‘To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship’ by Katherine Philips is a six stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Each of these quatrains follows a pattern of ABAB, alternating end sounds as the poet saw fit. The consistent nature of the rhyme scheme mirrors the grace, constancy, and beauty of the relationship described in the text. The meter is also consistent throughout this piece. The rhyming lines are identical in their numbers of syllables with the first and third containing eight and the second and fourth, six.
Alongside ‘Orinda to Lucasia’ this is one of Philips’ best-known pieces and a remarkable achievement, especially considering the period in which it was written. Philips lived in the mid-1600s and is one of the first female poets of note writing in the English language. Both poems are addressed to Philips’ close friend Anne Owens, known in the poems as Lucasia. 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. Within her writing, she referred to herself as Orinda.
The most important theme in this piece is clear: friendship. The entire text is dedicated to the way one woman changed another. This was not a simple change, such as the acquisition of a new companion, Philips soul was revitalized. She became an entirely different person once she knew she had Owens and would continue to know her for the rest of time. Within ‘To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship’ Philips speaks of immortality, not for herself, but for the passion that exists between the two. This is the strongest evidence of the importance Philips places on the relationship. Its continuation mattered more to her than anything else.
Summary of To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship
The poem begins with the speaker telling her listener, Anne Owns, better known as Lucasia, that it was hr friendship that improved her life. Happiness did not come to stay in her heart until their souls were one. They drew so close that Philips felt merged with her friend.
As the poem progresses she describes how she has been changed for the better after meeting Owens and how she hopes their mutual love will last until the end of time.
Analysis of To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship
I did not live until this time
Crowned my felicity,
When I could say without a crime,
I am not thine, but thee.
In the first stanza of ‘To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship’, Philips begins by telling her listener, Anne Owens, or Lucasia, that she did not know herself until she had their friendship. It was not until “this time” that the speaker lived. She is referring less to life itself, and more to a true state of being in which one reaches their full potential. Her potential in life is closely connected to the state of her soul. Her “felicity” or happiness, was “Crowned” or discovered when she became “thee.”
Rather than belonging to another person, such as the listener, the speaker has become her. This is how close the two are to one another. They are practically one and the same. She states this as a truth about herself without a doubt. There is no “crime” or lie in her words.
This carcass breathed, and walked, and slept,
So that the world believed
There was a soul the motions kept;
But they were all deceived.
In the next set of four lines the speaker goes on to say that she was a “carcass” that only moved through life before she met Lucasia. She “walked, and slept” but did not live. It was only in the world’s eyes that she was a human being. Others thought that there was a “soul” within her, but there wasn’t. Everyone who saw her this way was “decieved” by an outward mask.
Now there is no need for that mask, any deception she engaged in is over.
For as a watch by art is wound
To motion, such was mine:
But never had Orinda found
A soul till she found thine;
In the third stanza, she refers to herself in the third person as “Orinda” a name by which she was known within her poetic works. Philips compares herself to a watch that is wound very carefully. It takes a truly artful skillset and desires to mend, to reinvigorate a soul. This is what happened to her.
In this stanza and the previous, Philips makes use of the word “soul.” She sees herself as Lucasia’s soulmate. They have a strong friendship and within poetry one of the first representations of platonic love between women. It rivals the great male relationships of classical literature and can be seen again to even greater effect in the piece, ‘Orinda to Lucasia’ also written by Katherine Philips.
Which now inspires, cures and supplies,
And guides my darkened breast:
For thou art all that I can prize,
My joy, my life, my rest.
The fourth stanza expands on how the speaker’s soul was changed. She has new inspirations and places to seek out cures to the woes she used to know. There is nothing “dark” within her breast because she has Lucasia to guide her to the light.
When Philips looks out over her life she sees her friend and knows that Lucasia is the greatest “prize” she could’ve found. She is everything to Philips, “joy…life…rest.”A reader should consider how the language in this piece compares to the common love language of poetry. They are almost identical in the devotional tone of the speaker.
No bridegroom’s nor crown-conqueror’s mirth
To mine compared can be:
They have but pieces of the earth,
I’ve all the world in thee.
In the second to last stanza, the speaker refers to a “bridegroom” and or a “conqueror” who knows nothing of her happiness. Even those who she sees as being the happiest in the world, with everything they could want, are still lacking in comparison. This is because they only have “pieces of the earth” and Philips has the world in Lucasia.
Then let our flames still light and shine,
And no false fear control,
As innocent as our design,
Immortal as our soul.
In the final stanza, the speaker speaks of her hope that their love for one another goes on forever. It will keep either of them from giving into fear or any other negative force in the world. Their platonic passion for one another will have its own presence in the world. It will be as “immortal” as their souls.