Susanna Blamire

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Susanna Blamire (1747 - 1794), poetess, was of good Cumberland family, and received the sobriquet of The Muse of Cumberland. Her poems, which were not collected until 1842, depict Cumbrian life and manners with truth and vivacity. She also wrote some fine songs in the Scottish dialect, including Ye shall walk in Silk Attire, and What ails this Heart o' Mine.

Modern additiion: "Susanna Blamire was an exceptional poet living in an isolated rural area of Cumberland during the eighteenth century. Susanna was young. She was beautiful. Her dark eyes sparkled with animation, and during the winter months of the Carlisle social season she was a huge asset. At the very heart of Susanna’s poetry there was a joyful hedonism. But despite this delight in pleasure, her writing was pierced by a compassionate realism that spoke of the pain and transience of human life. She lost both parents in childhood, endured the emotional calamity of thwarted romance with an aristocrat, and suffered from a recurrent and severe form of Rhematic Heart Disease which killed her at the age of 47.

Apart from poetry Blamire wrote songs, accompanied on a guitar or flageolet. She was renowned for her high spirits and skills as a dancer. If she met travelling musicians on the road she would dismount and dance to a jig or hornpipe. Her enthusiasm for her poetic art was such that she pinned scraps of verse to oak trees outside Thackwood, where passers-by could read this strange but elegant flowering.

Considered in 1842 as ‘unquestionably the best female writer of her age’, the British columnist Paul Johnson recently described Blamire in 'The Spectator' in 2007 as 'that fine and underrated poetess'. Hugh MacDiarmid, the radical 20th century Scottish poet praised Susanna in a BBC Scotland broadcast in 1947 as ‘this sweet Cumbrian singer’. He insisted that her Scottish songs are ‘the high-water mark of her achievement … so good that they can be set beside the best that have ever been produced by Scotsmen writing in their own tongue’ - a complimentary comparison with the great Robert Burns who came after her. The late Professor Jonathan Wordsworth, who in 1994 dubbed her 'The Poet of Friendship', recently predicted on BBC Radio Cumbria that ‘Susanna will eventually be seen as important as the other Romantic poets writing during the eighteenth century, and should be more widely read’. He found her words perfectly chosen, easy to understand, and deceptively simple.

Blamire's works encapsulate perfectly the transition from the formal poetry of the ‘Augustan Age’ to the ‘Major Romantics’. She used Gothic allegories in Standard English and songs in Lowland Scots to express passionate emotions. And like Wordsworth and Coleridge in their Lyrical Ballads of 1798, wrote amusing vignettes about local people and scenes, though in Cumberland dialect. Hugh Sinker 17:33, 8 July 2007 (UTC)

  • This article incorporates public domain text from: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London, J.M. Dent & sons; New York, E.P. Dutton.
  • Christopher Hugh Maycock, A Passionate Poet: Susanna Blamire (1747-94) (Hypatia Publications 2003)
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