The Cuckoo (Emblem 29)

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The Cuckoo (Emblem 29)

Poem #94

Original Source

Hester Pulter, Poems breathed forth by the nobel Hadassas, University of Leeds Library, Brotherton Collection, MS Lt q 32

Versions

  • Facsimile of manuscript: Photographs provided by University of Leeds, Brotherton Collection

  • Transcription of manuscript: By Leah Knight and Wendy Wall.
  • Elemental edition: By Leah Knight and Wendy Wall.
  • Amplified edition: By Rachel Zhang.

How to cite these versions

Conventions for these editions

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X (Close panel)Notes: Transcription

 Editorial note

In these transcriptions we preserve as many details of the original material, textual, and graphic properties of Hester Pulter’s manuscript verse as we have found practical. Whenever possible, for instance, original spelling, punctuation, capitalization, lineation, insertions, deletions, alterations, spacing between words and lines, and indentation are all maintained; abbreviations and brevigraphs are not expanded; and superscript and subscript representations are retained. See full conventions for the transcriptions here.
Line number 1

 Physical note

poem begins on the same page as previous poem ends about halfway down
Line number 20

 Physical note

“G” appears corrected from other letter; “z” also seems a correction
Line number 23

 Physical note

“r” appears corrected from earlier “o”
Sorry, but there are no notes associated with any currently displayed witness.
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Transcription

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[Emblem 29]
The Cuckoo
(Emblem 29)
Emblem 29
In these transcriptions we preserve as many details of the original material, textual, and graphic properties of Hester Pulter’s manuscript verse as we have found practical. Whenever possible, for instance, original spelling, punctuation, capitalization, lineation, insertions, deletions, alterations, spacing between words and lines, and indentation are all maintained; abbreviations and brevigraphs are not expanded; and superscript and subscript representations are retained. See full conventions for the transcriptions here.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
The aim of the elemental edition is to make the poems accessible to the largest variety of readers, which involves modernizing spelling and punctuation as well as adding basic glosses. Spelling and punctuation reflect current standard American usage; punctuation highlights syntax which might otherwise be obscure. Outmoded but still familiar word forms (“thou,” “‘tis,” “hold’st”) are not modernized, and we do not modernize grammar when the sense remains legible. After a brief headnote aimed at offering a “way in” to the poem’s unique qualities and connections with other verse by Pulter or her contemporaries, the edition features a minimum of notes and interpretative framing to allow more immediate engagement with the poem. Glosses clarify synonyms or showcase various possible meanings in Pulter’s time. Other notes identify named people and places or clarify obscure material. We rely (without citation) primarily on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the Oxford Reference database, and the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. When we rely on Alice Eardley’s edition of Pulter’s work, we cite her text generally (“Eardley”); other sources are cited in full. The result is an edition we consider a springboard for further work on Pulter’s poetry. See full conventions for this edition here.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
Though the syntax, diction, capitalization, and spelling of Pulter’s poems may not conform to modern standards, it is analytically productive for the modern reader to consider these elements as they appear in the manuscript; they may, for instance, create links between different parts of the text, emphasize particular words, or create syntactical slippage that encourages multiple interpretations. In order to retain Pulter’s unique poetic voice, as well as maintain the possibility of multiple interpretations created by her text, I take a conservative editorial approach. I have chosen not to modernize grammar, capitalization, or punctuation, and adhere to the original spelling in cases where doing so retains a particular tone or analytical complexity that would be lost in modernization (e.g., “groan” in line 5, which conveys a physical utterance that would be lost if modernized to “grown”).

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
When humans condemn the horrific violence that animal offspring commit against their parents, or when they they read of histories in which parents have been disrespected or killed, they should not feel superior. In this emblem, Pulter first vividly details how baby snakes, birds, and wolves devour and murder their parents, only to proclaim boldly: “But man is worse.” The backdrop of the natural world foregrounds, for the speaker of this poem, a national crisis that has escalated from general filial ingratitude to the unspoken crime of regicide. The resolution offered is a personal appeal to God for a charity that will flow in and out of the speaker. Presumably, only individual reckoning can brace humans and English citizens to brace themselves against the “impieties on this our stage.”

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
This emblem poem is unusual in multiple respects. First, like The Ugly Spider [Poem 102], it complicates the analogy between animals and humans that the poem initially suggests. Pulter’s presentation of the cuckoo, viper, wolf, and spider in the first section of the poem leads us to expect her comparison of these matricidal animals to humans; such a comparison–conventional in emblem books–would allow readers to apply the moral embodied by the animals to their own lives. Instead, however, Pulter declares that “Man is worse” than these matricidal animals.
This poem is also unusual in taking matricide as an emblematic theme. Many emblem books urge proper care of one’s parents; George Wither’s A Collection of Emblems (1635) even warns against children “consum[ing]” their parents, as part of a larger warning against wasting one’s resources.
Gloss Note
See Book 1, Emblem XIV in Wither, A Collection of Emblemes, 14. For taking care of one’s parents, see for example Whitney, A Choice of Emblemes (1586), 163.
1
Yet Pulter’s is the only English emblem poem devoted to matricide of which I am aware. This topic likely derives from conventional early modern depictions of the king’s relationship to his subjects as that of a parent to his children. Extensively discussed by political theorists, the comparison was openly propagated by earlier emblem books, as well as Stuart monarchs themselves.
Critical Note
James I repeatedly compared monarchs to parents, writing in The True Lawe of Free Monarchies (1598), “as fathers the good Princes, & magistrates of the people of God acknowledge themselves to their subjects” (sig. 3r). Henry Peacham used James’ Basilikon Doron (1599)–another expression of James’ patriarchal view of kingship–as the direct inspiration for his emblem book manuscripts, as well as the later printed Minerva Britanna (1612); in the latter, he cites a passage from Basilikon Doron for an emblem in which he writes, “We doe adore by nature, Princes good, / And gladly as our Parents, them obey.” Minerva Britanna, 144. For discussion of the king-parent comparison in relation to political theory, see Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha, which was written in manuscript around 1628 but was not published until 1680. See also Deborah Shuger’s discussion of the representation of kings as nursing fathers in “Nursing Fathers: Patriarchy as a Cultural Ideal,” in Deborah Shuger, ed., Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 218-249.
2
Thus the rebellion against and execution of Charles I during the civil wars–decried throughout Pulter’s manuscript–would be a sort of patricide, the destruction of England’s father by his rebellious subjects. The topic may also attest to George Herbert’s influence. Matricide is one of many spectres Herbert raises in “The Church-Porch,”which warns the reader against a series of vices and their consequences. Warning against drunkenness, Herbert writes, “He that is drunken may his mother kill, / Big with his sister” (31-2).
The suggestion of Herbert’s influence on Pulter’s choice of topic is consistent with the influence of devotional lyric on Pulter’s emblems more broadly.
Critical Note
See discussion of Pulter’s incorporation of devotional lyric into her emblems in Dunn [Zhang], “Breaking a Tradition: Hester Pulter and the English Emblem Book,” The Seventeenth Century 30 (2015): 55-73.
3
Pulter’s devotional address in the poem’s final lines introduces a confessionalism unusual within emblem books. So “horrid” are the “impieties” of her own age in a time of civil war that Pulter turns away from her readers and ends her poem addressing God himself on her own behalf. Such a move is highly unconventional in emblem books like Pulter’s, which follow the tradition of Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum Liber (1531) and exhort the reader to virtue with images drawn from nature, history, and cultural commonplaces. While Wither occasionally ends a poem with a prayer, the majority of Pulter’s emblems (twenty-nine) end focusing on the speaker’s own spiritual state. Such a move shirks emblem books’ traditional focus on the reader’s morality, and draws attention to the speaker’s internal piety, much as the conclusion of Herbert’s “Miserie” internalizes the moral drawn from an external emblem. As in Herbert’s poem, such internalization creates an ambiguity as to the guilty party: Is the speaker herself guilty of the sins she describes, or is she voluntarily taking on others’ sin? Unconventional as this confessional turn is in emblem poetry, it does offer a potential solution to the national crisis depicted earlier in Pulter’s poem: perhaps, the poem suggests, “Love and Gratefulness … may flow” to the nation at large as a consequence of the speaker’s own devotion, thereby creating a residual morality in England that will counter its matricidal sins against the monarchy.


— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
1
29
Physical Note
poem begins on the same page as previous poem ends about halfway down
The
Cuckoes conſtitution’s cold Shee knows
Gloss Note
Her character or temperament, largely determined by the balance or mixture of qualities in what was called humoral or Galenic physiology, is not disposed to animation or nurturing. Humoral theory saw bodies as intermixing fluids identified by their characteristics of being hot, dry, wet, cold.
The cuckoo’s constitution’s cold
, she knows,
The Cuckoo’s constitution’s
Critical Note
The cuckoo’s “cold[ness]” may refer to the theory of the four bodily humors, an imbalance of which was believed to cause illness; excessive coldness was associated with being melancholic (cold and dry) or phlegmatic (cold and wet). Galen considered coldness and wetness particularly feminine qualities, associated with weakness, narrow chests, and cowardice, as opposed to hot and dry masculine qualities (Susan B. Mattern, Galen and the Rhetoric of Healing [Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008], 103). Given Pulter’s comparison of the cuckoo to Nero a few lines later, though, “cold” may not connote a gendered reading of the humors; it more likely refers to the cuckoo’s hard-heartedness towards its victims.
cold
She knows
2
Therefore unto a Sparrows Nest Shee goes
Therefore unto a sparrow’s nest she goes,
Therefore unto a Sparrow’s Nest She goes
3
Sucks up three Egs and in their Room lays one
Critical Note
Now known as a “brood parasite,” the cuckoo was known to lay her egg in another bird’s nest; the cuckoo baby, as this poem goes on to describe, then devours its new family. See Pliny, History of the World, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1634), 275.
Sucks up three eggs and in their room lays one,
Sucks up three Eggs and
Critical Note
This image derives from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, which describes the cuckoo’s practice of laying eggs in other birds’ nests; the cuckoo chick subsequently eats the other bird’s young and its adopted mother (X.IX).
in their Room lays one
4
Which the indulgent Bird Keeps as her own
Which
Gloss Note
the compliant sparrow
the indulgent bird
keeps as her own;
Which the
Critical Note
Emblem books frequently reproach children’s overindulgence by parents, e.g., Emblem 46 of Thomas Palmer’s Two Hundred Poosees (c. 1565), p. 155 of Geoffrey Whitney’s A Choice of Emblemes (1586), and Emblem XIV in Book 1 of George Wither’s A Collection of Emblemes (1635). Pulter’s poem, though, chooses not to critique the sparrow’s “indulgen[ce],”a quality she encourages parents to have in Emblems 5, 10, and 41. Instead, she censures the actions of the children.
indulgent
Bird Keeps as her own
5
And when the gapeing Cuckoe was groan great
And when the
Gloss Note
open-mouthed baby cuckoo
gaping cuckoo
was grown great,
And when the gaping Cuckoo was groan great
6
I have Seen the Sparrow trembling bring her meat
I have seen the sparrow, trembling, bring her meat;
I have Seen the Sparrow trembling bring her meat
7
But yet Shee nouriſhed him Still to her power
But yet she nourished him still to her power
But yet She nourished him Still to her power
8
Till hee ungratefully did her devour
’Til he, ungratefully, did her devour.
Till he ungratefully did her devour
9
Soe Vipers Birth makes their own Dams expire
So
Critical Note
It was thought that young snakes eat their way out of their mother’s womb, killing her in the process. See Holland, Natural History, 1.302; Plin. HN 10.82.
viper’s birth
makes their own
Gloss Note
mothers
dams
expire,
So
Critical Note
Pliny notes (in Philemon Holland’s translation) that when a viper delivers one baby, “the rest (impatient of so long delay) eat through their dams sides, and kil her.” Natural History (1634), 302. Unlike Pulter, who uses this image to condemn the viper’s young, Henry Peacham’s Minerva Britanna critiques the actions of the viper mother, analogizing it to the “Beastly lust” bred within which consumes the mind (152).
Vipers’ Birth
makes their own Dames expire
10
And Wolviſh whelps doe never ſee their Sire
And wolvish
Gloss Note
young offspring
whelps
do
Critical Note
proverb alluding to the belief that female wolves would select a mate to impregnate her from a group of males; the other wolves would then seek revenge for not being selected by killing the father. See Nicholas Cox, The Gentleman’s Recreation (London, 1686), pp. 122-23
never see their sire
.
Critical Note
Alice Eardley points to Nicholas Cox’s The Gentlemen’s Recreation (1686) for an explanation of this line. Cox describes rival wolves’ practice of setting upon the male who successfully mates with the female; the revenge, he notes, “verifies the proverb: Never Wolf yet ever saw his Sire” (123). “An Edition of Lady Hester Pulter’s Book of ‘Emblemes’” (Ph.D. diss, University of Warwick, 2008), 2:92-3.
And Wolvish whelps do never see their Sire
11
Even Soe Philangus gives three hundred Birth
Even so
Critical Note
poisonous spiders, whom Edward Topsell describes as matricidal: “Phalangies do lay their eggs in a net or web, (which for the purpose they make very strong and thick) and sit upon them in very great number, and when their brood is increased to some growth, they kill their dam [mother] by their hard embracements, and fling her clean away; … They hatch at one time three hundred” (The Historie of Serpents, 1608, p. 249).
phalangies
gives three hundred birth
Even So
Critical Note
The spider, or “phalangium.” Edward Topsell notes that phalangies’ eggs hatch three hundred at a time, and “do lay their Egges in a net or web, ... and sit upon them in very great number, and when their brood is increased to some growth, they kill their dam by their hard embracements, and fling her clean away.” Historie of Serpents (1658), 770.
Philangus
gives three hundred Birth
12
Who inſtantly Joyn all and Stop her Breath
Who instantly join all and stop her breath.
Who instantly Join all and Stop her Breath
13
But Man is wors caus hee Should better bee
But man is worse ’cause he should better be:
But Man is worse cause he Should better be
14
Look back to former Ages and you’l See,
Look back to former ages and you’ll see
Look back to former Ages and you’ll See,
15
Children their old Sick parents have neglected
Children their old, sick parents have neglected;
Children their old Sick parents have neglected
16
Some Nero Like their Mothers have deſcected
Critical Note
Roman emperor Nero was reported to have killed his mother; “dissected” either refers to injuring her body or handling or viewing parts of her corpse after her death (see Old Aeschylus (Emblem 31) [Poem 96]).
Some Nero-like their mothers have dissected.
Some
Critical Note
For reasons that remain obscure, the Roman emperor Nero (37–68 CE) decided to kill his mother Agrippina five years into his reign, an episode often considered the harbinger of Nero’s subsequent tyranny. As Edward Bolton recounts in Nero Caesar (1624), some versions of Agrippina’s death describe that Nero “saw her body opened to behold the place of his conception” (43). Many accounts, however, describe only Nero’s handling or commenting upon Agrippina’s body (see, for example, Tacitus, Annals XIV.9). Henry Peacham decries Nero’s tyranny in Minerva Britanna, 144, without mentioning matricide. Pulter, though, seems fascinated with the rumor that Nero dissected Agrippina’s body after death; Old Aeschylus (Emblem 31) [Poem 96] similarly describes Nero’s dissection of her body.
Nero-like their Mothers have dissected
but

