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The Good Wife Taught Her Daughter

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Lordship is the same activity
Whether performed by lord or lady.
Or a lord who happens to be a lady,
All the source and all the faults.

A woman steadfast in looking is a callot,
And any woman in the wrong place
Or outside of her proper location
Is, by definition, a foolish woman.

The harlot is talkative and wandering
By the way, not bearing to be quiet,
Not able to abide still at home,
Now abroad, now in the streets,

Now lying in wait near the corners,
Her hair straying out of its wimple.
The collar of her shift and robe
Pressed one upon the other.

She goes to the green to see to her geese,
And trips to wrestling matches and taverns.
The said Margery left her home
In the parish of Bishopshill,

And went to a house, the which
The witness does not remember,
And stayed there from noon
Of that day until the darkness of night.

But a whip made of raw hippopotamus
Hide, trimmed like a corkscrew,
And anon the creature was stabled
In her wits as well as ever she was biforn,

And prayed her husband as so soon
As he came to her that she might have
The keys to her buttery
To take her meat and drink.

He should never have my good will
For to make my sister for to sell
Candle and mustard in Framlyngham,
Or fill her shopping list with crossbows,

Almonds, sugar and cloth.
The captainess, the vowess,
Must use herself to work readily
As other gentilwomen doon,

In the innermost part of her house,
In a great chamber far from the road.
So love your windows as little as you can,
For we be, either of us, weary of other.

Source: Poetry (January 2007)
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The Good Wife Taught Her Daughter

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  • Medbh McGuckian was born in 1950 to Catholic parents in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She studied with Seamus Heaney at Queen’s University, earning a BA and MA, and later returned as the university’s first female writer-in-residence.

    McGuckian’s poems are layered collages of feminine and domestic imagery complicated by a liminal, active syntax that, in drawing attention to the weight of one phrase on another, emphasizes and questions our constructions of power and gender. Her work is reminiscent of Rainer Maria Rilke in its emotional scope and John Ashbery in its creation of rich interior landscapes. Praising McGuckian’s Selected Poems (1997), Seamus Heaney said, “Her language is like the inner lining of consciousness, the inner lining of English itself, and it moves amphibiously between the dreamlife and her actual domestic and historical experience as a woman in late-20th-century Ireland.”

    McGuckian has earned significant critical acclaim over the course of...

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