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This report is taken from PN Review 249, Volume 46 Number 1, September - October 2019.

On Mary Wroth William Poulos
Few poets are known for their constancy; poetry has long been associated with lying. Musicians are equally suspect: when your daughter brings home a man with long hair, a Metallica t-shirt, and picks in his wallet where money should be, the feeling in your stomach is rarely one of excitement. A poet and musician, Mary Wroth was also, by Renaissance standards, the ficklest of all creatures: a woman.

My last girlfriend – a poet and a woman – did little to convince me that the Renaissance was wrong, so I was surprised to find that constancy is an important idea in Wroth’s work, and you should note that she took her cousin as a lover after her husband’s death. Her most famous work is Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, a sequence of sonnets and songs in which Pamphilia (‘all-loving’) addresses her unfaithful beloved Amphilanthus (‘lover of two’). Their names reflect the main theme of the sequence: constancy despite another’s inconstance. The third sonnet expresses this in characteristically awkward syntax. In it Pamphilia asks Cupid to guide Amphilanthus’s heart:
Lodge in that breast, and pity moving see,
For flames which in mine burn in truest smart,
Exiling thoughts that touch inconstancy,
Or those which waste not in the constant art…

This might not stop Amphilanthus from wandering round, but it would fix Cupid to his desk as he tries to figure out what it means. After consulting the commentaries and grammar books, he might paraphrase his instructions in a scribble: ‘note to self: lodge in Amph’s breast, ...

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