Women's Poetry: Visions of Nature in Solitude

I reprint this poem as the mood and type are central to a certain vein of women's poetry which may be called "visions of nature", which includes, among others, poems as varied yet coterminus as Veronica Gàmbara's Quando miro la terra ornata e bella, and Con quel caldo desio che nascer suole. The tradition is varied and begins in the Renaissance, but takes a peculiarly women-centered intonation, attitude, imagery, and rhythm of line in the later 17th century in France. Katherine's translation is not a great poem; it is however appealing to those who are alive to this tradition, and Katherine's translation was continually reprinted in all sorts of collections throughout the eighteenth century, most of the time anonymously -- until the romantic movement displaced this kind of formalized or disguised and distanced cri de coeur

"Interior [?]" (1658-60) by Pieter de Hooch (1629-84), from Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

La Solitude de St. Amant La Solitude A Alcidon
O! Solitude, my sweetest choice
Places devoted to the night,
Remote from tumult, and from noise,
How you my restless thoughts delight!
O Heavens! what content is mine,
To see those trees which have appear'd
From the nativity of Time,
And which hall ages have rever'd,
To look to-day as fresh and green,
 As when their beauties first were seen!

A cheerful wind does court them so,
And with such amorous breath enfold,
That we by nothing else can know,
But by their hieght that they are old.
Hither the demi-gods did fly
To seek the sanctuary, when
Displeased Jove once pierc'd the sky,
To pour a deluge upon men,
And on these boughs themselves did save,
When they could hardly see a wave.

Sad Philomel upon this thorn,
So curiously by Flora dress'd,
In melting notes, her case forlorn,
To entertain me, hath confess'd.
O! how agreeable a sight
These hanging mountains do appear,
Which the unhappy would invite
To finish all their sorrows here,
When their hard fate makes them endure
Such woes, as only death can cure.

What pretty desolations make
These torrents vagabond and fierce,
Who in vast leaps their springs forsake,
This solitary Vale to pierce.
Then sliding just as serpents do
Under the foot of every tree,
Themselves are changed to rivers too,
Wherein some stately Nayade,
As in her native bed, is grown
A queen upon a crystal throne.

This fen beset with river-plants,
O! how it does my sense charm!
Nor elders, reeds, nor willows want,
Which the sharp steel did never harm.
Here Nymphs which come to take the air,
May with such distaffs furnish'd be,
As flags and rushes can prepare,
Where we the nimble frogs may see,
Who frighted to retreat do fly
If an approaching man they spy.

Here water-flowl repose enjoy,
Without the interrupting care,
Lest Fortune should their bliss destroy
By the malicious fowler's snare.
Some ravish'd with so bright a day,
Their feathers finely prune and deck;
Others their amorous heats allay,
Which yet the waters could not check:
All take their innocent content
In this their lovely element.

Summer's, nor Winter's bold approach,
This stream did never entertain;
Nor ever felt a boat or coach,
Whilst either season did remain.
No thirsty traveller came near,
And rudely made his hand his cup;
Nor any hunted hind hath here
Her hopeless life resigned up;
Nor ever did the treacherous hook
Intrude to empty any brook.

What beauty is there in the sight
Of these old ruin'd castle-walls
Of which the utmost rage and spight
Of Time's worst insurrection falls?
The witches keep their Sabbath here,
And wanton devils make retreat.
Who in malicious sport appear,
Our sense both to afflict and cheat;
And here within a thousand holes
Are nest of adders and of owls.

The raven with his dismal cries,
That mortal augury of Fate,
Those ghastly goblins ratifies,
Which in these gloomy places wait.
On a curs'd tree the wind does move
A carcase which did once belong
To one that hang'd himself for love
Of a fair Nymph that did him wrong,
Who thought she saw his love and truth,
With one look would not save the youth.

But Heaven which judges equally,
And its own laws will still maintain,
Rewarded soon her cruelty
With a deserv'd and mighty pain:
About this squalid heap of bones,
Her wand'ring and condemned shade,
Laments in long and piercing groans
The destiny her rigour made,
And the more to augment her right,
Her crime is ever in her sight.

