Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On What Sort of Wife to Choose


When Lily and I were in college, we had a wonderful English professor. One day, she had a heart-to-heart with the young women in the class. We began discussing the Puritanical notion that women "shouldn't go to college" as it was a "waste of money" if she only was to be a wife and mother. Encouraging us to reject this notion, she told us how the Church has always supported the education of women and shared with us this poem.

To Candidus: “On What Sort of Wife to Choose” 
by St. Thomas More
Sweets to the Sweet by Leighton
So then, friend, first
Since you seek a wife
Look at the people
Who gave her life.
The girl will reflect
In her ways, the excellence
That graces her mother
Whose habits she imbibed
As a small, tender child.
Next, look for sound sweetness
In the nature of your bride.
May the serenity reside
In the girls’ speech;
May savagery be absent
From her mouth.
May there be
In her countenance shy decency
And in her discourse
No shameless impudence.
More, may she be reposeful
Nor willingly entangle men
In leaping lusts.
May she not be fickle of heart
Nor having a roving eye.
May she be neither
A babbler, given to constant
Gabble over trifles,
Nor a tight-lipped close-mouthed clod
Perpetually dumb.
Finally, may she be
Either educated, versed
In the humanities,
Or educable, apt
At absorbing learning.
Happy the girl
Who is able to draw
Out the best of the books of earlier days
The principles of holy living.
They will invigorate her.
She will not swell up pompous
With pride in prosperity;
In times of trouble she will not be
Grief-stricken, prostrated
By misery.

She will be merry beside you;
She will not become,
No matter what betide you,
A reproachful sorrower.
Well taught herself, she
Will teach well; your children
--And later, grandchildren –
Will drink in learning with their milk
As for you, you will be glad
To leave the men to themselves
After work, and to find rest
In your clever wife’s company.
She too will enjoy that time;
Perhaps while her agile fingers
Pluck true chords from the strings;
She may sing, and so delightfully
(In a voice, Procne,
No less sweet
Than that of your younger sister)
Apollo will hide
To hear her songs.
She will fashion
Joy for you
Out of charm and wisdom,
Marking days and nights
With sweetness of phrase
And dulcet speech
Unbroken by harshness
From her delightful,
Always gentle mouth.
Freely she will soothe you
Should high spirits make you light
With thoughtless merriment;
Subtly she will sustain you
If anxious grief depress you,
Her power to aid you strengthened
By well-informed eloquence
And a discriminating knowledge
Of important matters.

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