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"To the Nightingale"

By Anne Finch

  • Transcription, correction, editorial commentary, and markup: Students of Marymount University, James West, Amy Ridderhof
  • [end page [titlepage]] POEMS
    ON
    Several Occasions, viz..

    [...]

    Written by the Right Honorable ANNE,
    Countess of Winchelsea
    .
    LONDON :
    Printed by J. B. and sold by W. Taylor at the Ship
    in Paternoster-Row , and Jonas Browne at the
    Black Swan without Temple-bar . 1714.
    [end page 200]

    To the NIGHTINGALE .

    EXert thy Voice, Sweet Harbinger of Spring This Moment is thy Time to Sing, This Moment I attend to Praise, And set my Numbers to thy Layes . Free as thine shall be my Song; As thy Musick, short, or long. Poets, wild as thee, were born, [end page 201] Pleasing best when unconfin'd, When to Please is least design'd, Soothing but their Cares to rest; Cares do still their Thoughts molest, And still th'unhappy Poet's Breast, Like thine, when best he sings, is plac'd against a Thorn. She begins, Let all be still! Muse , thy Promise now fulfill! Sweet, oh! sweet, still sweeter yet Can thy Words such Accents fit, Canst thou Syllables refine, Melt a Sense that shall retain Still some Spirit of the Brain, Till with Sounds like these it join. ‘Twill not be ! then change thy Note; Let Division shake thy Throat. Hark! Division now she tries; Yet as far the Muse outflies [end page 202] Cease then, prithee, cease thy Tune; Trifler, wilt thou sing till June? Till thy Bus'ness all lies waste, And the Time of Building's past ! Thus we Poets that have Speech, Unlike what thy Forests teach, If a fluent Vein be shown That's transcendent to our own, Criticize, reform, or preach, Or censure what we cannot reach.

    Annotations

    Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, was born in April 1661 to Anne Haselwood and Sir William Kingsmill. At age twenty-one she was appointed maid of honor to Mary Modena, the wife of the Duke of York, in the Court of Charles II. During her time in the Court, Anne Kingsmill was courted by and eventually married to Colonel Heneage Finch. In 1689, after a shift in political power, the Finches faced monetary problems and moved several times, eventually settling in Eastwell with their nephew.

    As a woman writer in the Augustan era, Finch was also out of place. Barbara McGovern's 2002 critical biography of Finch explores these displacements both in her life and her poetry. Finch struggled, as McGovern notes, to define her poetic identity in an era when women were excluded from the conditions that would allow them to cultivate their minds or their voices. The poet was seen as male, and publishing poetry, a masculine, public activity; for a woman to do so was, in the Augustan period, risque and licentious (See Katherine Rogers' essay, "Anne Finch, Countess of Winchelsea: An Augustan Woman Writer," in Pacheco 227); Finch had to negotiate these competing cultural rules in her poetry.

    Finch's poetry from 1701-1714 was wide ranging. She wrote on subjects typically allowed to be feminine, like her love for her husband, but she also wrote about public and political issues, like the succession of power in London. In 1701, Finch anonymously published "Upon the Death of King James the Second". Poems such as "The Spleen"and "All is Vanity" exemplify the idea of faith despite tribulation, a subject she explored often. Prior to the 1713 publication of Miscellany Poems on Several Occasions, Finch circulated private manuscripts of her poems and gained a favorable literary reputation. For more information on women writers and manuscript circulation, see George Justice's introduction to Women's Writing and the Circulation of Ideas: Manuscript Publication in England, 1550-1800 (2002) or Margaret Ezell's Social Authorship and the Advent of Print (1999).

    Rogers emphasizes Finch's Augustan roots, highlighting her use of form as well as her love poetry, satirical prose, and ideas on the relationship between man and nature (225). According to Rogers, Finch became one of the few female authors in the Augustan era to successfully master the masculine rules of the literary tradition. During the early modern period, women "frequently found themselves denied opportunities for publication and serious public reception, or had their writings denigrated and trivialized by a patriarchal literary world" (McGovern 2)--as detailed in Finch's poem "The Introduction," which remained unpublished during her lifetime. Finch was able to make her voice heard by working within the masculine restraints of Augustan form.

