As one of the premier writers of the mid-17th century, Aphra Behn’s often lighthearted poetry and drama should be all the more surprising because she was a woman able to make a livable career in the then-new literary marketplace. And this isn’t even the most remarkable bit about Behn’s life. Born in the British Colony of Surinam sometime around the year 1640, Behn traveled widely, an experience that likely informs her use of the travel writing genre in a narrative like Oroonoko. Furthermore, government records corroborate her own accounts of being a spy for the British in the 1665 Dutch Wars. As an agent operating in enemy territory, Behn developed a keen eye for detail and an ability to communicate in a concise manner.
In her literary productions, however, and specifically her poetry, Behn’s writing took on many voices and tones. By 1684, Behn published her first collection of poetry, Poems upon Several Occasions, with A Voyage to the Island of Love. In addition to “On Her Loving Two Equally,” this collection also includes “songs” from other plays as standalone works of verse, including what was for most of her life her most famous poem, “Loved Armed.” The collection also includes the two poems for which Behn is arguably most famous today, “The Disappointment” and “The Golden Age.” This volume shows Behn at her most cavalier, celebrating what some dissenters would call libertine values, namely, extramarital-sex with both men and women, something not usually discussed by women in Renaissance writing.
“On Her Loving Two Equally” originally appeared under the title, “How Strongly Does My Passion Grow,” as part of her 1681 play The False Count. The song appears near the end of Act III of that play and is unchanged in its subsequent form as a standalone work of poetry. Tragically, Behn would die just five years after the publication of this collection at the age of 48, succumbing to illness due to extreme poverty.