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Lesser Lights OR Major Literary Influences?
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Mary Tighe 1772-1810

Mary Tighe 1772-1810 Mary Blachford was born in Dublin on October 9, 1772. Mary spoke and read Irish and English and read widely in French and Italian literature as well as politics, philosophy and the sciences. Theodosia Blachford, a significant figure in Methodism, influenced Mary in religious as well as educational matters. Ms. Blachford believed strongly in education for women and encouraged Mary to translate and write poetry, and to keep a journal.

Mary had a deeply spiritual side. Her beauty and talent however, once detected by Dublin and London society, made her a much sought after addition to social circles, taking time and attention away from study and reflection. Ambivalence between the quiet interior life and the enjoyment of outward engagement in society is a source of struggle that is reflected in Mary’s poetry.

Mary married her first cousin, Henry Tighe, in 1793. Writings in family members’ journals indicate that the marriage was not a happy one; one benefit of the marriage is that Henry provided Latin lessons each morning. The couple lived in London from 1793 to 1801, and then returned to Ireland where Mary began to write in earnest.

Studies in Latin and in the disciplines mentioned above are evident in Mary’s much-acclaimed, “Psyche, or the Legend of Love.” The six-canto allegorical romance composed in Spenserian stanzas is a startlingly brilliant recreation of the “Cupid and Psyche” myth told in a woman’s voice. The mythical quest allows for the exploration of a woman’s feelings, struggles, challenges, competitions with other women, and the ideals of beauty imposed upon women.

Mary’s other poems present descriptions of Irish settings, explore spiritual reflections, relationships with individuals and with society; one alludes to the violence surrounding the Rebellion of 1798 and one satirical poem comically describes members of the Irish Parliament as they debated and voted for the Act of Union of 1800. An autobiographical novel in five volumes, entitled Selena is preserved in manuscript form at the National Library of Ireland.

A consumptive cough plagued Mary’s health from an early age; a steady struggle with tuberculosis began in 1804 and Mary suffered an early death in 1810.

Mary Tighe influenced Romantic-era poet John Keats. Keats gave evidence of his respect for the work of Mary Tighe in the poem, “To Some Ladies” in which he mentions her name. In 1927, Aerle Vonard Weller did a comparative study, published in the Proceedings of the Modern Language Association in 1927. He identified hundreds of parallel passages in Tighe and Keats.

Noted Irish poet and songwriter, Thomas Moore, paid tribute to Mary Tighe in his, “To Mrs. Henry Tighe on Reading Her Psyche.” English poet, Felicia Hemans very much admired Mary’s writing and wrote, “On the Grave of a Poetess” in her memory.

Works cited [PDF]


Updated: February 7, 2006
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