The Bird and the Arras," Hinnant, Poetry of Anne Finch, 127, addresses the poem's queries into representation, particularly the gap between pictorial representation and "a re-creation of presence." (28) The story appears in many works translated, printed, or reprinted in the seventeenth century, from Pliny the Elder's Natural History, to Henry Cornelius Agrippa's The Vanity of Arts and Sciences (London, 1676), to William Aglionby's Painting Illustrated in Three Diallogues (London, 1685).

(29) Agrippa, Vanity of Arts and Sciences, 69-70.

(30) All quotations of "Some occasional Reflections" are from the folio manuscript book, "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia," including sections later combined by Reynolds as "The Bird and the Arras." (31) Robert Boyle, Occasional Reflections upon Several Subjects (London, 1665), 9.

(32) Ann Messenger, "Selected Nightingales and an 'Augustan' Sensibility," English Studies in Canada 6 (1980): 150-51, has also emphasized the difference between poet and bird in these lines.

(33) Mallinson, "Anne Finch," 45.

(34) Describing the last section of "Some occasional Reflections" (referring to its printed form "Fragment"), Patricia Meyer Spacks, Reading Eighteenth-Century Poetry (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 15, analyzes the metrical shift that underscores the poem's resolution: "the frequent jerkiness" of the couplets preceding the concluding lines "dramatizes her agitation, implicitly contradicting her simple assertions of faith"; whereas the final alexandrine "slows to an achieved, appropriate, and persuasive serenity." (35) Barash, English Women's Poetry, 276.

(36) Although "Jealousie is the Rage of a Man," which appears in both early manuscript books, resembles a fable, the poem was not included in 1713 perhaps because its birds illustrate amorous rather than political faults in humans.

(37) See Messenger, "Selected Nightingales," 74-78, for a discussion of the fate of Finch's speaker in "To the Nightingale," which contrasts the convention of the poet triumphing over the bird.

(38) Consistent with her preference for the copy-text of Finch's 1713 volume, Reynolds used it as the copy-text for "To the Nightingale" The 1713 text was transmitted by Rogers in Selected Poems of Anne Finch and by Denys Thompson in Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea: Selected Poems (New York: Routledge, 2003; first published by Carcanet Press, 1987).

(39) Quoted from the folio manuscript book, "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia." (40) OED, online ed., s.v. "opinion," n., definition 1.

(41) Barash, English Women's Poetry, 275-76, 282.

(42) Tomoko Hanazaki, "A New Parliament of Birds: Aesop, Fiction, and Jacobite Rhetoric," Eighteenth-Century Studies 27 (1993-94): 237, 248.

(43) Hanazaki, "A New Parliament of Birds," 254.

(44) Hinnant, Poetry of Anne Finch, 128; Jayne Elizabeth Lewis, The English Fable: Aesop and Literary Culture in England, 1651-1740 (Cambridge U. Press, 1996), 154-55. Although Finch did not shrink from comical self-deprecation in several poems in the print volume (e.g., in "Mercury and the Elephant" and "The Owl describing her young ones"), the serious tone of the lines concerning the bird and the arras would have been read more as defeat than as light-hearted modesty. For extended readings of Finch's fables, see Hinnant, Poetry of Anne Finch, 166-96; Lewis, The English Fable, 128-55; and Backscheider, Eighteenth-Century Women Poets, 43-51.

(45) Hanazaki identifies the most frequent birds and their identifications in the fables of this era: among them "the Eagle represents Queen Anne; the Cock commander in chief, Marlborough" ("A New Parliament," 245-46).

(46) All quotations from the fables are from Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions (London, 1713).

(47) See Hinnant, Poetry of Anne Finch, 187-90, for an analysis of the poem's ideological complexities in its attention to authority, power, and misrepresentation. Of her fables featuring the politics of authorship--"Mercury and the Elephant," "The Critic and the Writer of Fables," and "The Miser, and the Poet"--only "The Owl Describing her Young Ones" figures the poet as bird.

(48) Although withholding the lines from print that Reynolds salvaged as "The Bird and the Arras," Finch echoed the plight of the desperate bird in another poem that she included in the print volume despite its transparent critique of the revolution of 1688: "A Pindarick Poem Upon the Hurricane in November 1703 ... " In one of the poem's many vignettes that show the terror and suffering of the hurricane's victims, the birds are "Repuls'd, as they attempt to fly ! In hopes they might attain to more secure Retreats" (quoted from Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions, 217-18).

(49) On the varied structures of sonnets, see Alastair Fowler, Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes (Harvard U. Press, 1982), 57, 136.

(50) Barash, English Women's Poetry, 277.

(51) Among her poems that survive, only one, collected in her last manuscript book (untitled and now referred to as the Wellesley Manuscript), features the poet's intimate identification with a bird, albeit briefly: "To the Right Honourable Frances Countess of Hartford who engaged Mr Eusden...." Finch defines the poet's role as resembling "The soothing sweetness of the natural muse / Whilst free she sings as birds from warbling throats / As large her compass and as wild her notes" (156-58). These birds seek neither isolation nor shade.

(52) McGovern and Hinnant propose that transcription of this last manuscript volume, which is not in Finch's hand, was begun near the time of her death: see the introduction to The Anne Finch Wellesley Manuscript Poems: A Critical Edition, ed. Barbara McGovern and Charles H. Hinnant (Athens, GA: U. of Georgia Press, 1998), xliv.

(53) Hinnant, Poetr), of Anne Finch, 229, has observed the frequent blurring "between the sacred and the profane" in Finch's work.

(54) McGovern, Anne Finch, 188, describes "A Contemplation" as not only "a summation of [Finch's] theological and philosophical views" but also an example of how interconnected Finch's religious beliefs are with her political and social concerns.

(55) "A Contemplation" is quoted from the untitled Wellesley manuscript.

(56) See McGovern's "London and Its Literary Life," Arme Finch, 89-107.
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Author:Keith, Jennifer
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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