About the poet
Katherine Philips (1631–1664), also known as “The Matchless Orinda,” was an English poet and translator. She was born Katherine Fowler in London and married James Philips in 1654. Philips was well-known for her participation in literary circles and her poetic contributions during the 17th century. One of her notable works is a collection of poems titled “Poems by the Incomparable Mrs. K.P.” published posthumously in 1667. Her poetry gained recognition for its emotional depth, wit, and exploration of female friendship and camaraderie.
The poem “To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship” is one of Katherine Philips’s notable works, and it reflects her themes of friendship, love, and emotional depth. In this poem, she expresses admiration and affection for her friend, Lucasia, celebrating the bond between them. The title itself suggests a deep and meaningful connection between the speaker (presumably Philips herself) and Lucasia. Katherine Philips’ pseudonym, Orinda, is well-known in the context of her poetry. She used this name as a way to express herself and engage with the literary and philosophical circles of her time. Her poetic expression often found solace and depth in her close friendship with Anne Owens, who she affectionately referred to as Lucasia in her poems. These writings served as a testament to the profound importance of this friendship in Philips’ life. Despite the hardships she encountered, including a marriage with a significant age difference, her connection with Lucasia provided a source of emotional support and companionship.
I did not live until this time
Crowned my felicity,
When I could say without a crime,
I am not thine, but thee.
The use of the phrase “I did not live until this time” implies that the speaker’s life had been somewhat incomplete or lacking in a particular quality before the speaker met Lucasia. The speaker uses the metaphor of being “crowned” to convey a sense of completion or achievement of happiness. The term “felicity” refers to intense happiness or joy. So, Orinda is stating that her friendship with Lucasia has elevated her happiness to a level that feels like a crowning achievement. There was a time when expressing love or friendship for another woman would have been considered improper or perhaps forbidden (“without a crime”). This suggests that societal norms or personal circumstances may have restricted the speaker’s ability to openly declare her love for Lucasia. The speaker says that she isn’t just something that Lucasia owns or possesses; but they belong to each other in a deeper, more personal way. They are connected to one another as individuals. It highlights a profound and meaningful connection in their friendship that goes beyond mere ownership or possession. It means that both Lucasia and Orinda are one, sharing the same soul.
This carcass breathed, and walked, and slept,
So that the world believed
There was a soul the motions kept;
But they were all deceived.
The speaker then describes herself as a “carcass” i.e. a dead person, who performed only basic life functions: breathing, walking, and sleeping until she met Lucasia. The actions of breathing, walking, and sleeping made people think that there was a soul within the body governing these movements. The word “kept” suggests control or direction. However, the speaker reveals that this perception was false. The last line conveys that the world was mistaken; there was no actual soul guiding these actions. She was simply an alive carcass, without a soul.
For as a watch by art is wound
To motion, such was mine:
But never had Orinda found
A soul till she found thine;
The simile used in the line “For as a watch by art is wound” likens the speaker’s internal state or essence to the mechanism of a watch that is deliberately wound by art or skill. This comparison implies that, much like a watch needs winding to operate effectively, the speaker’s inner life requires a deliberate and skillful action to keep her soul alive. Orinda, representing Katherine Philips in her poetry, had not previously encountered or discovered a crucial aspect of her inner self until she found Lucasia. Thus, her body received a soul, only when it found ‘thine’ i.e. Lucasia.
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.
Now we see the positive side of the relationship. The word “inspires” suggests that Lucasia’s influence in the poet’s life is uplifting and motivating. She has a healing effect, perhaps provides Orinda with solace or resolution. “Supplies” indicates that the friend i.e. Lucasia provides support, possibly fulfilling emotional needs. The new friend not only inspires, cures, and supplies but also “guides” the speaker’s darkened or troubled heart. This suggests that the Lucasia plays a role in offering direction, clarity, or comfort to Orinda in times of emotional difficulty. The speaker declares that the friend (Lucasia) is everything she values or holds dear. The phrase “all that I can prize” underscores the depth of appreciation and regard for her. The speaker concludes by expressing Lucasia’s significance in her life. The speaker refers Lucasia as “my joy,” bringing happiness; “my life,” indicating that Lucasia plays a fundamental and essential role in the life of Orinda i.e. the poet herself. She restores the peace and tranquility that the poet had been lacking till then.
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.
In this stanza, the speaker compares the joy or happiness of a bridegroom (someone just married) and a crown-conqueror (a victorious ruler). These are moments traditionally associated with great happiness and celebration. She says that no such joy can compare to the amount of joy that the speaker is feeling after her friendship with Lucinda. She says that they possess only “pieces of the earth,” meaning their happiness is tied to worldly, material achievements or possessions. In contrast, the speaker claims to have “all the world” in the person addressed as “thee” (Lucasia). This suggests that the speaker’s joy and fulfillment are not tied to external, material things but are found entirely in the person of Lucasia. This is the reason why the material happiness of a bridegroon or a crown-conqueror doesnt match with the happiness of the poet.
Then let our flames still light and shine,
And no false fear control,
As innocent as our design,
Immortal as our soul.
In these lines, the speaker conveys a heartfelt desire for the passionate and intense emotions between them to persist. The metaphorical “flames” symbolize the fervor of their feelings, and the plea for these flames to “still light and shine” reflects a wish for the enduring and radiant nature of their connection. It’s as if the speaker is expressing a hope that the flame of their friendship continues to burn brightly. No unfounded or baseless fears should restrain or hinder their friendship. This implies a desire for trust and openness, free from unnecessary anxieties. She describes their friendship as “innocent,” emphasizing purity and sincerity. Then Orinda expresses the wish that their friendship would be enduring and everlasting, like the immortality of the soul. This line suggests a deep and timeless quality to their connection, transcending the temporal and transient aspects of life.
The poem “To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship” by Katherine Philips explores several main themes that are central to the speaker’s expression of friendship and emotional connection. The primary theme of the poem is friendship, specifically the deep and meaningful connection between the speaker (presumably Katherine Philips herself, using the pseudonym Orinda) and Lucasia. The poem celebrates the profound bond, mutual understanding, and emotional support that characterize their friendship. The poem conveys a sense of mutual understanding between the friends. The shared experiences, emotions, and the acknowledgment that the friend is the one who guides the speaker’s “darkened breast” suggest a deep level of understanding and empathy between them. The theme of friendship is imbued with sincerity and innocence. The use of the term “innocent” to describe their design emphasizes the purity and lack of deceit in the friendship, underscoring a genuine connection built on trust and authenticity. Friendship in the poem is portrayed as a source of profound emotional fulfillment. The friend is described as “My joy, my life, my rest,” indicating that the relationship contributes significantly to the speaker’s overall happiness, sense of purpose, and tranquility.