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10 of the Best Sonnets by Female Poets

The best sonnets by women in English

The sonnet form was Italian in origin, of course, but a host of English poets have made it their own: Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Keats, Auden, and many besides. But what is often overlooked is what female poets have done with the form. Indeed, the first ever sonnet sequence written in English was by a woman (see below). In this post we’ve gathered together ten of the greatest sonnets by female English poets.

Anne Locke, ‘My many sinnes in nomber are encreast’. Any list of the best sonnets by English women poets that strives for comprehensive historical coverage should begin here, with the largely forgotten figure of Anne Locke (c. 1530-c. 1590). As we discuss in our book about obscure and forgotten books, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, Locke was not only the first Englishwoman to write a sonnet sequence, but the first English poet of either gender to do so. A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner, appended to a translation of John Calvin’s sermons which Locke published in 1560, was written two decades before Sir Philip Sidney wrote Astrophil and Stella, which is often named as the first English sonnet sequence. Read the rest of this entry

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A Very Short Biography of Anne Locke

The interesting life of a forgotten religious poet

Anne Locke (c. 1530-c. 1590) is not a well-known figure in the annals of English poetry, yet she has an important and interesting – not to mention little-known – claim to literary fame, so her biography is worth dwelling on. As we discuss in our new book about obscure and forgotten books, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, Locke was not only the first Englishwoman to write a sonnet sequence, but the first English poet of either gender to do so.

These are the biographical facts of Anne Locke’s life: she was the daughter of Steven Vaughan, who was in Henry VIII’s service shortly before the English Reformation. Vaughan fully supported the Protestant Reformation – probably a bit too enthusiastically, given that the 1530s was a time when overzealous reformers could come to a sticky end as easily as ardent Catholics. Read the rest of this entry