Biography Anne Killigrew

Anne Killigrew

photo of Anne Killigrew
  • Time Period1660 - 1685
  • Place

Poet Biography

Anne Killigrew (1660—1685) was an English poet. Born in London, Killigrew is perhaps best known as the subject of a famous elegy by the poet John Dryden entitled To The Pious Memory of the Accomplish'd Young Lady Mrs. Anne Killigrew (1686). She was however a skilful poet in her own right, and her Poems were published posthumously in 1686. Dryden compared her poetic abilities to the famous Greek poet of antiquity, Sappho. Killigrew died of smallpox aged 25.

Anne Killigrew is an often-overlooked poet and painter who died young and has become immortalized in John Dryden’s Ode to her. Although she only produced one short book composed of 33 poems, three of which are of disputed authorship, she remains a prominent female writer of seventeenth-century literature

Anne Killigrew excelled in multiple media. It is said that she has painted a total of 15 paintings; only four are known to exist today. They are all based on biblical and mythological imagery. It is unknown whether she based the poems on the paintings, or whether she had painted the paintings to complement her poetry. Both share an emphasis on nature and suggest female rebellion in a male-dominated society.

All of her poetry has beautiful and potent imagery, but she has often been criticized for having used well worn and conventional topics such as death, love, and the human condition. Alexander Pope, a prominent critic as well as the leading poet of the time, labelled her work “crude” and “unsophisticated.” So, the question has frequently been raised: is Killigrew so deserving of such an immortalizing Ode by Dryden Had he even read her poetry to properly determine her skills Some say Dryden defended all poets as teachers of moral truths, and therefore Killigrew, despite her lack of experience, deserved his praise. However, evidence shows that she might not have been ready to see some of her work published, such as the unfinished poem “Alexandreis,” about Alexander the Great. At the end of the poem, she expresses the feeling that the task was too great for her to take on and she would try to finish it at another time. Then, there is the question of the last three poems that were found among her papers. They seem to be in her handwriting, which is why Killigrew’s father added them to her book. The poems are about the despair the author has for another woman, and could possibly be autobiographical if they are in fact by Killigrew. Some of her other poems are about failed friendships, possibly with Katherine Philips or Anne Finch, so this assumption may have some validity.