One of the most interesting female poets of the seventeenth century, Katherine Philips (1632-64) wrote this short poem as an elegy for her son, ‘H. P.’, who died just six weeks after he was born. The joyous exultation with which the birth had been greeted – ‘A son, a son is born at last’ – turns to tragedy with the boy’s death, in this heart-wrenching and accessible elegy by an underrated seventeenth-century female poet.
On her Son H.P. at St. Syth’s Church where her body also lies interred
What on Earth deserves our trust?
Youth and Beauty both are dust.
Long we gathering are with pain,
What one moment calls again.
Seven years childless marriage past,
A Son, a son is born at last:
So exactly lim’d and fair,
Full of good Spirits, Meen, and Air,
As a long life promised,
Yet, in less than six weeks dead.
Too promising, too great a mind
In so small room to be confined:
Therefore, as fit in Heaven to dwell,
He quickly broke the Prison shell.
So the subtle Alchemist,
Can’t with Hermes Seal resist
The powerful spirit’s subtler flight,
But t’will bid him long good night.
And so the Sun if it arise
Half so glorious as his Eyes,
Like this Infant, takes a shrowd,
Buried in a morning Cloud.
If you enjoyed Katherine Philips’s ‘Epitaph’, you might also like her poem ‘To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship’.