An Invective Against Gold

by Anne Killigrew

OF all the poisons that the fruitful Earth
E`er yet brought forth, or Monsters she gave Birth,
Nought to Mankind has e`er so fatal been,
As thou, accursed Gold, their care and Sin.
Methinks I the Advent`rous Merchant see,
Ploughing the faithless Seas, in search of thee,
His dearest Wife and Children left behind,
(His real Wealth) while he, a Slave to th` Wind,
Sometimes becalm`d, the Shore with longing Eyes
Wishes to see, and what he wishes, Spies:
For a rude Tempest wakes him from his Dream, And strands his Bark by a more sad Extream.
Thus, hopeless Wretch, is his whole Life-time spent,
And though thrice Wreck`t, `s no Wiser than he went.
               Again, I see, the Heavenly Fair despis`d,
               A Hagg like Hell, with Gold, more highly priz`d;
               Men`s Faith betray`d, their Prince and Country Sold,
               Their God deny`d, all for the Idol Gold.
Unhappy Wretch, who first found out the Oar,
What kind of Vengeance rests for thee in store?
If Nebats Son, that Israel led astray,
Meet a Severe Reward at the last Day?
Some strange unheard-of Judgement thou wilt find,
Who thus hast caus`d to Sin all Humane Kind.
Anne Killigrew is probably best remembered by the grace of Dryden`s elegiac poem to her, lamenting her early death at the age of 25 from smallpox. By all accounts, Anne was something of an artistic prodigy, having been a fine painter (though only four are thought to have survived) and poet. She published but one volume of poems, which were heavily influenced by the debauched profligacy of the court of Charles II, to which she had been exposed from a young age as Maid of Honour to Mary of Modena. At the court she learned of the general attitude towards women as only a necessity for the pleasure of men.
17th century upper-middle class women lived in a social straight-jacket; they were expected to preserve the family honour and focus their concerns upon household matters rather than politics and religious debate. They could not travel alone, go to college, enter politics, enter the Church, practice law, or initiate sexual relationships with men, or compete with them by writing under their own names. If they attempted to do so, they were considered nothing more than a wanton whore.  In truth, they were not allowed a life.
Most of her poems reflect her disenchantment and contempt of the unfair sexual and social mores of her day towards women…….An Invective Against Gold is a cogent comment against the misogynistic attitudes she daily encountered; she lambasts the willful greed and lack of moral compass of men more concerned with wealth and honour, than the family left behind as they go away in search of treasure…….
Methinks I the Advent`rous Merchant see,
Ploughing the faithless Seas, in search of thee,
His dearest Wife and Children left behind,
(His real Wealth)……………..
The degradation of women she saw at court obviously cut her to the bone, and so she makes a conscious effort in her poems to reject sensuality and sexuality. The daily witness of the sexual submission and humiliation of women, and the domination of one individual over another, obviously had a deep and lasting psychological impact upon her.
Anne Killigrew`s “canonization” by John Dryden has largely past through history unnoticed; today, she languishes in the memories of the few who know of her; a reputation becalmed by time, but one which should be allowed once more the light of day, to flourish and to be given the attention she deserves.

I willingly accept Cassandra`s fate

To speak the truth, although believed too late.


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