Saturday, 4 July 2009

The Forgotten Poets - Sister Agnes

by Barry Van-Asten

St Peter, St Paul – Bugger you all!


It was the year of our Lord two-thousand-and-seven and Sister Agnes had been asked to attend the home of the Laird of Glencairne, in West London, on matters of ‘spiritual guidance’ (1). Sister Agnes was a little apprehensive as the Laird was a known diabolist and rumours persisted that he was also the ‘demon baby-eater of Kensal Green’ but there was no substantial proof to confirm this.
The good sister made many visits to the Laird’ and found his ‘beliefs’ distasteful and attempted to ‘turn him on to Christ’ – but the battle was long and arduous and the Laird budged not from his demonic practices, until finally, the sister agreed to the Laird’s terms: he would conform to the Christian way on one condition, and that was that the sister should send to him two young novice nuns to show him the errors of his ways and ‘put him right with God!’ At first the sister complied but after much thought and deliberation she sensed wickedness in the Laird’s terms and would not be tricked by the devil! She went back on her word and the novices were not forthcoming!
“You promised me young flesh! You are a liar!” the Laird would say, for he had lusted after the young novices or ‘strumpets of Christ’ as he referred to them, like a vampire, tired of devouring mutton suddenly hungers for spring lamb! And so, in the heat of spiritual battle, the Laird damned the sister and he forced his wicked lust upon her ‘unspoilt body’ at his home (2). The sister, shaken to her very core, was not only the victim of the Laird’s dreadful and sinister lusts but she found she had been awakened to the pains and pleasures of Sado-Masochism!
In the coming weeks the sister would make excuses to return to the Laird and he would implore upon her for the ‘young flesh’, to no avail.
She learnt more about the unnatural ways of sexual intercourse in those short weeks than a lifetime spent at the Vatican would teach her. In fact, the Laird invented some of his foulest deeds upon her God-curst body, for she was but a feather in his filthy bed of debauchery.
After many days of doubt and prolonged attacks upon the church from the Laird, the sister ceased her visits and the Laird could be heard, late into the night, wailing “you promised me young flesh, sister!”

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sister Agnes was born Rosemary Mason in 1959, North Leigh in Oxfordshire. She was an only child and when her mother Violet died she went to live with her Aunt Joan, Uncle Selwyn and their daughter Cousin Dora. Rosemary became very close to her Cousin Dora and would later say that she was her first love.


Behold! the blossom of thy bruised lips, no less,
Find my own as sweet and soft… I bless
The perfection of thy lustfulness
As we embrace and as we undress –
Time ceases in the hour of our gentleness
As my lips to thy beating bosom, I press…
And by moments and measures, it seemed, I guess
I was soon nestling softly in thy darkness;
And here didst I tend the garden, kiss by kiss –
Yes, there is certain loveliness
That soothes the heart in all of this.
But to love thee, is beyond such bliss;
To drink the wine of thy nakedness
Like some Witch Queen or pale Princess,
Swan-soft and elegant in lunar caress!

Forgive and heal us.


Rosemary’s love for Dora remained unrequited and at the age of sixteen, Rosemary entered the Eyes and Ears of God Convent as a novitiate and later took her vows – Rosemary was now Sister Agnes.


At the convent, Sister Agnes devoted her life to Christ and in her spare moments she wrote poetry. She became particularly fond of a young novice named Maria and so a relationship quickly formed. During this period of her life her poems begin to develop and speak less about the outside world of nature and more about the inner world of love, for her poems radiate with the joys of lesbian love –

Christ hath given thee to me,
Sweet child, in thine infancy!

[‘To a young novice’]

Gloria, Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Gloria, Gloria in excelsis Deo.

When Maria took her permanent vows she was given a position at a convent school and Sister Agnes was very unhappy to be parted from her. In fact, Agnes referred to this separation as a ‘death’ in her poems and in her ‘Mass for Maria’ her sadness is overwhelming:

Those young eyes hath yet to see
The horror of this hunger for thee!

This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.


That the relationship between Sister Agnes and Maria was a physical one there is no doubt. In her poem ‘Night Tears’, Agnes describes the closeness that the two sisters shared:

A single tear rolls down your face
And down your perfect pale breast, my dear;
To be that tear, to find that place
That’s snug with warmth – that keeps me near!

Glory to you, O Lord. Alleluia!

During her time away from Maria, Agnes published her first poetry collection called ‘Of Foolish Ways I Hath Known’, under the pseudonym Eva Hoare. The introductory poem ‘Girl in a red dress’ seems to be her acceptance of her cruel desires –

Girl in a red dress – I know your name:
I want to fasten my lips to your feverish flame!
I want to dare in the silence of your shadow, that’s cast
Upon the road of my future and the road of my past!

I dream the long lashes and imagine your thighs
Wrapt in red silk… the ecstatic joys
Are mine, oh beautiful girl, I adore –
Kiss me for ever and hurt me no more!

Girl in a red dress – I secretly pray
For your sweet lips pressed to my lips all day!
To be bathed in your sweat and baptised by flame –
Girl in a red dress – I know your name!

Hear our prayer. Amen.


