the unidentified

Mary Seton

It was the relic of the sense of chastity that dictated anonymity to women 

(Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own)


She is here without a room of her own.

The abbey she loved and grew to loathe

Was destroyed in the Revolution.

A poorer convent rose on her bones

And now it too has closed.


Property company logos on the ex-convent windows

Advertise skinny new religions.

Construction workers sweat revelations

Hammer open the cobbled stones

Releasing ancient protocols.


The air fills with microbes and dust

With traces of bromide and whispers

Of who you can trust

Stories of love, of loss and resistance

Emerge from the cracks, close in their distance.

Mary Seton was the best friend and lifetime servant of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Like Mary Stuart, her mother was French and her father Scots. They grew up together in both Scotland and France, and Mary Seton remained with Mary Stuart through her long years of imprisonment in England. Seton spent the last 20 years of her life living in relative poverty and isolation at the Convent of Saint-Pierre-les-Dames in Reims.