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An Collins (fl. 1653): Mistress of religious verse

Mary Eleanor Norcliffe, University of Massachusetts Amherst


An Collins, a seventeenth-century woman writer whose religious poems are comparable to those of George Herbert, wrote only one known book, Divine Songs and Meditacions, published in London in 1653. Her slim volume is comprised of a brief prose introduction, a verse preface and extended discourse that contain her most complete account of her life, thirteen songs or hymns extolling God's grace and her own empowerment, and five long poems of spiritual meditation concluding with a verse paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 12. Many of these poems, though religious and spiritual in nature, also reveal much about matters cultural, political, and literary. The only known extant copy of the original is in the Huntington Library as part of its collection of Early Modern texts. A 1996 edition of Collins's work published by MRTS and edited by Sidney Gottlieb provided an important resource for this study. In her poetry Collins wrestles with questions of suffering and justice, themes that give her spiritual autobiography universal appeal and reveal a woman who boldly claims her abilities even as she grapples with physical and mental afflictions. Although she is a Protestant poet during the English Civil War, her verse exceeds sectarian labels to achieve a spacious and redemptive concept of human/divine relationship. Collins presents herself as a joyous exception in her artistic fertility. She sees her poems as proof of her spiritual fruitfulness, a most satisfying and elevating offspring. Her reliance on biblical texts, especially the Song of Songs, shows her remarkable assimilation and lyrical transformation of the truths and imagery of this traditional material. She identifies intensely with the Beloved in the Songs of Songs in ways that renew and change the power of this ancient poem, illuminating its connection with Jewish and Christian poetic interpretation. Collins's skillfully-wrought verses in a variety of innovative forms show a subtlety, artistry, and liveliness surprising in a writer so little known. She has earned the title, "Mistress of Religious Verse," and her poetry deserves study alongside that of the other great religious poets of the seventeenth century.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Religion|Literature|Biographies

Recommended Citation

Norcliffe, Mary Eleanor, "An Collins (fl. 1653): Mistress of religious verse" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9909198.