The Answer

To Pope’s Impromptu

Disarmed with so genteel an air,
   The contest I give o’er;
Yet, Alexander, have a care,
   And shock the sex no more.
We rule the world our life’s whole race,
   Men but assume that right;
First slaves to ev’ry tempting face,
   Then martyrs to our spite.
You of one Orpheus sure have read,
   Who would like you have writ
Had he in London town been bred,
   And polished too his wit;
But he poor soul thought all was well,
   And great should be his fame,
When he had left his wife in hell,
   And birds and beasts could tame.
Yet venturing then with scoffing rhymes
   The women to incense,
Resenting heroines of those times
   Soon punished his offense.
And as the Hebrus rolled his skull,
   And harp besmeared with blood,
They clashing as the waves grew full,
   Still harmonized the flood.
But you our follies gently treat,
   And spin so fine the thread,
You need not fear his awkward fate,
   The lock won’t cost the head.
Our admiration you command
   For all that’s gone before;
What next we look for at your hand
   Can only raise it more.
Yet sooth the ladies I advise
   (As me too pride has wrought)
We’re born to wit, but to be wise
   By admonitions taught.

Writing Ideas

1. Ange Mlinko, in her lively poem guide to “The Answer,” notes that in Anne Finch’s time “among the literate classes of Europe, poetry used to be a kind of social media too.” Think about the social media you use—Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Skype—and write a poem that plays with the form of one, or all. You might write a poem that is also a tweet, or a poem that takes the shape of status updates. How does writing a poem for such a public forum change what, and how, you write?

 

2. “Translate” Finch’s poem: going line-by-line, and keeping the lines as short and punchy as hers, translate “The Answer” into contemporary English. Then try another version into slang.

 

3. “The Answer” is literally an answer: to Alexander Pope and some demeaning comments he made about female writers. Write a poem that responds to a person who has insulted you or someone you know. Try, like Finch does, to use their first name in the first few lines of your poem.

 

4. Finch turns a Greek myth on its head to both flatter and belittle Pope. Write a poem that also uses a myth or legend to an unexpected effect.

Discussion Questions

1. Describe Finch’s tone in “The Answer.” How does she make her displeasure known, and how does she soften it? What do the last four lines mean in the context of the poem? What is Finch’s tone in them?

 

2. Anne Finch is making a complex argument in “The Answer.” Try summarizing her points in prose and comparing them to the poem itself; what does she gain by setting her rebuttal to Alexander Pope in verse?

 

3. How does Finch use the myth of Orpheus in her poem? What comparisons does she draw between Orpheus and Pope? How does her interpretation of the myth tie into her treatment of Pope?

 

4. Read “Impromptu,” by Alexander Pope, the poem “The Answer” is replying to. What does each poem assert about men and women? How do the poets present their ideas about gender, and their ideas about each other? What kinds of allusions do they invoke? Why might they do so?

Teaching Tips

1. Present the context around “The Answer,” either by having students read Ange Mlinko’s poem guide, or by summarizing its main points. Tell students they are going to go on a scavenger hunt for other “literary fights.” Have them research poems, and poets, who have disagreed over poetry. Giving students opposing poets or movements might be helpful—for example Lord Byron/John Keats; W.C. Williams/T.S. Eliot; even the “rival” anthologies, Donald Hall’s New Poets of American and England and Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry 1945-1960. What do people tend to disagree about in poetry? How is this similar to, or different from, disagreements in other art forms? What is at stake in such arguments? (A way to contextualize this might be through contemporary examples: the fights over East and West coast rap styles, or tech-world debates such as Mac vs. PC/Windows or iPhone vs. Android)

 

2. Was Alexander Pope a misogynist? Divide the class in two and have them do a “debate” on the issues raised by “The Answer.” Ask each group to find examples to make their case in Pope’s poems, and poems of his contemporaries like Finch. Begin the debate by reading aloud “The Answer” and “Impromptu.”

More Poems by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea