An Apology For Her Poetry
by Duchess of Newcastle Margaret Cavendish (1623?- 1673)
Don’t judge a book by its cover! That ancient cliche against judging by outward appearances and the legitimate concern of any author to this day is put into poetry by Margaret Cavendish.
She was known in the 1600s as Mad Madge by the public, certainly to her enemies, but more properly known as the Duchess of Newcastle.
Golden calf is an interesting turn of phrase since fine books of the time were made of calf skin. A golden calf is a cliche itself, a false idol worshiped or made sacrifices to which is not a part of God.
Cavendish thus doubles up on word play, calling out fine appearance and undue attention to same in one sentence.
Read by the best female reader of poetry today, Ghizela Rowe.
I language want to dress my fancies in,
The hair’s uncurled, the garment’s loose and thin.
Had they but silver lace to make them gay,
They’d be more courted than in poor array;
Or, had they art, would make a better show;
But they are plain; yet cleanly do they go.
The world in bravery doth take delight,
And glistering shows do more attract the sight:
And every one doth honor a rich hood,
As if the outside made the inside good.
And every one doth bow and give the place,
Not for the man’s sake but the silver lace.
Let me intreat in my poor book’s behalf,
That all will not adore the golden calf.
Consider, pray, gold hath no life therein,
And life, in nature, is the richest thing.
Be just, let Fancy have the upper place,
And then my verses may perchance find grace.