Internet Shakespeare Editions


Isabella Whitney

Isabella Whitney is believed to be the first professional female poet in England and was the first woman to publish a collection of original poetry. Unlike many other female poets of the day, Whitney was not a noblewoman, but was of the middle class. Because of this, relatively little is known about her life. She may have lived in London, since her writings indicate that she was familiar with the city.

Her Writings

In many ways, Whitney was a pioneering author, for she produced marketable poetry designed to appeal to public taste at a time when devotional literature and translations of men's work was considered to be the only proper literary work for women.

Here are the first two stanzas of "To Her Sister Mistress Anne Baron":

Because I to my brethren wrote,
And to my sisters two,
Good sister Anne, you this might wrote,
If so I should not do
To you or ere I parted hence;
You vainly had bestowed expense.

Yet it is not that I write,
For nature did you bind
To do me good, and to requite
Hath nature me inclined.
Wherefore, good sister, take in 'gree
These simple lines that come from me.

More poems...*


  1. Some good advice

    Amongst other works, Whitney wrote a "nosegay" or collection of one hundred and ten epigrammatic verses giving advice:

    [The Author to the Reader.]
    This harvest time, I harvestless,
    and serviceless also:
    And subject unto sickness, that
    abroad I could not go.
    Had leisure good, (though learning lacked)
    some study to apply:
    To read such Books, whereby I thought
    my self to edify.

    [The first "Flower" or epigram]
    Such friends as have been absent long
    more joyful be at meeting
    Than those which ever present are
    and daily have their greeting.

    [A poem to her sister]
    Good Sister so I you commend,
    to him that made us all:
    I know you housewifery intend,
    though I to writing fall:
    Wherefore no longer shall you stay,
    From business, that profit may.

    Had I a husband, or a house,
    and all that longs thereto
    My self could frame about to rouse
    as other women do:
    But till some household cares me tie,
    My books and Pen I will apply.

    Your loving sister. Is. W.