‘Dialogue of Friendship Multiply’d’ by Katherine Philips is a four stanza poem that is written in the form of a dialogue between two perspective friends. It quickly becomes clear that the friendship is not going to work out. A reader who is familiar with other works written by Katharine Philips will quickly recognize Orinda as the name used by the poet to refer to herself. The name Musidorus is not as familiar but likely refers to another woman in her life who sought a place by her side.
By the end of the poem, the reader will also encounter the name Lucasia. This is a reference to the poet’s very good friend Anne Owen to whom a number of other poems are dedicated. Philips held her relationship with Owen in the highest regard. It becomes clear through this piece and the others written about their perhaps more than friendly love, that it is the most important thing in her life.
The poem itself begins with a six line stanza, or sestet, and then follows with eight lines in every other stanza, known as octaves. The lines also follow a specific rhyme scheme, conforming to the pattern of aabbccdd, alternating end sounds as the poet saw fit.
Summary of Dialogue of Friendship Multiply’d
The poem begins with Musidorus who asks Orinda if she is planning on sharing her life with a larger group of friends. She thinks that if one keeps their “starry Influence” to just one person then it will damage that relationship. It will eventually turn into one of “envy” rather than “affection.”
Orinda does not agree with this assumption. She believes that any division in her own passion will result in a weaker love. She does not wish to taint the relationship she has with her singular friend, Lucasia. Musidorus accepts that rivers do lose their strength if divided, but adds that she thinks friendships are more like fires. They spread but maintain their power.
In the final lines of the poem, Orinda tells Musidorus that she’s willing to honour everyone who speaks to her but not accept another friend. Her heart is completely dedicated to her best friend Lucasia.
Analysis of Dialogue of Friendship Multiply’d
Will you unto one single sense
Confine a starry Influence?
Or when you do the raies combine,
To themselves only make them shine?
Love that’s engross’d by one alone,
Is envy, not affection
As stated above, ‘Dialogue of Friendship Multiply’d’ is written in the form of a dialogue between two friends and begins with a name denoting that Musidorus is speaking first. She asks the other woman, Orinda, if she will dedicate herself to “one single sense.” She is wondering if Orinda is planning on having just one friend to share her “starry Influence” with.
Within the other works of Philips in mind, it is clear that the answer is going to be yes. She plans on keeping her single friend. Musidorus is going to have a hard time carving out a place for herself in Orinda’s life.
The current speaker also asks if Orinda will gather up the rays of her sunlight and send them off to “one alone.” She is against this choice as the last line makes clear. Musidorus states that this kind of dedication is not “affection” but “envy.” There is something dark and sick about this kind of solitary relationship.
No, Musidorus, this would be
But Friendship’s prodigality;
Union in raies does not confine,
But doubles lustre when they shine,
And souls united live above
Envy, as much as scatter’d Love.
Friendship (like Rivers) as it multiplies
In many streams, grows weaker still and dies.
Orinda replies to Musidorus’s assertions that the gathering of rays of sunlight is a bad thing. She states instead that when one brings their light together to one place then it increases the “lustre” by “double.” The shine only becomes more prominent. It is clear already that she believes that one single, strong friendship is the best way to go.
She goes on to describe how the “souls” of the two friends will be united by this gathering of light. This means that envy will not exist between them. In fact, the relationship will only grow in strength. Orinda argues her opinion further by adding that any emotion divided up “grows weaker still” like the power of a river that splits into many tributaries.
Rivers indeed may lose their force,
When they divide or break their course;
For they may want some hidden Spring,
Which to their streams recruits may bring:
But Friendship’s made of purest fire,
Which burns and keeps its stock entire
Love, like the Sun, may shed his beams on all,
And grow more great by being general.
Musidorus is allowed another response. She accepts the fact that “Rivers indeed may lose their force” if divided, but only if they “break their course.” She does not really believe that friendship is like a river. Instead, she sees it as being closer to the “purest fire.” This would mean that it is able to burn without losing any of its power. In fact, it would only spread itself while being able to maintain strength.
In the last lines of Musidorus’s dialogue, she states that “Love” is like the sun. It can give out an endless amount of light without losing anything. Musidorus would rather Orinda look at the world this way. Therefore she might have a place in her life alongside Lucasia.
The purity of friendship’s flame
Proves that from simpathy it came,
And that the hearts so close do knit,
They no third partner can admit;
Love, like the Sun, does all inspire,
But burns most by contracted fire
Then though I honour every worthy guest,
Yet my Lucasia only rules my breast.
In the final stanza of ‘Dialogue of Friendship Multiply’d’, Orinda rebukes Musidorus’s advances and arguments. She explains that the purity of her friendship is the most important thing to her. As long as it is directed at one person then it is able to “knit” the two closer together. There is no room for anyone else in this equation. The “third partner” has no place.
Orinda also describes how the “Sun” is able to “inspire” everyone while also burning most. She would include Musidorus in the burnt category. In conclusion, she states that she’s willing to honour everyone she meets but it is only Lucasia, or Anne Owen, who “rules [her] breast” or heart.