Una donna brillante, la poeta Aemilia Lanyer | A Bright Woman, the Poet Aemilia Lanyer

by Emily Ruck Keene

 

Diacronie/ Diachronies Una rubrica a cura di Veronica Chiossi, Alice Girotto and Chiara Pini. Incursioni nella storia per riscoprire artiste, musiciste, scrittrici e poete (sono per poeta/poete) che hanno precorso i tempi e sono spesso state pioniere nei rispettivi campi. Allargando l’orizzonte cronologico intendiamo riscattare dall’anonimato le donne che hanno ridefinito i confini del proprio ruolo e della propria arte e così facendo hanno aperto nuove strade per le generazioni successive, ponendo le basi per il nostro diritto di pensare, creare ed essere. // Diacronie/ Diachronies, a column by Veronica Chiossi, Alice Girotto and Chiara Pini. Intrusions into history to rediscover women artists, musicians, writers and poets who were ahead of their time and were often pioneers in their fields. By broadening our chronological horizon, we intend to redeem from anonymity the women who have redefined the boundaries of their role and their art and, in doing so, have opened new paths for the future generations, laying the foundations for our right to think, create and be. 

 

[eng below]

Il primo contributo della nostra nuova rubrica Diacronie / Diachronies è un video poetico e un articolo sulla poeta inglese Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645) creato e scritto da Emily Ruck Keene. Emily è presidente di Paris Lit Up, un’associazione con sede a Parigi, Francia, che mette in rete “artisti di talento da tutto il mondo”, celebra e vuole creare nuovi spazi per la diversità.

È stata la prima donna a pubblicare un volume di poesia in inglese a suo nome, dedicato alle donne e scritto da una prospettiva femminile, ma Aemilia Lanyer è stata a lungo ricordata esclusivamente come potenziale nome dietro ai sonetti shakespeariani alla dark lady. È solo negli ultimissimi decenni che questa “poeta pionieristica”, come viene descritta dalla British National Library, ha iniziato lentamente a ricevere il riconoscimento che meritava.

Lanyer era figlia del musicista di corte Battista Bassano, italiano, e Margaret Johnson, inglese. Suo padre morì quando lei aveva sette anni, seguito dalla madre undici anni dopo. La sua educazione e le sue relazioni sociali, però, fecero sì che potesse conservare la sua posizione a corte e diventare, alla lunga, l’amante di Henry Carey, lord ciambellano della regina Elisabetta I, che aveva 45 anni in più di lei. Quando rimase incinta di Carey, Lanyer fu data in sposa a suo cugino, Alphonso Lanyer. All’età di 42 anni, Aemilia Lanyer pubblicò la sua prima e unica (a quanto ne sappiamo) raccolta poetica, intitolata Salve Deus Rex Judæorum (1611).

Secondo una teoria, Lanyer sarebbe la dark lady cui Shakespeare fa riferimento nei suoi sonetti. Benché sia probabile che, vista la sua relazione con il lord ciambellano, conoscesse la compagnia teatrale da lui finanziata (di cui Shakespeare faceva parte), il resto sono congetture. Una lettura interessante sulla questione è Shakespeare the Man di Alfred L. Rowse (1973). Se invece siete alla ricerca di una teoria della cospirazione ancora più estrema, vi consiglio di dare un’occhiata a Shakespeare’s Dark Lady di John Hudson (2014) e chiedervi se William non fosse, in realtà, Aemilia…

Ma chi fosse o meno Lanyer dentro e fuori la pagina rischia di distogliere i riflettori dal suo talento e dalla scrittura indiscutibilmente audace, guadagnandosi il titolo di quella che The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women chiama “forse la nostra prima polemica femminista”. Il suo volume di poesie è unico per diversi motivi. Non solo è una delle prime raccolte di poesie scritte da una donna in Regno Unito e pubblicate con il suo nome (di cui siamo a conoscenza), ma le poesie di Lanyer parlano con voci di donne e dedicate a donne. Il poema principale e omonimo è un’interpretazione della storia di Cristo, raccontata in parte dal punto di vista della moglie di Ponzio Pilato. All’interno di Salve Deus, “Apologie” per Eva è stato definito un “appello appassionato per la libertà e l’uguaglianza delle donne” (BNL). 

È difficile trovare un lavoro confrontabile con quello di Lanyer a opera di altre donne del tempo. The Poetry Foundation offre un paragone tra Salve Deus e The Lamentacion of a Sinner (1547) della regina Catherine Parr. Laddove Parr “non sfida il primato degli uomini, [la poesia di Lanyer] ha una forte spinta polemica, attaccando la vanità e la cecità degli uomini e giustificando il diritto delle donne di essere libere dalla sottomissione maschile”. 

Terminiamo con un estratto dal Salve Deus Rex Judæorum di Aemilia Lanyer, Eves Apologie, righe 763-832. Con la speranza che la sua poesia diventi più conosciuta dalle generazioni a venire.

 

The first contribution of our new column Diacronie/ Diachronies is a video-poem and article about the English Poet Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645) by Emily Ruck Keene. Emily is President of Paris Lit Up, a non-profit association based in Paris, France, that networks “talented volunteers from around the world”, celebrates and fosters space to diversity.

The first woman to publish a volume of poetry in English under her own name, dedicated to women, and from women’s perspectives, for a long time Aemilia Lanyer’s legacy was merely as a potential name behind Shakespeare’s Dark Lady sonnets. It is only within the past few decades that this “trailblazing poet”, as described by the British National Library, has slowly begun to receive the credit she deserved.

Lanyer was the daughter of court musician Baptist Bassano (Italy) and Margaret Johnson (England). Her father died when she was seven, followed by her mother eleven years later. But her education and social connections meant she retained her position in the court, eventually becoming mistress to Henry Carey, Lord Chamberlain to Queen Elizabeth I, and 45 years her elder. When she became pregnant to Carey, Lanyer was married to her cousin, Alphonso Lanyer. Aged 42, Aemilia Lanyer published her first and only (to our knowledge) collection of poetry entitled Salve Deus Rex Judæorum (1611).

There is a theory that Lanyer is the “Dark Lady” referred to in Shakespeare’s sonnets. While it is likely that, due to her connections to the Lord Chamberlain, she would have been familiar with the theatre troupe he patronized (to which Shakespeare belonged), the rest is conjecture. But, for an interesting read on this question, I recommend A. L. Rowse’s Shakespeare the Man (1973). Or, for an even wilder conspiracy theory, look up John Hudson’s Shakespeare’s Dark Lady (2014) and ask yourself whether William was, in fact, Amelia…

But who Lanyer was or wasn’t on and off the page risks diverting the spotlight from her talent and unquestionably daring writing, earning her work the title of what The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women calls “perhaps our earliest feminist polemic”. Her volume of poetry is unique for several reasons. Not only is it one of the first substantial collection of poems written by a woman and published under her own name (that we know of) in UK but Lanyer’s poems speak in female voices, and are dedicated to a series of women. The principal and eponymous poem is an interpretation of the story of Christ, told in part from the perspective of Pontius Pilate’s wife. Within Salve Deus, Lanyer’s ‘Apologie’ for Eve has been called a “passionate plea for women’s freedom and equality” (BNL).

It is hard to find other women’s work of the time to compare with Lanyer’s. But The Poetry Foundation makes a comparison between Salve Deus and Queen Catherine Parr’s The Lamentacion of a Sinner (1547). Where Parr “makes no challenge to the primacy of men, [Lanyer’s poem] has a strong polemical thrust, attacking the vanity and blindness of men and justifying women’s right to be free of masculine subjugation.”

Let us finish on an extract from Aemilia Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex Judæorum, Eves Apologie, lines 763-832. Here is to hoping that her work will become more familiar with the generations to come.

 

Our Mother Eve, who tasted of the Tree,
               Giving to Adam what she held most deare,               
Was simply good, and had no powre to see, 
The after-comming harme did not appeare: 
     The subtile Serpent that our Sex betraide, 
     Before our fall so sure a plot had laide.

That undiscerning Ignorance perceav’d 
No guile, or craft that was by him intended;
For, had she knowne of what we were bereavid, 
To his request she had not condiscended 
But she (poore soule) by cunning was deceav’d, 
No hurt therein her harmelesse Heart intended: 
     For she alleadg’d Gods word, which he denies, 
     That they should die, but even as Gods, be wise.

But surely Adam can not be excus’d, 
Her fault, though great, yet hee was most too blame; 
What Weaknesse offerd, Strength might have refus’d, 
Being Lord of all, the greater was his shame:
Although the Serpents craft had her abus’d, 
Gods holy word ought all his actions frame: 
    For he was Lord and King of all the earth, 
    Before poore Eve had either life or breath.

Who being fram’d by Gods eternall hand, 
The perfect’st man that ever breath’d on earth; 
And from Gods mouth receiv’d that strait command, 
The breach whereof he knew was present death: 
Yea having powre to rule both Sea and Land, 
Yet with one Apple wonne to loose that breath,
     Which God hath breathed in his beauteous face, 
     Bringing us all in danger and disgrace.

And then to lay the fault on Patience backe, 
That we (poore women) must endure it all; 
We know right well he did discretion lacke, 
Beeing not perswaded thereunto at all; 
If Eve did erre, it was for knowledge sake, 
The fruit beeing faire perswaded him to fall: 
     No subtill Serpents falshood did betray him, 
     If he would eate it, who had powre to stay him?

Not Eve, whose fault was onely too much love, 
Which made her give this present to her Deare, 
That what shee tasted, he likewise might prove, 
Whereby his knowledge might become more cleare; 
He never sought her weakenesse to reprove, 
With those sharpe words, which he of God did heare: 
     Yet Men will boast of Knowledge, which he tooke 
     From Eves faire hand, as from a learned Booke.

If any Evill did in her remaine, 
Beeing made of him, he was the ground of all;
If one of many Worlds could lay a staine 
Upon our Sexe, and worke so great a fall 
To wretched Man, by Satans subtill traine; 
What will so fowle a fault amongst you all? 
     Her weakenesse did the Serpents words obay; 
     But you in malice Gods deare Sonne betray.

Whom, if unjustly you condemne to die, 
Her sinne was small, to what you doe commit; 
All mortall sinnes that doe for vengeance crie, 
Are not to be compared unto it: 
If many worlds would altogether trie, 
By all their sinnes the wrath of God to get; 
     This sinne of yours, surmounts them all as farre 
     As doth the Sunne, another little starre.

Then let us have our Libertie againe, 
And challendge to your selves no Sov’raigntie; 
You came not in the world without our paine, 
Make that a barre against your crueltie; 
Your fault beeing greater, why should you disdaine 
Our beeing your equals, free from tyranny?
     If one weake woman simply did offend, 
     This sinne of yours, hath no excuse, nor end.

 

 

© Emily Ruck Keene

***

Emily Ruck Keene 

Born in Oxford, UK, Emily moved to Paris in 2010. She has been volunteering for Paris Lit Up since 2012, just after it was first founded. She acted as Secretary and then Treasurer, before being elected as President in 2019. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English and French from the University of Warwick, England, and a Masters in Comparative Literature from the Sorbonne, Paris IV, France. She works as a translator and copywriter.

www.emily-rk.com
emily@parislitup.com

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