Anchoress | Phyllida Jacobs

What I wanted was to fall, untouched
Into this happy grave. No sound
But litany, no light but candlelight,
No thought but my own.

The day they walled me in,
A sullen rain fell on the churchyard.
The last drops I felt were round,
Soft as a child’s fingertips.

When they placed the last stone,
I smiled.

In this cell six paces wide, two long,
My eye roves on nothing, my hands
Scrabble in the dirt where I will rot,
To keep them hard, without beauty,

And the pain and the joy are so great
I forget my prison, my penance,
My suffering, my self.

I am weaving a crown of solitude,
And I am a hungry woman;
God’s bride, starved of sunlight.


Writer’s Commentary

This poem is from the perspective of a medieval anchoress, women who chose to spend
their lives shut in a cell next to a church in a life of contemplation and prayer. It was
inspired by the writings of Julian of Norwich, an anchoress who wrote in the early 15th
century. I wanted to understand what would motivate women to elect to live in this way,
and imagine how it would feel to be completely cut off from the world.


Phyllida Jacobs is a poet living in London. Their work has been published or is forthcoming in The Writer’s Block, Murmur House and Eye Flash Magazine. They have been commended in the Foyle Young Poets Prize and the Timothy Corsellis Prize.

They can be found on Twitter at @PhyllidaJacobs