Getting and Spending

By Linda Gregerson b. 1950 Linda Gregerson

Isabella Whitney, The maner of her Wyll, 1573

We’re told it was mostly the soul
              at stake, its formal
              setting-forth, as over water,
where, against all odds,
the words-on-paper make
              a sort of currency, which heaven,
              against all odds, accepts.
So Will, which is to say, May what
I purpose, please, this once, and what
              will happen coincide.
              To which the worldly
dispositions were mere after-thought:
your mother’s ring and so forth. What
              the law considered yours
              to give. Which in the case of
women was restricted—this was
long ago, and elsewhere—so
              that one confessedly “weak
              of purse” might all the more
emphatically be thought of as having little
to say. Except about the soul. The late
              disturbance in religion
              having done that much, the each
for each responsible, even a servant,
even the poor. Wild, then—quite       
              beyond the pale—to hustle
              the soul-part so hastily off
the page. And turn, our Isabella Whitney,
to the city and its faithlessness. Whose
              smells and sounds—the hawker’s cry,
              the drainage ditch in Smithfield—all
the thick-laid, lovely, in-your-face-and-nostrils stuff
of getting-by no woman of even the slightest
              affectation would profess to know,
              much less to know so well.
As one would know the special places on
his body, were the passion merely personal.
Wattle and brickwork. Marble and mud.
              The city’s vast tautology. No city
              without people and no people but
will long for what the city says they lack:
high ceilings, gloves and laces, news,
              the hearth-lit circle of friendship, space
              for solitude, enough to eat.
And something like a foothold in the whole-of-it,
some without-which-not, some
              little but needful part in all the passing-
              from-hand-to-hand of it, so
every time the bondsman racks his debtor or
the shoemaker hammers a nail or one un-
              practiced girl imagines she
              has prompted a look of wistfulness,
a piece of it is yours because
your seeing it has made it that much slower
              to rejoin the blank
              oblivion of never-having-
been. The year was fifteen hundred seventy-
three. The year of our Redeemer, as
              they used to say. That other
              circuit of always-in-your-
debt. From which she wrested, in her open
              way of authorship, a world
              not just of plenty but—and here’s
the part of that’s legacy—of love.

Linda Gregerson, “Getting and Spending” from Shakespeare’s Sisters: Women Writers Bridge Five Centuries, published by the Folger Shakespeare Library. Copyright © 2012 by Linda Gregerson. Reprinted by permission of Linda Gregerson.

Source: Shakespeare’s Sisters: Women Writers Bridge Five Centuries (Folger Shakespeare Library, 2012)

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Poet Linda Gregerson b. 1950

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, Gender & Sexuality

Poetic Terms Couplet

 Linda  Gregerson


Linda Gregerson is the author of several collections of poetry and literary criticism. A Renaissance scholar, a classically trained actor, and a devotee of the sciences, Gregerson produces lyrical poems informed by her expansive reading that are inquisitive, unflinching, and tender. Tracing the connections she finds between science and poetry, Gregerson says, “I think there are rhythms of thought, fragile propositions about the . . .

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SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, Gender & Sexuality

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Couplet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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