Lady Mary Wroth as Proto-Feminist
Lady Mary Wroth is one of very few canonized woman poets in the 17th century canon (Strickland lect. Oct 11 94.). This fact alone lends a type of importance to Wroth that sets her off from her male contemporaries. Wroth wrote poems at about the same time that Robert Herrick, John Donne, Andrew Marvell, and Sir Philip Sidney (to name a few) wrote their courtly lyrics. Wroth wasn't the only woman writer from the time, instead, she was simply one of very few that were saved from historical anonymity.
Lady Mary Wroth writes using a fairly conventional form of sonnet making, the "Carpe Diem" style. In using this style, she achieves an interesting internal critique of itself as poetic form. Wroth shows how the form is exclusive and at times self-defeating. Wroth exposes these faults by elaborating on images of masochistic love and how this type of love is furthered by the use of military metaphor. Lastly, I will discuss how Wroth's use of double narration and monologue format also serve to problematize the "Carpe Diem" style.
"Carpe Diem" means "seize the day", and this particular translation of the phrase is of particular importance for establishing the validity of Wroth's critique. (Strickland lect. Oct 11 94). These "Carpe Diem" love sonnets usually focused around the narrator trying to seduce a woman into bed or into some type of love relationship. The need to "seize the day was worked in by the narrator in hopes of spurring the woman into action. One good example of this is in Andrew Marvell's poem "To His Coy Mistress". In this poem, Marvell writes: "And the last age should show your heart:/ ... But at my back I always hear/ Time's winged chariot hurrying near" (Marvell n.p.). Marvell, as the narrator, is trying to say that he loves the woman very much but because Time is running out, she should give in to him. Marvell further says: "then worms shall try/ That long- preserved virginity:/ And your quaint honor turn to dust." (Marvell n.p.). Here Marvell is saying that virginity and chaste virtue means nothing in death. Marvell also seems to be saying that it would be more pleasant for her if he explored her virginity rather than the worms. Typically, the narrator would say that time was running out and the woman should hop into bed with him the sooner the better. Aside from the crude example I gave above, the form seems to be inherently masculine.
First, this form of poetry was used to express the love, desires, and sexual wants of the narrating poet. From what I understand of 17th century society (and in fact Western society in general) is that it is more socially acceptable for a man to openly express his loves, desires, and sexual wants. For this reason, the "Carpe Diem" style is particularly well- suited to these male poets in that it allows for a concise capsulized proposal that blatantly expresses love,sex, and desires of the men.
A poem seems to be like a small bomb that goes off in the...