Philips to Married People: “Suckers”

By Robert Pinsky on 4.15.09

I can imagine Katherine Philips grinning with pleasure as she makes some of these couplet rhymes; the very first one could be an epigram by itself.

The two words “to please” by themselves evoke a critique of the traditional institution from a woman’s point of view. I detect that implicit social critique and I admire the even-toned, declarative way the argument proceeds and relishes itself. And on the other hand, it is interesting that the force that must be resisted, the power that might lure “Madam” away from the poet’s advice, is not society with its expectations and customs, nor religion with its dictates, but “wild nature.” This acknowledgment of sexual feeling is another interesting element in the poem. And the last line—that image of trying to lead apes in hell—is memorable as well as droll.

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A married state affords but little ease
The best of husbands are so hard to please.
This in wives’ careful faces you may spell
Though they dissemble their misfortunes well.
A virgin state is crowned with much content;
It’s always happy as it’s innocent.
No blustering husbands to create your fears;
No pangs of childbirth to extort your tears;
No children’s cries for to offend your ears;
Few worldly crosses to distract your prayers:
Thus are you freed from all the cares that do
Attend on matrimony and a husband too.
Therefore Madam, be advised by me
Turn, turn apostate to love’s levity,
Suppress wild nature if she dare rebel.
There’s no such thing as leading apes in hell.

topics: Essential Pleasures