Sunday, July 03, 2011

A Guest Post by Anna: A Literary Canon of Women Writers, Part Six: The Twelfth Century to the Thirteenth Century

(Echidne's note: Earlier parts of this series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and part 5.)

Akka Mahadevi was a Saint and prominent poet of the Siva worshipping
movement of the 12th century Karnataka (a state in Southwest India).
Her Vacanas, a form of didactic poetry, are considered her greatest
contribution. In all she wrote about 430 Vachanas, which is relatively
fewer than that compared to other saints of her time. Yet, as an
example of her prominence, the term 'Akka' (elder Sister) was given to
her as an honorific by great saints like Basavanna, Chenna Basavanna,
Kinnari Bommayya, Siddharama, Allamaprabhu and Dasimayya. She is often
considered an early feminist; she was forced to marry, but because she
was devoted only to Siva, she left her husband and all her possessions,
including her clothes, and wandered as a naked poet-saint covered only
by her long hair. Some of her poems are available in English in the
book "Songs for Siva: Vacanas of Akka Mahadevi", translated by Vinaya

Li Qingzhao (1084–c. 1151) was a Chinese writer and poet of the Song
Dynasty, regarded by many as the premier female poet in the Chinese
language. Her complete poems are available in English in the book
"Complete Poems", by Ching-Chao Li, translated by Kenneth Rexroth and
Ling Chung. Her poems were often at odds with the Confucian code of the

Mahsati Ganjavi (born circa 1089 — died after 1159) was a 12th century
Persian poet. No details about her life are documented except that she
was born in Ganja and was highly esteemed at the court of sultan Sanjar
of the Seljuk dynasty. She was persecuted for her courageous poetry
condemning religious obscurantism, fanaticism, and dogmas, but her only
works that have come down to us are philosophical and love quatrains
(rubaiyat), glorifying the joy of living and the fullness of love. A
monument to her was placed in Ganja in 1980. The most complete
collection of her quatrains, about 60 of them, are found in the Nozhat
al-Majales, but this anthology has never been fully translated into

Marie de France ("Mary of France") was a medieval poet, one of the few
female troubadour poets, who was probably born in France and lived in
England during the late 12th century. She would be the earliest known
French female poet if she was indeed born in France. She lived and
wrote at an undisclosed court, but was almost certainly at least known
about at the royal court of King Henry II of England. Virtually nothing
is known of her life; both her given name and its geographical
specification come from her manuscripts, though one contemporary
reference to her work and popularity remains. Her "Lais of Marie de
France" (a series of twelve short narrative poems) in particular were
and still are widely read, and influenced the subsequent development of
the romance genre. They are also notable for their celebration of love,
individuality of character, and vividness of description – hallmarks of
the emerging literature of the times. They are available in English in
the book "The Lais of Marie de France" (Penguin Classics), by Marie de
France, translated by Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby.

Princess Shikishi (died 1201) was a medieval Japanese poet who lived
during the late Heian and early Kamakura periods. She was the third
daughter of Emperor Go-Shirakawa (1127-1192, reigned 1155-1158). In
1159, Shikishi, went into service at the Kamo Shrine in Kyoto. She left
the shrine after some time, and in her later years became a Buddhist
nun. She never married.
Shikishi is credited with 49 poems in the Shin Kokin Shū, a collection
of some 2,000 popular works compiled in the early Kamakura period, and
many other poems included in the Senzai Wakashū, compiled in the late
Heian period to commemorate Emperor Go-Shirakawa's ascension, and later
compilations. Her complete poems are available in English in the book
"String of Beads: Complete Poems of Princess Shikishi", translated by
Hiroaki Sato.

Fujiwara Toshinari no Musume (1171-1252), commonly called Shunzei's
Daughter, was a Japanese poet; she was probably the greatest female
poet of her day. As for anthologies available in English which contain
some of her poems, 29 of her poems were selected for the Shinkokinshū
and nine were chosen for the Shin Chokusenshū. Some of her poems were
also available in the book "Seeds in the Heart", by Donald Keene.

Blessed Beatrice of Nazareth (1200-1268), in Dutch Beatrijs van
Nazareth, was a nun. She was the very first prose writer using the
Dutch language, a mystic, and the author of the notable Dutch prose
dissertation known as the "Seven Ways of Holy Love". She was also the
first prioress of the Abbey of Our Lady of Nazareth in Nazareth near
Lier in Brabant. The "Seven Ways of Holy Love" (Seven Manieren van
Heilige Minnen) is a work of early mystic literature that describes
seven stages of love, as it is purified and transformed, before it can
return to God.

Marguerite Porete (died 1310) was a French mystic and the author of
"The Mirror of Simple Souls", a work of Christian spirituality dealing
with the workings of Divine Love. She was burnt at the stake for heresy
in Paris in 1310 after a lengthy trial, after refusing to remove her
book from circulation or recant her views. The book is cited as one the
primary texts of the medieval Heresy of the Free Spirit, a heretical
belief that it was possible to reach perfection on earth through a life
of austerity and spiritualism, and that Christians could communicate
directly with God and did not need the Catholic Church for
intercession. "The Mirror of Simple Souls" taught that the soul must
pass through seven spiritual stages before it reached perfection; it
became renowned and well read throughout France even though the Church
condemned it as heresy. It is available in English as "The Mirror of Simple Souls", translated by Jack C. Marler.