‘Orinda to Lucasia’ by Katherine Philips is a two stanza poem that is separated into sets of twelve lines. The poem follows an interesting rhyme scheme of aabbccddeffe, alternating end sounds from stanza to stanza. Philips’ lines are also indented, changing the way a reader moves through the text.
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Summary of Orinda to Lucasia
The poem begins with the speaker describing what the world is like when it waits for the sun to rise. The night seems endless and the sun late to arrive in the sky. This intense wanting of light inspires the birds to cry out to the sky and the flowers to droop in sadness. Even the brook which should be fierce is mourning for the sun.
The second stanza is directly related to the first as the speaker compares her friendship with Anne Owens to the sun. Owens, referred to as Lucasia in this text, is as critical to her survival as heat and light are to birds and flowers. For an unstated reason, the speaker and her friend are separated at this point and she knows she won’t survive much longer without her. Even though it might be fruitless, she will continue to cry out, like the desperate birds of the first stanza, for Lucasia to return to her.
The meter is particularly worth noting as it varies considerably throughout the text. In regards to both stanzas, the first, second, fifth, and sixth lines are structured in iambic pentameter. This means that the lines contain five sets of two beats. The first of which is unstressed and the second stressed.
The meter changes as the poem progresses though. The third, fourth, tenth, and eleventh lines are written in iambic trimeter, meaning there are three sets of two beats. Then lines seven, eight, and nine are in iambic tetrameter, four sets of two beats per line.
Philips’ choice to constantly vary the meter forces a reader to put more emphasis on certain lines than on others. For instance, the shorter lines in the first stanza, lines three, four, ten, and eleven, do a more succinct job of holding one’s attention. Especially when they are proceeded and followed by lines containing four more syllables. This technique is most impactful in the second stanza when Philips is speaking on the power of her relationship with “Lucasia.”
‘Orinda to Lucasia’ is one of Philips’ best-known, and can be read in tandem with the work ‘To My Excellent Lucasia, on Friendship.’ Both poems are addressed to Philips’ close friend Anne Owens. Philips did not have an easy life, as she married quite young to a man almost forty years her senior. Therefore her friendship was of the utmost importance to her. This piece was written in an attempt to raise within a reader’s mind the status of female friendships. It was common within the available literature of the time, (Katherine Philips lived in the mid 17th century) and especially within the works of classical authors, to read of the value of male relationships. But females were completely disregarded and if they were spoken about, they were in some way inferior to male examples.
Analysis of Orinda to Lucasia
Observe the weary birds e’re night be done,
How they would fain call up the tardy Sun,
With Feathers hung with dew,
And trembling voices too,
They court their glorious Planet to appear,
That they may find recruits of spirits there.
The drooping flowers hang their heads,
And languish down into their beds:
While Brooks more bold and fierce than they,
Wanting those beams, from whence
All things drink influence,
Openly murmur and demand the day.
In the first stanza of ‘Orinda to Lucasia’, the speaker begins by addressing her listener. It is clear from the start that Philips is the speaker, also known as Orinda, and Anne Owens is the listener, known as Lucasia. Philips uses the first stanza to describe nature and how it relates to emotional love and happiness, particularly in regards to her own life.
She asks her listener to take note of the “weary birds” who have almost made it through another dark night. They are waiting on the late sun to rise and have become impatient. They begin to sing out, willing it to rise. These mournful yet optimistic cries are a kind of “courting.” It is as if the birds are trying to charm the sun into revealing itself once more. This dynamic is repeated in the second stanza when the speaker mourns for the presence of her friend.
The birds know when the sun does finally appear they are going to be remade in spirit. Their lives will be enriched once more and they’ll be able to go forward, full, and inspired. There are other aspects of the natural world that also pine for the sun.
The next Philips mentions are the flowers which “hang their heads” and “languish” as humans would, in their beds. There are also the brooks to consider. They should be much stronger than the birds and the flowers, but they “Openly murmur and demand the day.” Even these “fierce” bodies of water do not wish to go another minute without the sun.
Thou my Lucasia art far more to me,
Than he to all the under-world can be;
From thee I’ve heat and light,
Thy absence makes my night.
But ah! my Friend, it now grows very long,
The sadness weighty, and the darkness strong:
My tears (its dew) dwell on my cheeks,
And still my heart thy dawning seeks,
And to thee mournfully it cries,
That if too long I wait,
Ev’n thou may’st come too late,
And not restore my life, but close my eyes.
In the second stanza of ‘Orinda to Lucasia’, the speaker begins by directly addressing her listener, Lucasia. Philips tells her that she is “far more” to her than “he to all the under-world can be.” Rather than referring to an afterlife, “under-world” is a simple reference to the world under their feet. One of the most important images of the text, the sun, works its way back into the lines. Lucasia is to the speaker as the sun is to all the plant and animal life described in the first stanza. They flourish because of its influence and “Orinda” or Katherine Philips lives for the “heat and light” that comes from Lucasia.
Just as the absence of the sun creates night, when Lucasia is gone, Philips falls into darkness. Night is unavoidable, but that does not make its presence any easier to bear. Lines three and four of this stanza are quite impactful. This is due as much to their content as to their formatting in iambic trimeter. The short, six-syllable lines confront the reader in a way that the ten-syllable lines do not. It is safe to assume these lines are some of the most important to Philips.
The poem continues with Philips telling her friend that night “now grows very long.” It is heavy with “sadness” and “darkness.” This could refer to prolonged separation from her friend. Perhaps there is something keeping them apart. The next lines are in iambic tetrameter and speak of Philips’ connection to nature. The night is crying, just as she is, and its dew acts as tears upon her “cheeks.” Although she has been in a dark place for a long time that has not stopped her from seeking Lucasia’s sunlight. Her heart is always searching.
It is clear that Philips knows there’s a chance that the two friends will never be reunited, but that does not stop her. Until her eyes are closed, perhaps from the emotional distress associated with the loss of her friend, she will continue to cry out. There is a possibility that this loss will end her life.
It is through these dramatic lines that Philips is attempting to show the power of her emotional connection to her friend Anne Owens. The relationship they share, whatever its parameters may be, is just as valid as the great friendships of the classical world.