Did I, my lines intend for public view, How many censures, would their faults pursue, Some would, because such words they do affect, Cry they're insipid, empty, and uncorrect. And many have attained, dull and untaught, The name of wit only by finding fault. True judges might condemn their want of wit,And all might say, they're by a woman writ…" (Finch, The Introduction)
With these lines, written in the poem The Introduction by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, readers are welcomed into a vibrant, emotional, and opinionated style. They are unapologetically let in on the distinctly female voice that is to come. Melancholy, full of wit, and socially conscious, Anne Finch wrote verse and dramatic literature with a talent that has caused her works to not only survive, but to flourish in an impressive poetic legacy throughout the centuries since her death.
Finch's range as a writer was vast. She experimented with the poetic traditions of her day, often straying from the fold through her use of rhyme, meter and content, which ranged from the simplistic to the metaphysical. Additionally, Finch wrote several satiric vignettes modelled after the short tales of French fabulist Jean de La Fontaine. She mocked La Fontaine's fables, offering social criticism through biting sarcasm. Finch's more melancholy fare, however, gained her wider acclaim. Her famous poems in this sullen vein include A Nocturnal Reverie and Ardelia to Melancholy, both depicting severe depression. Her poetry is often considered to fall in the category of Augustan, reflecting upon nature and finding both an emotional and religious relationship to it in her verse. Finch also skilfully employed the Pindaric ode, exploring complex and irregular structures and rhyme schemes. Her most famous example of this technique is in The Spleen (1709), a poetic expression of depression and its effects:
What art thou, Spleen, which ev’ry thing dost ape?
Thou Proteus to abused mankind, Who never yet thy real cause could find, Or fix thee to remain in one continued shape. Still varying thy perplexing form, Now a Dead Sea thou’lt represent, A calm of stupid discontent, Then, dashing on the rocks wilt rage into a storm. Trembling sometimes thou dost appear,Dissolved into a panic fear… (Finch, The Spleen)
This poem was first published anonymously, though it went on to become one of her most renowned pieces. As Virginia Woolf, a later proponent of intellectual investigation into Finch's life and work, once famously wrote, "I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman" (Woolf, A Room of One's Own).
Anne Finch is known today as one of the most versatile and gifted poets (one of her poems was set to music by Purcell) of her generation.