There upon antique marbles trac'd,
Devices of past times we see,
Here age ath almost quite defac'd,
What lovers carv'd on every tree.
The cellar, here, the highest room
Receives when its old rafters fail,
Soil'd with the venom and the foam
Of the spider and the snail:
And th'ivy in the chimney we
Find shaded by a walnut tree.

Below there does a cave extend,
Wherein there is so dark a grot,
That should the Sun himself descend,
I think he could not see a jot.
Here sleep within a heavy lid
In quiet sadness locks up sense,
And every care he does forbid,
Whilst in arms of negligence,
Lazily on his back he's spread,
And sheaves of poppy are his bed.

Within this cool and hollow cave,
Where Love itself might turn to ice,
Poor Echo ceases not to rave
On her Narcissus wild and nice:
Hither I softly steal a thought,
And by the softer music made
With a sweet lute in charms well taught,
Sometimes I flatter her sad shade,
Whilst of my chords I make such choice,
They serve as body to her voice.

When from these ruins I retire,
This horrid rock I do invade,
Whose lofty brow seems to inquire
Of what materials mists are made:
From thence descending leisurely
Under the brow of this steep hill
It with great pleasure I descry
By waters undermin'd, until
They to Palaemon's seat did climb,
Compos'd of sponges and of slime.

How highly is the fancy pleas'd
To be upon the Ocean's shore,
When she begins to be appeas'd
And her fierce billows cease to roar!
And when the hairy Tritons are
Riding upon the shaken wave,
With what strange sounds they strike the air
Of their trumpets hoarse and brave,
Whose shrill reports does every wind
Unto his due submission bind!

Sometimes the sea dispels the sand,
Trembling and murmuring in the bay,
And rolls itself upon the shells
Which it both brings and takes away.
Sometimes exposed on the strand,
Th'effect of Neptune's rage and scorn,
Drown'd men, dead monsters cast on land,
And ships that were in tempests torn,
With diamonds and ambergreece,
And many more such things as these.

Sometimes so sweetly she does smile,
A floating mirror she might be,
And you would fancy all that while
New Heavens in her face to see:
The Sun himself is drawn so well,
When there he would his picture view,
That our eye can hardly tell
Which is the false Sun, which the true;
And lest we give our sense the lie,
We think he's fallen from the sky.

Bernieres! for whose beloved sake
My thoughts are at a noble strife,
This my fantastic landskip take,
Which I have copied from the life.
I only seek the deserts rough,
Where all alone I love to walk,
And with discourse refin'd enough,
My Genius and the Muses talk;
But the converse most truly mine,
Is the dear memory of thine.

Thou mayst in this Poem find,
So full of liberty and heat,
What illustrious rays have shin'd
To enlighten my conceit:
Sometimes pensive, sometimes gay,
Just as that fury does control,
And as the object I survey
The notions grow up in my soul,
And are as unconcern'd and free
As the flame which transported me.

O! how I Solitude adore,
That element of noblest wit,
Where I have learnt Apollo's lore,
Without the pains to study it:
For thy sake I in love am grown
With what thy fancy does pursue;
But when I think upon my own,
I hate it for that reason too.
Because it needs must hinder me
From seeing, and from serving thee.

O que j'ayme la solitude!
Que ces lieux sacrez à la nuit, Esloignez du monde e du bruit,
Plaisent à mon inquietude!
Mon Dieu! que mes yeux sont contens
De voir ces bois, qui se trouverent
A la nativité du temps,
Et que tous les siècles everent,
Estre encore aussi beaux et vers,
Qu'aux premiers jours de l'univers!

Un gay zephire les caresse
D'un mouvement doux et flatteur.
Rien que leur extresme hauteur
Ne fait remarquer leur vieillesse.
Jadis Pan et ses demi-dieux
Y vinrent chercher du refuge,
Quand Jupiter ouvrit les cieux
Pour nous enoyer le deluge,
Et, se sauvans sur leurs rameaux,
A peine virent-ils les eaux.

Que sur cette espine fleurie
Dont le printemps est amoureux,
Philomele, au chant langoureux,
Entretient bein ma resverie!
Que je prens de plaisir à voir
Ces monts pendans en precipices,
Qui, puor les coups du desespoir,
Sont aux malheureux si propices,
Quand la cruauté de leur sort,
Les froce a rechercher la mort!