    Finch died on August 5, 1720. According to the National Poetry Foundation the first recognized modern edition of her work was released in 1903. Since the advent of feminist recovery criticism in the 1970s and 1980s, Anne Finch has gained critical acclaim; she is now regarded as one of the most important English women writers of the 18th century. The image to the right shows a miniature watercolor portrait of Anne Finch by Peter Cross, housed in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

    The nightingale is a small bird native to Europe and Asia, with a population in the United Kingdom as well as Africa. It is known for its beautiful, complex song, characterized by "a fast succession of high, low and rich notes that few other species can match," and for that reason has long been associated with poets and poetry, as poet Edward Hirsch notes in his introduction to To a Nightingale: Poems from Sappho to Borges . Often, the nightingale alludes to the classical myth of the rape of Philomela, whose violation is ostensibly recompensed with an unearthly beautiful song. While the nightingale is frequently invoked in lyric poetry as a feminized muse for the masculine poet to draw inspiration from, as Charles Hinnant notes in "Song and Speech in Anne Finch's ‘To the Nightingale,'" Finch recasts the bird as an idealized muse for all poets, regardless of gender (504). This poem, is a significant attempt on Finch's part "to master a recurrent problem for the...female poet: how to participate in a discourse in which the poet is defined as a masculine subject" (503). This video allows you to hear a nightingale singing. The image to the right, via RSPB, shows the nightingale, luscinia megarhynchos.

    According to the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on ornamentation, division refers to a technique, popular in early modern music theory, characterized by dividing longer notes into a series of shorter note groupings. This is an early form of improvisation. For more information, please see "meter and time signatures" in the Open Music Theory textbook.

    According to A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology , the Muses are "inspiring goddesses of song" who "presid[e] over the different kinds of poetry, and over the arts and sciences." In this poem, Finch positions the nightingale as her muse and rival.

    According to the Encyclopedia Britanica , a "Lay" refers to a song or story in song. Finch in this instance is seeking to create a poem that mirrors the song of the Nightingale.

    "Numbers" refers to the metrical quality of poetic verse; it also metonymically signifies poetry in general. In Alexander Pope's "Epistle to Arbuthnot," he says that he "lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came" (128), suggesting that he spoke in poetic form even as a child. Poetry is associated with music because of the metrical quality of both. Finch's use of the word "set" in this line emphasizes musicality, specifically the setting of words to music (see OED "set" v1, 73.a).

    Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, was born in April 1661 to Anne Haselwood and Sir William Kingsmill. At age twenty-one she was appointed maid of honor to Mary Modena, the wife of the Duke of York, in the Court of Charles II. During her time in the Court, Anne Kingsmill was courted by and eventually married to Colonel Heneage Finch. In 1689, after a shift in political power, the Finches faced monetary problems and moved several times, eventually settling in Eastwell with their nephew.

    As a woman writer in the Augustan era, Finch was also out of place. Barbara McGovern's 2002 critical biography of Finch explores these displacements both in her life and her poetry. Finch struggled, as McGovern notes, to define her poetic identity in an era when women were excluded from the conditions that would allow them to cultivate their minds or their voices. The poet was seen as male, and publishing poetry, a masculine, public activity; for a woman to do so was, in the Augustan period, risque and licentious (See Katherine Rogers' essay, "Anne Finch, Countess of Winchelsea: An Augustan Woman Writer," in Pacheco 227); Finch had to negotiate these competing cultural rules in her poetry.

    Finch's poetry from 1701-1714 was wide ranging. She wrote on subjects typically allowed to be feminine, like her love for her husband, but she also wrote about public and political issues, like the succession of power in London. In 1701, Finch anonymously published "Upon the Death of King James the Second". Poems such as "The Spleen"and "All is Vanity" exemplify the idea of faith despite tribulation, a subject she explored often. Prior to the 1713 publication of Miscellany Poems on Several Occasions, Finch circulated private manuscripts of her poems and gained a favorable literary reputation. For more information on women writers and manuscript circulation, see George Justice's introduction to Women's Writing and the Circulation of Ideas: Manuscript Publication in England, 1550-1800 (2002) or Margaret Ezell's Social Authorship and the Advent of Print (1999).

    Rogers emphasizes Finch's Augustan roots, highlighting her use of form as well as her love poetry, satirical prose, and ideas on the relationship between man and nature (225). According to Rogers, Finch became one of the few female authors in the Augustan era to successfully master the masculine rules of the literary tradition. During the early modern period, women "frequently found themselves denied opportunities for publication and serious public reception, or had their writings denigrated and trivialized by a patriarchal literary world" (McGovern 2)--as detailed in Finch's poem "The Introduction," which remained unpublished during her lifetime. Finch was able to make her voice heard by working within the masculine restraints of Augustan form.

