“Heaven in Epitome”

1024px-Portrait_of_Catherine_Philips_(4674221).jpg

Katherine (or Catherine) Philips. (Source)

One of the great poets of the seventeenth century was Katherine Philips, a Royalist, a major translator of Corneille, and a devotee of Platonic love. Her poetry often explores the deeper meaning of close friendship. She had a few such relationships, and led a society of fellow aristocrats dedicated to Friendship as such. She would often use allegorical names to refer to herself (“Orinda”), her husband (“Antenor”), and her best friend (“Lucasia”). I found these few poems to be particularly moving and insightful into the nature of true friendship.

A Friend

Love, nature’s plot, this great creation’s soul,
The being and the harmony of things,
Doth still preserve and propagate the whole,
From whence man’s happiness and safety springs:
The earliest, whitest, blessed’st times did draw
From her alone their universal law.

Friendship’s an abstract of this noble flame,
‘Tis love refined and purged from all its dross,
The next to angels’ love, if not the same,
As strong in passion is, though not so gross:
It antedates a glad eternity,
And is an heaven in epitome.

*        *        *        *        *

Essential honour must be in a friend,
Not such as every breath fans to and fro;
But born within, is its own judge and end,
And dares not sin though sure that none should know.
Where friendship’s spoke, honesty’s understood;
For none can be a friend that is not good.

*        *        *        *        *

Thick waters show no images of things;
Friends are each other’s mirrors, and should be
Clearer than crystal or the mountain springs,
And free from clouds, design, or flattery.
For vulgar souls no part of friendship share;
Poets and friends are born to what they are.

Friendship’s Mystery, To my Dearest Lucasia

1
Come, my Lucasia, since we see
That Miracles Mens faith do move,
By wonder and by prodigy
To the dull angry world let’s prove
There’s a Religion in our Love.
2
For though we were design’d t’ agree,
That Fate no liberty destroyes,
But our Election is as free
As Angels, who with greedy choice
Are yet determin’d to their joyes.
3
Our hearts are doubled by the loss,
Here Mixture is Addition grown ;
We both diffuse, and both ingross :
And we whose minds are so much one,
Never, yet ever are alone.
4
We court our own Captivity
Than Thrones more great and innocent :
’Twere banishment to be set free,
Since we wear fetters whose intent
Not Bondage is, but Ornament.
5
Divided joyes are tedious found,
And griefs united easier grow :
We are our selves but by rebound,
And all our Titles shuffled so,
Both Princes, and both Subjects too.
6
Our Hearts are mutual Victims laid,
While they (such power in Friendship lies)
Are Altars, Priests, and Off’rings made :
And each Heart which thus kindly dies,
Grows deathless by the Sacrifice.

To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship

I did not live until this time

    Crowned my felicity,
When I could say without a crime,
    I am not thine, but thee.
This carcass breathed, and walked, and slept,
    So that the world believed
There was a soul the motions kept;
    But they were all deceived.
For as a watch by art is wound
    To motion, such was mine:
But never had Orinda found
    A soul till she found thine;
Which now inspires, cures and supplies,
    And guides my darkened breast:
For thou art all that I can prize,
    My joy, my life, my rest.
No bridegroom’s nor crown-conqueror’s mirth
    To mine compared can be:
They have but pieces of the earth,
    I’ve all the world in thee.
Then let our flames still light and shine,
    And no false fear control,
As innocent as our design,
    Immortal as our soul.

Friendship

Let the dull brutish World that know not Love,
Continue heretics, and disapprove
That noble flame; but the refinèd know
‘Tis all the Heaven we have here below.
Nature subsists by Love, and they do tie
Things to their causes but by sympathy.
Love chains the different Elements in one
Great harmony, link’d to the Heav’nly Throne.
And as on earth, so the blest quire above
Of Saints and Angels are maintain’d by Love;
That is their business and felicity,
And will be so to all Eternity.
That is the ocean, our affections here
Are but streams borrow’d from the fountain there.
And ’tis the noblest argument to prove
A beauteous mind, that it knows how to Love.
Those kind impressions which Fate can’t control,
Are Heaven’s mintage on a worthy soul.
For Love is all the Arts’ epitome,
And is the sum of all Divinity.
He’s worse than beast that cannot love, and yet
It is not bought for money, pains or wit;
For no chance or design can spirits move,
But the eternal destiny of Love:
And when two souls are chang’d and mixèd so,
It is what they and none but they can do.
This, this is Friendship, that abstracted flame
Which grovelling mortals know not how to name.
All Love is sacred, and the marriage-tie
Hath much of honour and divinity.
But Lust, Design, or some unworthy ends
May mingle there, which are despis’d by Friends.
Passion hath violent extremes, and thus
All oppositions are contiguous.
So when the end is serv’d their Love will bate,
If Friendship make it not more fortunate:
Friendship, that Love’s elixir, that pure fire
Which burns the clearer ’cause it burns the higher.
For Love, like earthly fires (which will decay
If the material fuel be away)
Is with offensive smoke accompanied,
And by resistance only is supplied:
But Friendship, like the fiery element,
With its own heat and nourishment content,
Where neither hurt, nor smoke, nor noise is made,
Scorns the assistance of a forein aid.
Friendship (like Heraldry) is hereby known,
Richest when plainest, bravest when alone;
Calm as a virgin, and more innocent
Than sleeping doves are, and as much content
As Saints in visions; quiet as the night,
But clear and open as the summer’s light;
United more than spirits’ faculties,
Higher in thoughts than are the eagle’s eyes;
What shall I say? when we true friends are grown,
W’ are like—Alas, w’ are like ourselves alone.

 

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