When your faire hand receaves this Little Book,
You must not there for Prose or Verses look.
Those empty regions which within you see,
May by your self planted and peopled bee.
And though wee scarce allow your Sex to prove
Writers (unlesse the argument be Love)
Yet without crime or envy You have roome
Here both the Scribe and Authour to become.
Henry King, “Upon a Table-book presented to a Lady”
In almost all our chapters on seventeenth-century poetry, we could have dwelt on the work of women poets. The Jacobeans Mary Wroth and Aemilia Lanyer have already been briefly mentioned in connection with Jonson. Nearer mid-century, the little-known An Collins and the flamboyant Anna Trapnel continue pietistic strains, one of a personal, meditative order associated with Herbert and Vaughan, the other more radically political, with roots in prophetic literature and the popular ballad. At the same time, the poetry of Anne Bradstreet, the Puritan saint transplanted to the New World, was returning to the English shores with echoes both familiar and strange, while Margaret Cavendish was provocatively warbling her fanciful woodnotes wild. The next decade witnessed the appearance of the royalist Katherine Philips, whose lyrics responded creatively to the Caroline refinements already made on Donne and Jonson and helped to inaugurate the notion of a modern tradition of female poets.
Although questions remain about how best to represent and analyze the achievements of women writers—doesn’t isolating them for reasons of gender threaten to reproduce the conditions of secondariness many were contesting?—there are practical advantages to thinking collectively about their poetry, much of which is only becoming known outside specialized scholarly circles and yet still eludes ready assessment. (The ongoing recovery and editing of primary texts has made gaining an overview especially difficult.) 1 But there are theoret-