Que je trouve doux le ravage
De ces fiers torrens vagabonds,
Que se precipitent par bonds
Dans ce valon vert et sauvage!
Puis, glissant sour les arbrisseaux,
Ainsi que des serpens sur l'herbe,
Se changent en plaisans ruisseaux,
Où quelque Naïade superbe
Regne comme en son lict natal,
Dessus un throsne de christal!

Que j'ayme ce marets paisible!
Il est tout bordé d'aliziers,
D'aulnes, de saules et d'oziers,
Q qui le fer n'est point nuisible.
Les nymphes, y cherchans le frais,
S'y viennet fournir de quenouilles,
De pipeaux, de joncs et de glais;
Où l'on voit sauter les grenouilles,
Qui de frayeur s'y vont cacher
Si tost qu'on veut s'en approcher.

Là, cent mille oyseaux aquatiques
 Vivent, sand craindre, en leur repos,
Le giboyeur fin et dispos,
Avec ses mortelles pratiques.
L'un tout joyeux d'un si beau jour,
S'amuse à becqueter sa plume;
L'autre allentit le feu d'amour
Qui dans l'eau mesme se consume,
Et prennent tous innocemment
Leur plaisir en cet élement.

Jamais l'esté ny la froidure
N'ont veu passer dessus cette eau
Nulle charrette ny batteau,
Depuis que l'un et l'autre dure;
Jamais voyageur alteré
N'y fit servir sa main de tasse;
Jamais chevreuil desesperé
N'y finit sa vie à la chasse;
Et jamais le traistre hameçon
N'en fit sortir aucun poisson.

Que j'ayme à voir la décadence
De ces vieux chasteaux ruinez,
Contre qui les ans mutinez
Ont deployé leur insolence!
Les sorciers y font leur savat;
Les demons follets y retirent,
Qui d'un malicieux ébat
Trompent nos sens et nous martirent;
Là se nichent en mille troux
Les couleuvres et les hyboux.

L'orfraye, avec ses cris funebres,
Mortels augures des testins,
Fait rire et dancer les lutins
Dans ces lieux remplis de tenebres.
Sous un chevron de bois maudit
Y branle le squelette horrible
D'un pauvre amant qui se pendit
Pour une bergère insensible,
Qui d'un seul regard de pitié
Ne daigna voir son amitié.

Aussi le Ciel, juge équitable,
Qui maintient les loix en vigueur,
Prononça contre sa rigueur
Une sentence epouvantable:
Autour de ces vieux ossemens
Son ombre, aux peines condamnée,
Lamente en logs gemissemens
Sa malheureuse destinée,
Ayant, pour croistre son effroy,
Tousjours son crime devant soy.

Là se trouvent sur quelques marbres
Des devises du temps passé;
Icy l'âge a presque effacé
Des chiffres taillex sur les arbres;
Le plancher du lieu le plus haut
Est tombé jusques dans la cave,
Que la limace et le crapaud
Souillent de venin et de bave;
Le lierre y croist au foyer,
A l'ombrage d'un grand noyer.

Là dessous s'estend une voûte
Si sombre en un certain endroit,
Que, quand Phebus y descendroit,
Je pense qu'il n'y verrroit goutte;
Le Sommeil aux pesans sourcis,
Enchanté d'un morne silence,
Y dort, bien loing de tous soucis,
Dans les bras de la Nonchalence,
Laschement couché sur le dos
Dessus des gerbes de pavots.

Au creux de cette grotte fresche,
Où l'Amour se pourroit geler,
Echo ne cesse de brusler
Pour son amant froid et revesche,
Je m'y coule sans aire bruit,
Et par la celeste harmonie
D'un doux lut, aux charmes instruit,
Je flatte sa triste manie
Faisant, repeter mes accords
A la voix qui luy sert de corps.

Tantost, sortant de ces ruines,
Je monte au haut de ce rocher,
Dont le sommet semble chercher
En quel lieu se font les bruïnes;
Puis je descends tout à loisir,
Sous une falaise escarpée,
D'où je regarde avec plaisir
L'onde qui l'a presque sappée
Jusqu'au siege de Palemon,
Fait d'esponges et de limon.

