August 6, 2023, marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Anne Hathaway. She’s famous because she was married to William Shakespeare, but the editors of a new poetry collection, Anne-thology: Poems Re-Presenting Anne Shakespeare, wanted to explore many facets of Anne’s life, not simply that of being Shakespeare’s wife.
Anne-thology, published in April by Broken Sleep Books in association with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, contains 67 newly commissioned poems (one for each year of Anne’s life), and 10 from the past.
Sally Bayley, a writer and Oxford lecturer who wrote the first of the four poems shared below, shares these thoughts about her contribution to Anne-thology:
I wrote this poem as a way of thinking about Anne Hathaway as a metaphor for all the lost wives and daughters in literary and biblical history. And then as a way of thinking about the exigencies of poetry and the craft of the poet which compresses and reduces autobiography for the sake of the tight – you might even say cruel – craft of poetry. Life and love are traded in for the poet’s commitment to his art. Meanwhile, Anne has a life of her own which is not seen or heard: after all, there have been many Annes in history forsaken by the will or status of their husbands. Disappearing Annes. This poem recalls young Anne Hathaway as it recalls lost wives – Shylock’s Leah and his daughter Jessica – as a way of thinking about poems lost and lives left unrecorded: disappearing poetic moments in all our lives we have given away to others. What you might call the Romance of Life which takes but doesn’t always return.
Watch a film version of Bayley’s poem created by Suzie Hanna, and read the text of the poem, plus three others from the book, below.
God’s Favour, Anne
By Sally Bayley
‘[M]y turquoise… I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.’ — Shylock, The Merchant of Venice
Turquoise, he gave her turquoise, like the queen
whose hand, pale and slender, manages her own —
the quill, the knife, the gist of the matter —
the leaves, the trees, the
bark, and the running sap, wax
sealing promises to courtiers
who wait for her to drop curlicues
of grace, remnants of her petticoat
torn by the latch on the windowpane.
[At what time will they hang her.
At what time will they declare her dead?]
Last night she stole in to see her love
would he, would he have her?
He said he would kiss her underneath
the oak, the white birch, the ash,
her hand splayed upon the bark,
fragments beneath her nails.
She did not wash for days,
the rich scent.
Queen, you say?
Queen, I say, for the one
God has favoured.
Seal her, seal her,
underneath her nails,
there the blood runs.
Three trees standing in a wood.
Gold, frankincense and myrrh,
branches laden with words.
Unto us a child is born,
prayers for the one
She stands beneath the window
tall as a cypress tree and her name
was Agnes before it was Anne
while the trees, rich in scent, bend.
[Always in mourning
for her mother, though no one remembers.
Where is Leah? Under the cypress trees
she stands tall and the wind
cannot break her].
She runs as daughters will from their
father, once a bachelor who loved
a woman as she now loves a man
underneath the window
bending her hand –
will he, won’t he, who can say?
But they say – the people of the town –
once he picked up his pen
he was never the same again.
Not hers, not now, not ever,
so she spat it out – the blue gem –
oceans of legacies, boundless, unfathomable,
her hopes willed for him, God’s favour,
Anne Hathaway sits in a coffee shop in Warwickshire, 2023
By Olga Dermott-Bond
Windows are bigger these days, but no one
looks through them. This harsh light
leaves dirty plates, cups, spoons, forks
wilting on every table. Napkins that you
could write a sonnet on, soaked with spilt milk.
The girl who served me had the same eyes
as Judith. I was going to tell her, but
she didn’t even glance at me, no smile
as she pushed my tea across a cold space
the paper cup struggling to hold its shape.
I want to tell William children are still
dying of scarlet fever, typhoid. An image
of Hamnet rises above the smell of coffee –
I feel that fear again, frailty of a child’s last
breath, the suddenness of his little death.
I sip my drink. Just a sixty-something woman
sitting on her own, and no one knows what
I looked like anyway. Students hunched over
their laptops frowning at essays could never guess my body was the paper Shakespeare
composed his first words on, when he was
a beautiful boy brim-full of dreaming rage;
that I was the ink that wrote his children,
told the stories of their perfect fingers and toes,
washed their mewling faces when he was away.
The tiny jug has grey bloodless veins,
its chipped lip trembles as I pour, both of us
tired of being emptied, routines that wear
like too-hot water. A mother shushes her baby
out of its pram, the queue shuffles along so slowly.
I’m thirsty, thinking how after all this time
I want my husband back, before any of our love
was separated, acted out. Before the world struck.
I want to reach over the table, sticky as honey,
to kiss his mouth. To make all these ghosts vanish.
Olga Dermott-Bond has published two pamphlets. Her first full collection Frieze (Nine Arches Press) is out in October 2023.
By Ewan Fernie
A resourceful one.
Another, like him,
Defined by doing
More than being.
She hath a way,
She finds a way,
She steals away,
On the verb’s side,
Not the noun’s side,
What’s done is done.
A player and a player
Play, and make a play,
And further players,
Each of whom,
Will and all,
Return to dust.
Will Hathaway had found a way
To find themselves
In other others,
Characters in which, of course,
Not only he, but also she,
Ewan Fernie is Professor at the Shakespeare Institute and Culture Lead for the College of Arts and Law, University of Birmingham.
ANNYS / AGNES / HANNAH / ANN
By Lucy Holme
Your name is any of the above. Delete as applicable.
You are all of these women, all of these girls.
As Hannah you shook your pewter rattle, four copper bells
and a wolf’s snaggle tooth — swaddled in your mama’s love,
you stared up at the silver-webbed eaves with grey eyes,
blinked with cool blue eyes, with acorn-brown eyes,
eyes that crinkled, grew wide, your red hair in waves,
pale hair plaited, tied up damp with rags for curls,
dun as the shy field mouse, dark as his muse.
You were your parents’ sweet Agnes, his Anne aflame;
alone by the hearth in sour rage. Only a new flaxen train
would suffice for you, Annys, crowned with a garland
of brightest green, proud and pearling in that bleached
wool dress, which gaped like a drinking well. Skin glazed
from summer’s rays, you trudged fields, climbed
rotten country stiles — a penny for your white veil, Hannah.
You were younger then, thighs splintered from the lath,
thistles in your fringe. So cold, the down upon your arms
stood on end. Annys, do you recall? The lover’s season
left its remains. A shiver like a ghost of the stinking elder.
He traced your gooseflesh, Agnes, like you were his first;
did you sign the ledger with his quill? Who struck the flint
for the stove? Who clipped the muck from his riding boots
with the letter knife? Clap clap clap on the broken fence
behind the lane. When he shook out his pockets did you
catch the London pebbles as they fell, smelling of money,
laced with stale ale? Ann, you will grow tired. One day soon
the baby will be dead, dear one, and you will wonder
how he can lie still next to you like this, so peaceful,
his face to the wall. You will loosen his ponytail,
resist an urge to yank the cord that binds. Shake it free,
Ann. Snuff out the candle’s flame, let him sleep on.
What is your name, your life, if not his to deny?
Lucy Holme is a writer living in Cork, Ireland. Her pamphlet, Temporary Stasis, is out now from Broken Sleep Books.
All rights reserved. These poems have been excerpted from Anne-thology: Poems Re-Presenting Anne Shakespeare with permission from the book editors and the authors, Broken Sleep Books, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
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