It is Week 5 of the 10 Premodern Poems by Women public online course by Stanford University. It has been interesting to read poems written by women in the 17th and 18th centuries and learn about the lives of the poets themselves. To visit the Stanford University public online courses page, click here.
Anna Laetitia Barbauld
Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s poem ‘Washing-Day’ was highlighted in Week 5. The poet was born as Anna Laetitia Aikin in 1743 in Leicestershire, England. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and schoolmaster, and her mother was also the daughter of a clergyman. Anna was described as a bright little girl. When her mother wrote about her, she said ‘I once indeed knew a little girl who was as eager to learn as her instructors were to teach her.’
Anna was learned, largely through her own insistence that her father teach her the classics. Her childhood was a happy one, sustained by a strong family life. Through her twenties, she turned down many offers of marriage. She was described as ‘possessed of great beauty, distinct traces of which she retained to the latest of her life’. In her early thirties, she married Rochemont Barbauld, a clergyman. Together, they set up the Palgrave School in Suffolk. However, it was to be an unhappy marriage. Her husband was often unstable. In later years, he became violent towards his wife, even chasing her with a drawn knife on one occasion. In 1808, he drowned himself in New River. Anna mourned him greatly despite their troubled marriage.
In the year before her marriage, Anna published a book of poems which was well received and went into several editions. She became a highly regarded literary figure. It was not easy for a woman to have a literary career in the 18th century, but Anna attained success and went on to write journalism, children’s books, more poems and various polemical tracts.
My poem for Week 5
Since Week 3, one of the three weekly assignment questions would be on poetry writing, and I’d always choose that one. It’s the only one I like (if normal people actually liked to do assignments). 🙂
Week 5’s poem is based on personal childhood experience – the memory of being a child and watching adults do their work. We could focus on just one aspect of this, such as writing a poem about work, about a domestic chore, or about a moment from childhood.
I have chosen to write a poem in the form of an English sonnet, 14 lines long. Each line has 10 syllables. The rhyming pattern is AB AB, CD CD, EF EF, GG. I got the rhyming pattern from How to Write a Sonnet.
Here’s my poem:
PREPARING A FEAST
Kitchen smells; wonderfully delicious
Womenfolk dicing, boiling and stirring
Bustling around, skilful and fastidious
With joyful laughter, festivity bring
Young children, told to stay far, far away
Play in the living room; read in your room
But teens allowed to assist, as they may
Matriarch’s word is law, or face your doom
Everybody has their own role to play
They’ll do their tasks; we’ll stay away safely
No boiling soup be poured on us, we pray
We’ll get by, while they prepare carefully
It’s all good; no tales of sorrowful woe
We’ll help with the eating, that’s what we’ll do!
An original sonnet by
Khor Hui Min
5 May 2015
Here’s the poem again, with the rhyming pattern indicated:
(A) Kitchen smells; wonderfully delicious
(B) Womenfolk dicing, boiling and stirring
(A) Bustling around, skilful and fastidious
(B) With joyful laughter, festivity bring
(C) Young children, told to stay far, far away
(D) Play in the living room; read in your room
(C) But teens allowed to assist, as they may
(D) Matriarch’s word is law, or face your doom
(E) Everybody has their own role to play
(F) They’ll do their tasks; we’ll stay away safely
(E) No boiling soup be poured on us, we pray
(F) We’ll get by, while they prepare carefully
(G) It’s all good; no tales of sorrowful woe
(G) We’ll help with the eating, that’s what we’ll do!