I turned in my bibliography when I got back to the States without a preface. I couldn’t come to a satisfactory conclusion about Philips. Over 25 years later, I still don’t know what she was really writing about. Perhaps it was life-sustaining friendships, perhaps it was code for a series of Lesbian lovers. But now I can respect and value each equally, without an agenda.
Since my college years, I’ve had more time to enjoy both the fire and the ease that accompanies intense female bonds. Bonds with no sexual component while the relationships themselves are sustaining and central to my emotional life. These relationships are in addition to my 17-year marriage to a man. Frankly, I can’t imagine a fulfilling life without both my husband and my friends. Katherine Philips speaks to my experience like one of few authors of verse or prose in any age.
Perhaps it was just exhaustion and poor nutrition that caused me to feel repelled at her home. Perhaps it was Philips herself, warning me not to interpret her life for her. Not to take a stand that she herself did not take. I can accept that.
I can also accept that it’s not my place to sum up the life of a beautiful poet who lived 350 years ago. Perhaps there are scholars with an education in both literature and Welsh culture who could do a good job of it, but the fact is that I am not among them. I came at this project as a fiery young woman who identified as a deeply ideological feminist. The world was either black or white to me. There was very little gray. Katherine Philips was like a Michigan winter sky an hour before it drops six inches of snow on our heads: nothing BUT gray, everywhere. She fascinated me. She turned that sky upside down, teasing me with unanswerable clues. Her poetry was a great lesson for me about the breadth and scope of the possibilities of women’s relationships: they were bigger than I could imagine. And I had a lifetime to explore them.
Let me leave you, and this story, with her poetry. In the end, her words are what survive, and what will, hopefully, survive us all.
To my Lucasia, in defense of declared Friendship
O My Lucasia, let us speak our Love,
And think not that impertinent can be,
Which to us both such assurance prove,
And whence we find how justly we agree.