    Finch died on August 5, 1720. According to the National Poetry Foundation the first recognized modern edition of her work was released in 1903. Since the advent of feminist recovery criticism in the 1970s and 1980s, Anne Finch has gained critical acclaim; she is now regarded as one of the most important English women writers of the 18th century. The image to the right shows a miniature watercolor portrait of Anne Finch by Peter Cross, housed in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

    The nightingale is a small bird native to Europe and Asia, with a population in the United Kingdom as well as Africa. It is known for its beautiful, complex song, characterized by "a fast succession of high, low and rich notes that few other species can match," and for that reason has long been associated with poets and poetry, as poet Edward Hirsch notes in his introduction to To a Nightingale: Poems from Sappho to Borges . Often, the nightingale alludes to the classical myth of the rape of Philomela, whose violation is ostensibly recompensed with an unearthly beautiful song. While the nightingale is frequently invoked in lyric poetry as a feminized muse for the masculine poet to draw inspiration from, as Charles Hinnant notes in "Song and Speech in Anne Finch's ‘To the Nightingale,'" Finch recasts the bird as an idealized muse for all poets, regardless of gender (504). This poem, is a significant attempt on Finch's part "to master a recurrent problem for the...female poet: how to participate in a discourse in which the poet is defined as a masculine subject" (503). This video allows you to hear a nightingale singing. The image to the right, via RSPB, shows the nightingale, luscinia megarhynchos.

    According to the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on ornamentation, division refers to a technique, popular in early modern music theory, characterized by dividing longer notes into a series of shorter note groupings. This is an early form of improvisation. For more information, please see "meter and time signatures" in the Open Music Theory textbook.

    According to A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology , the Muses are "inspiring goddesses of song" who "presid[e] over the different kinds of poetry, and over the arts and sciences." In this poem, Finch positions the nightingale as her muse and rival.

    According to the Encyclopedia Britanica , a "Lay" refers to a song or story in song. Finch in this instance is seeking to create a poem that mirrors the song of the Nightingale.

    "Numbers" refers to the metrical quality of poetic verse; it also metonymically signifies poetry in general. In Alexander Pope's "Epistle to Arbuthnot," he says that he "lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came" (128), suggesting that he spoke in poetic form even as a child. Poetry is associated with music because of the metrical quality of both. Finch's use of the word "set" in this line emphasizes musicality, specifically the setting of words to music (see OED "set" v1, 73.a).

    Sources

  • London : Printed by J[ohn] B[arber] sold by W. Taylor [etc.]. 1714. 4 p.l., 390 p. 19 cm. PR3765.W57 A7 1714 . This book first appeared in 1713 undert the imprints of John Barber and John Morphew, and there seem to be three different 1713 printings of this text--each 1713 printing includes slight variations of the authorship statement on the title page--from the anonymous "written by a Lady" to a full statement of authorship by "Anne Finch, Countess of Winchelsea." This digital edition uses the 1714 printing by Barber, housed in the Library of Congress. This 1714 printing is a reissue of the 1713 editions with a new title page. All page images are sourced from the Library of Congress.
  • London : Printed by John Barber on Lambeth-Hill Sold by John Morphew near Stationer's Hall. 1713. [8],390p. ; 8° .
  • Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Library. 2009 April. Link .
  • More information on available editions is available through the English Short Title Catalog and Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker.

    Editorial Statements

  • This text is prepared as part of the Literature in Context project, which provides an accessible, curated, and marked-up selection of primary sources relevant to the study and the teaching of British and American literature of the 18th century. This project is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and developed by faculty at The University of Virginia and Marymount University.

  • Materials have been transcribed from and checked against first editions, where possible. See the Sources section.

  • Original spelling and capitalization is retained, though the long s has been silently modernized and ligatured forms are not encoded.

  • Hyphenation has not been retained, except where necessary for the sense of the word.

  • Page breaks have been retained. Catchwords, signatures, and running headers have not.

  • Research informing these annotations draws on publicly-accessible resources, with links provided where possible. Annotations have also included common knowledge, defined as information that can be found in multiple reliable sources. If you notice an error in these annotations, please contact lic.open.anthology@gmail.com.

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