Welcome to the second week of our online course! Your comments, discussion and insight have all helped with the understanding of our first poem, Anne Bradstreet's "The Author to Her Book". This week's poem is a text that will also benefit from knowing its context, but in a different way. "Epitaph" is not long. Just 22 lines. Katherine Philips, its author, was a young English woman, who married at 16, died at the age of 33 and in this poem wrote one of the loveliest and darkest elegies of the 17th century. The poem here was written for her little son Hector who lived for just forty days. The opening few lines are a musical masterpiece – a cadence that mixes melody and pain and anger in perfect proportion. What makes this lament powerful - and also unusual - is that Katherine Philip's life crossed over into some of the most important and tumultuous events of English history. Philips was a Royalist. She was at the impressionable age of 18 when her king, Charles I, was executed and beheaded for treason in the English Civil War. But her subject is not his death. It is a far more private sorrow. This counterpoint between a public event and a personal grief highlights Philip's achievement in this poem, which might otherwise be easy to overlook: the way in which a private poetic voice can still speak to us across the centuries, with power and authority, when so much of the public world has faded from view.
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