In her next collection ‘A Silent Love’ the voice of doubt and despair speak louder and her longing and loneliness whisper through her verse –


Soft was your hand in my hand,
As your lips parted gentle and red;
And our kisses were ecstasy, fanned
Beneath the bright moon of the dead;
Our embraces girdled a band, Veronique,
Beneath the bright moon of the dead!

And here the veil of long ago
Was drawn in the silvern surprise,
By fingers that flickered white as snow
Like the moonlight caught in your eyes...
And suddenly the song did grow, Veronique,
Like the moonlight caught in your eyes.

Silver-skirted, in the glade...
Your sweet lips towards September, flow
As your long pale legs dance in the shade
Where the light of moon fears to go -
You are ecstasy perfectly made, Veronique,
Where the light of moon fears to go!

All night in the woods, you danced -
I suffered your beauty, and sighed;
I was struck by your form and entranced,
O sweet maiden where moonlight died;
And I stood for all time as I glanced, Veronique,
O sweet maiden where moonlight died.


Sister Agnes grew tired of her duties at the convent and entered the Convent of the Holy Heart of God and the Sacred Light of Christ, where she taught literature. But before long she found herself falling hopelessly in love with a young girl of fourteen named Angela Maltby-Jones. It is a dark time for Agnes and her doubts grow, but eventually Angela returns Agnes’ love and a physical relationship begins.


In her poem ‘Artemis’, Agnes describes her first sensual moment with Angela – ‘You slip your hand into my wetness; / we sigh and moan beneath the moon. / I kiss your hair and eyes with kindness; / I felt your soul begin to swoon. / And tenderness sang deep and deeper, / deeper than this love, new-born. / I kept you in my arms, my sleeper; / sleep and I’ll keep you safe till morn. / And you awoke to our caressing; / I kissed your lips and sang your name. / I kissed your neck as you sat dressing - / nothing shall ever be the same!’

And so it wasn’t!

Hosanna in the highest.

Agnes was delirious with happiness and she wrote a series of fourteen sonnets (fourteen for Angela’s fourteen summers upon the earth) entitled ‘Sensual Songs for a Young Girl’. The first lines to the sonnets are:

I. I give thee all of this…
II. There in the darkness of your heart…
III. I want the ways of our love to unfold…
IV. I pray at the altar of your veiled joy…
V. In the name of our Lord, I adore you…
VI. In death, our bodies shall be one…
VII. Your flesh, like a flower, folds over me…
VIII. Our tongues trace time’s desires…
IX. Angel heart – my soul sings to your touch…
X. The Lord has blessed our love, and gives…
XI. Come dear child, rest upon my heart…
XII. This is sacred and secret, like the seasons swell…
XIII. And now you are here with me, this night…
XIV. I watch you sleep and kiss your pillow…

Lamb of God,
You take away the sin of the world:
Have mercy on us.


Agnes is besotted with Angela and her obsession grows as she believes that Christ himself has rewarded this love –

And in that hour, you understood
That our baptism was blessed by blood!

This of course is a reference to Angela’s menstruation which Agnes sees as a divine sign that Angela is hers alone and that this ‘wine’ can heal the sick and perform miracles when taken during Communion.
In her private diary, Agnes talks about those ‘semen obsessed men in the church’ but fails to note her own stifling love for Angela as being anything less than pure and natural. In fact, she is falling into the black pit of insanity and her vows are but a vacant memory –

How sweet was the taste, how warm was the flow
That I drank down and near lost breath –
I sank into delicious death!

[‘Temptress in tights’]

To him be the glory both now and for ever. Amen

I am bound to you by more than this
Dark departure and a kiss!
My insides tingle to your hand
And the cruel dimensions we command
Pulse like ghost lips, bubble blowing:
My vagina weeps with over-flowing…
There is no other love as this –
Sweet sister of the clitoris!


Twelve months later and the relationship had soured. Angela left with her parents for France and Agnes was distraught. She eventually left the convent and went to London where she entered a convent school for the blind – The Son of the Blessed Lord, our God and the Un-Seeing, in Kensington. After her short affair with the Laird of Glencairne no more is heard of Sister Agnes. Her final poem seems to be repentance for her ways –

Wet with kisses – I shall come
And strike the lesbian heart that’s numb;
To rip the womb of false desire
And Christ shall brand my heart with ‘Liar!’
Let this lust of sisterhood burn with fire
For I have made my sorrows known –
To love the passion that you have shown;
To love with lust the awaiting grave;
To love with prayer all that I have,
All that I am, all that I can be…
I have awoken from the hell of my misery,
And ask forgiveness of my Lord. Amen.

Thanks be to God!

1. Sunday 7th January 2007.
2. Tuesday 20th November 2007.

Books by Sister Agnes:
‘Of Foolish Ways I Hath Known’. (Eva Hoare). Pirouet Press. Oxford. 1979.
‘A Silent Love’. (Eva Hoare). Pirouet Press. Oxford. 1981.

Further Reading:
‘Convent Dust – Limericks for Lunatics’. Clancy Press. Oxford. 1983.
‘Clitoris Blossom’. Virago. 1985.
‘A Mass for Maria and Other Poems’. Ed Sylvia Strongbower. Pan Books. 1989.
‘Collected Lesbian Poems’. Savage Tongue. Cambridge. 1990.
‘My Life with Sister Agnes’. Angela Maltby-Jones. Samson Small Press. 2008.

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