Mary Birkett: Irish Woman Poet

Mary Birkett was born (1774-1817) was born in Liverpool into a Quaker family and moved to Dublin as a child. She was a precocious poet and her A Poem on the African Slave Trade. Addressed to her own Sex. in two parts was written when she was just 17. It remains one of the most remarkable Irish Abolitionist documents extant. Birkett lost a number of siblings in childhood and after her marriage to a merchant called Nathaniel Card four of her own children died in infancy. After this she more or less abandoned verse for justly forgotten pious tracts.

This passage is the opening of part two of A Poem on the African Slave Trade.

ERST, when the Muse of Pity o’er me stole,
And kindled new ideas in my soul;
When Nature’s rude effusions pour’d along,
Impell’d by Fancy, rais’d th’unpolish’d song;
Then, when Imagination – Charming Maid,
In all the rainbow’s lively hues array’d,
Bade me her visionary heights explore,
And taught my unfledg’d pinions how to soar,
Till my heart throbb’d with her prolific fire,
And social feeling forc’d th’untutor’d lyre;
Till with the woes of Afric deep imprest,
I (trembling) held the mirror to each breast;
Tho’ long th’alternate powers of hope and fear
Oppos’d the theme to Truth, to Virtue dear.
Daughters of Ireland, you approv’d the song,
And bade the Muse her artless task prolong;
You smil’d – and still, with innate goodness fraught,
Pardon’d each fault, and prais’d each happier thought:
Again that Muse collects her active powers,
Sisters! – the Theme, – the Strain, – the Muse – are yours.



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