Romantic Women Poets

We welcomed Anne Rowe for a return visit at our October ’22 meeting, this time speaking about the romantic women poets. It was disconcerting, therefore, to be greeted by a picture of William Blake on the screen, followed by brief mentions of Coleridge, Shelley, Tennyson, Byron and Keats. Where were the women?

Anne quickly made it clear that, although almost unknown now, and marginalised as writers in their own time, women poets were just as important.

The males shown on screen were all familiar and recognisable – the women less so. Of the six poets Anne spoke of, I knew and had read Charlotte Smith and was familiar with the name of Mary Robinson. I had never heard of the others. It was interesting to learn of these women, all from different walks of life, and to hear Anne read some of their poetry.

Working class women and ‘ladies’ were among this group of prolific poets. Their subjects were diverse covering nature, working life and the rights of women.

Charlotte Smith had a hard life, managing to support herself from her writing and Mary Robinson received accolades for her work.

Caroline Oliphant (Lady Nairne) wrote ballads, gently mocking with wit and humour. Anna Laetitia Barbaus championed the rights of women but said that men and women should not be in conflict but should complement each other.

Ann Yearsley, known as the Milk Woman of Clifton, had no formal education but wrote with wit. By contrast, Hannah More was a poet and playwright as well as an influential campaigner against slavery.

Robbie Grieve

Some additional comments from David Tregear:

One of the main insights gained from the talk was the hidden influence from the earlier women poets on the later men of great distinction. Wordsworth owes a debt to several of these women for their extolling of Nature’s bounty. The Ode to a Nightingale was foretold by one of them. The surpassing of income and class barriers by Ann Yearsley is especially noteworthy. Her poetry was published, thanks to a list of subscribers organised by Elizabeth Montagu.