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                  Ephelia (fl.1679)

                   To Madam Bhen

    MAdam! permit a Muse that has been long
    Silent with wonder, now to find a Tongue:
    Forgive that Zeal I can no longer hide,
    And pardon a necessitated Pride.
    When first your strenuous polite Lines I read,
    At once it Wonder and Amazement bred,
    To see such things flow from a Womans Pen,
    As might be Envy'd by the wittiest Men:
    You write so sweetly, that at once you move,
    The Ladies Jealousies, and Gallant's Love;
    Passions so gentle, and so well exprest,
    As needs must be the same fill your own Breast;
    Then Rough again, as your Inchanting Quill
    Commanded Love, or Anger at your Will:
    As in your Self, so in your Verses meet,
    A rare connexion of Strong and Sweet:
    This I admir'd at, and my Pride to show,
    Have took the Vanity to tell you so
    In humble Verse, that has the Luck to please
    Some Rustick Swains, or silly Shepherdess:
    But far unfit to reach your Sacred Ears,
    Or stand your Judgment; Oh! my conscious Fears
    Check my Presumption, yet I must go on,
    And finish the rash Task I have begun.
    Condemn it Madam, if you please, to th' Fire,
    It gladly will your Sacrifice expire;
    As sent by one, that rather chose to shew
    Her want of Skill, than want of Zeal to you.


This second Poem of the Week selection of a poem by "Ephelia" marks the recent publication of the new Ephelia edition (Ashgate UK, 2003), edited and selected by Maureen E. Mulvihill (Princeton Research Forum, NJ), with an apparatus and two Van Dyck portraits of Lady Mary Villiers, Dr. Mulvihill"s candidate for the "Ephelia" poet.

To Madam Bhen, an intimate lyric from a famous pseudonymous woman poet of the late l7th century to the most public woman poet of that age, is a tender pledge of sororal affection and artistic solidarity. It was written, most probably, by Lady Mary Villiers, later Stuart, Duchess of Richmond & Lennox (1622-1685) ("Ephelia"), to Aphra Behn, a close friend of the Villiers circle and England"s first professional woman writer. The text of our posting, fully faithful to the poem"s original orthography and punctuation, is taken from the new, authoritative edition.

For an illustrated archive on the "Ephelia" subject, see http://www.millersville.edu/~resound/ephelia/. For more information on the evolution of the Villiers case, see Seventeenth-Century News (Spring/Summer, 2003; "News" section).

For a detailed and closely-documented profile of Lady Mary Villiers, with color image, see the handsome website of the Historical Portraits gallery, 31 Dover Street, Mayfair, London, which mentions that Mary Villiers was "very probably" the 'Ephelia' poet. See the gallery's Discoveries link for "A Royal Van Dyck," at http://www.historicalportraits.com.

To Madam Bhen, first appeared in Ephelia's 1679 Female Poems on Several Occasions. It should be noted that "Bhen" in the title is not a printing error, but rather a contemporary variant spelling of "Behn."


M.E. Mulvihill, Consulting Editor