Que c'est une chose agreable
D'estre sur le borde de la mer,
Quand elle vient à se calmer
Après quelque orage effroyable!
Et que les chevelus Tritons,
Hauts, sur les vagues secouées,
Frapent les airs d'estranges tons
Avec leurs trompes enrouées,
Dont l'eclat rend respectueux
Les ventes les plus impetueux.

Tantost l'onde brouillant l'arène,
Murmure et fremit de courroux
Se roullant dessus les cailloux
Qu'elle apporte et qu'elle r'entraine.
Tantost, elle estale en ses bords,
Que l'ire de neptune outrage,
Des gens noyex, des monstres morts,
Des vaisseaux brisez du naufrage,
Des diamans, de l'ambre gris,
Et mille autres choses de pris.

Tantost, la lus claire du monde,
Elle semble un miroir flottant,
Et nous represente à l'instant
Encore d'autres cieux sous l'onde.
Le soleil s'y fait si bien voir,
Y contemplant son beau visage,
Qu'on est quelque temps à savoir
Si c'est loy-mesme, ou son image,
Et d'abord il semble à nos yeux
Qu'il s'est laissé tomber des cieux.

Bernières, pour qui je me vante
De ne rien faire que de beau,
Reçoy ce fantasque tableau
Fait d'une peinture vivante,
Je ne cherche che les deserts,
Où, resvant tout seul, je m'amuse
A des discours assez diserts
De mon genie avec la muse;
Mais mon plus aymable entretien
C'est le ressouvenir du tien.

Tu vois dans cette poesie
Pleine de licence et d'ardeur
Les beaux rayons de la splendeur
Qui m'esclaire la fantaisie:
Tantost chagrin, tantost joyeux
Selon que la futeur m'enflame,
Et que l'objet s'offre à mes yeux,
Les propose me naissent en l'ame,
Sans contraindre la liberté
Du demon qui m'a transporté.

O que j'ayme la solitude!
C'est l'element des cons esprits,
C'est par elle que j'ay compris
L'art d'Apollon sans nulle estude.
Je l'ayme pour l'amour de toy,
Connaissant que ton humeur l'ayme
Mais quand je pense bien à moy,
Je la hay pour la rasion mesme
Car elle pourroit me ravir
L'heur de te voir et te servir.


See also Anne Finch's "The Petition for an Absolute Retreat" and "A Nocturnal Reverie"; Lady Mary Wortley Montague's Verses Written in the Chiosk of the British Palace, at Pera, overlooking the city of Constantinople, Dec. 26, 1718 [1717], and A Hymn to the Moon"; and Ann Radcliffe's lyrics "Song of a Spirit" and "Night". For a series of these poems (all of which in this volume are by men) and an interesting commentary on them in the baroque period, see "A Vision of Nature", Baroque Poetry, selected and translated by J. P. Hill and E. Caracciolo-Tejo (London: Dent, 1975), pp. 1-64


For a complete history of the publication of this translation insofar is it was known up to the publication of Thomas's Collected Works of Katherine Philips, see William Roberts, "Saint-Amant, Orinda and Dryden's Miscellany," English Language Notes, 1 (Sept- June 1963-64), pp. 191-96; and his "The Dating of Orinda's French translations, Philological Quarterly, 49 (1970), pp. 56-196.

Antoine Girard Saint-Amant (1594-1661): "a poet, born at Rouen, the son of a naval officer. He was the boon companion of the comte d'Harcourt, whom he accompanied on his campaigns and sea-voyages and in a mission to England in 1643, and later a follower of Marie de Gonzague, Queen of Poland. He was a freethinker and a remarkable poet, vivid and realistic, especially in his songs of the tavern. He was the author of picturesque, some of them burlesque, lyrics and of a long tedoius epic on Moses, Moïse sauvé (1653). The bizarre and whimsical quality of some of his verse is seen in his well-known sonnet, Les Goinfres and in the longer poem, La Solitude. He was one of the original members of the Académie, but was condemned by Boileau [from The Oxford Companion to French Literature, compiled and edited by Sir Paul Harvey and J. E. Heseltine, Oxford: 1959].


I take my copy text of Katherine Philips's translations from Saintsbury's reprint of Cotterell's edition; I take my copy text of Saint-Amant's original from Baroque Poetry, selected and translated by J. P. Hill and E. Caracciolo-Tejo (London: Dent, 1975).
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