A Married State
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Katherine Philips’s “A Married State” addresses that marriage is not merry and that the ones who can should stay single for as long as possible. Just as Elaine Hobby writes, “Where romantic love appears in writings of this period…it is rarely noble or devine, and marriage does not of itself bring life’s ‘real satisfactions’” (71), Philips writes about love in “A Married State” but does not believe it is a positive factor in life. Philips believes that marriage is the road to damnation for women, but wives know how to hide their suffering well, as she expresses in the poem: “A married state affords but little ease: / The best of husbands are so hard to please. / This in the wives’ careful faces you may spell, / Though they dissemble their misfortunes well” (1-4). This quote also shows how Philips uses iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets to make the poem more appealing to the reader. According to the poem, women are better off being single. As Philips writes: “Turn, turn apostate to love’s levity. / Suppress wild nature if she dare rebel” (14-15).
This quote represents Philips view that single women should ignore the natural thrive for love and remain single for as long as they can. These ideas lay the foundation for “A Married State”, since marriage may seem a joyful and lovely experience, but in reality it is merely a painful burden. Philips believes that a “virgin state” (5), meaning a single woman, is always happy and innocent. She explains in the poem the reasons for the discontent of a married woman: “No blustering husbands to create your fears, / No pangs of childbirth to extort your tears, / No children’s cries to offend your ears, / Few worldly crosses to distract your prayers” (7-10). The repetition of “No” in three consecutive lines makes the reasons Philips is giving sound more powerful and concrete. When married, a woman has to deal with a husband that is very often mad and aggressive, and also with giving birth and with children. When single one is free from all of this, as she writes: “Thus are you freed from all that cares to do/ attend on matrimony and a husband too” (11-12).
Through the entire poem Philips emphasizes this idea by the use of examples and comparisons. Towards the end of the poem Philips uses herself as an example, “be advised by me” (13), to express the idea that marriage is the road to perdition. This adds credibility to her argument and makes it stronger, because she was married and lived the experience. Philips begins talking openly, but towards the end she narrows down to a personal level by focusing on the reader: “Therefore, madam” (13). This causes the reader to read more attentively. All these factors come together to form a powerful and persuasive poem that achieves Philips goal of letting people know of the hardships of marriage and to stay single. The idea that marriage is ruin and staying single is freedom and greatness, is very controversial and harsh. To be able to put this idea into words, Philips uses several tools to enhance her writing and make it easy and understandable for the reader. The iambic pentameter found in the poem gives it a pleasant rhyme, which dilutes the tension being expressed in the poem. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, two human beings, and Philips uses rhyming couplets. Philips was a brilliant poet that knew how to put everything together to compose poems expressing ideas in amazing ways.
Hobby, Elaine. “An Introduction to Women’s Writing.” Usurping Authority Over the Man: Women’s Writing 1630-1689. Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1998. 65-93.