Killigrew and Finch: Ventriloquently Meant
SOME OF THE BEST WORK DONE BY ENGLISH WOMEN NEOCLASSICAL poets utilizes the technique of ventriloquizing. My favorite poems by Anne Killigrew and Anne Finch (both maids of honor to Maria of Modena, wife and then queen consort to James Stuart) deploy this device, Killigrew in a brief poem spoken by Salome and Finch in a longer poem, like Rochester’s “Artemiza to Chloe,” written in letter form from Ardelia to Ephelia. Killigrew’s poem uses courtly language in a bizarre address to the severed head of John the Baptist; Finch’s poem reflexively reveals that it has done precisely what it pretends not to do.
In the earlier seventeenth century, the baroque was often placed in service of religion. Some of the greatest poets wrote profound baroque meditations: John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw. It was a tradition continued after the Restoration by Henry Vaughan and Thomas Traherne. In “Herodias’s Daughter Presenting to Her Mother St. John’s Head in a Charger, also Painted by Herself,”1 Killigrew writes gracefully in neoclassic form (heroic couplets) about a grotesque scene with profound religious implications. The poem enacts Salome’s bringing the head of John the Baptist and presenting it to her mother. The story occurs in a tense moment of reflection on the part of Herod in Matthew 14: Herod has now heard about Jesus’s preaching and fears that John the Baptist has risen from the dead. Matthew then tells us how the Baptist died. In a dance tradition came to call that of the seven veils, Herod’s stepdaughter danced for him and pleased him so well he promised to grant her fondest wish. Salome, as her name has come down to us, acting