Epistolary Poem – I Will Not Retreat

I Will Not Retreat

Dear Elizabeth,

It breaks my heart to write to you today
Knowing how my words may burden you at your time of rest.
Please forgive me. But not to write to you, to not attest,
To not inform you, not to speak…not to make a fuss…
Elizabeth, our museums, our libraries, these sage
And learned institutions, the very testament to us, 
Are in grave peril. For there is no money,
We’re told, and it seems there is no will to value, to rescue, to save.
I know that you would lie awake to think of a plan, 
A subtle, censoring strategy. Send forth
A crafted note, to every woman, a rousing petition,
Appealing to the heartless, shape-shifting politician.
Make no mistake, as I write, the insistent digital rhythm,
Beats against the breaking day and knows no nightly rest.
The rhetoric that sells to us the notion
That computerisation is our saviour, that it deserves our devotion.
I fear your words will soon be scanned, uploaded, digitised, recoded,
To a series of nought and one. The brush of my hand against parchment,
Where your hand rested also, where you paused to write, to think,
The physical page, the tangible evidence gone.
But know this, Elizabeth, that I will not retreat, but with gentle influence
And steady resolution exert all that I am, for all that you were.
And work within the hallowed museum, to herald the object as King,
Reveal its stories, illuminate for all to see the truth it holds within.
But, at least, for now, fragile, I have your words, the paper, foxed and true,
In every way the material link, to the immortal you.
But here is the problem, the nub of this pain,
This letter, my thoughts, unsent, in vain.

Anna Larner

Creative Writing Leicester Author Anna Larner

A poem as a letter in the epistolary poem form. Published by the University of Leicester as part of the Women’s Writing in the Midlands, 1750-1850 Susanna Watts and Elizabeth Heyrick. A Poetry Collection.

Anna Larner Epistolary Poem - Women's Writing in the Midlands Poetry Collection

Epistolary Poems

Epistolary poems, from the Latin “epistula” for “letter,” are, quite literally, poems that read as letters. As poems of direct address, they can be intimate and colloquial or formal and measured. The subject matter can range from philosophical investigation to a declaration of love to a list of errands, and epistles can take any form, from heroic couplets to free verse.

The appeal of epistolary poems is in their freedom. The audience can be internal or external. The poet may be speaking to an unnamed recipient or to the world at large, to bodiless entities or abstract concepts.

The Academy of American Poets