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17
But why Should wee look back to former Age
But why should we look back to former age
But why Should we look back to former Age
18
When Such impieties on this our Stage
When such impieties on this our stage
When Such
Critical Note
Pulter likely alludes here to the execution of Charles I and other “impieties” committed by Parliament, such as those described in Doves and Pearls (Emblem 36) [Poem 101]. This latter emblem depicts the parliamentarian army’s occupation of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the imprisonment of royalist soldiers in the royal stables at Charing Cross as “profan[ations]” of “a sacred fane [temple].”
impieties
on this our
Critical Note
Civil war writers commonly referred to Charles I as being executed upon a “stage,” given both the physical construction outside the Banqueting House upon which the king was killed, and the king’s reputation as an actor, in court masques as well as before the public. Andrew Marvell’s “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” famously describes Charles I as a “royal actor” upon a “Tragic Scaffold.” If referencing Charles’ execution here, Pulter’s use of dramatic rhetoric is far less ambivalent than Marvell’s; her reference to the impious stage would be an outright condemnation of the regicide. Such theatrical rhetoric carries additional weight given the Protectorate context (c. 1650s) in which this emblem was likely composed: Pulter rhetorically resurrects the stage in defiance of the closure of public theatres by Charles I’s political opponents in 1642.
Stage
19
Have Acted been, all Nations in A maze
Have acted been? All nations in
Gloss Note
amazement, astonishment
amaze
Have Acted been, all Nations in A maze
20
ffor our deſerved, expected, vengence
Physical Note
“G” appears corrected from other letter; “z” also seems a correction
Gaze
For our deserved, expected vengeance gaze.
For our
Critical Note
Unlike the sparrow, who does not deserve to be eaten by her adopted chick, and the other maternal animals that Pulter cites, England “deserve[s]” and “expect[s]” vengeance for the crimes against its monarchical parent, these lines suggest. This makes the nation worse than animals, whose consumption by their offspring is undeserved, and who cannot expect justice. Yet these lines create ambiguity: It is unclear both who has committed the crimes and who is exacting “vengeance.” Is England “deserv[ing]” of vengeance upon itself, or does it “deserv[e]” to enact it? Similarly, does the “our” in line 20 refer to those who have suffered crimes, or those who perpetrated them? By allowing such ambiguity, Pulter suggests that England is both the victim of unspeakable crimes and the perpetrator of them, while encouraging the idea that retribution will come both from within England and from a divine power above it.
deserved, expected, vengeance Gaze
21
When Crimes to Such a Magnitude doe Swell
When
Critical Note
Though the crimes of the present time are unspecified here, other poems articulate Pulter’s denunciation of the civil war and of regicide.
crimes
to such a magnitude do swell,
When Crimes to Such a Magnitude do Swell
22
They are (o Horrid) the fforelorn of Hell
They are (O horrid!) the forlorn of Hell.
They are (o Horrid) the
Critical Note
Pulter here deploys what is now an obsolete use of “forlorn,” denoting the state of being morally depraved or “doomed to destruction” (see OED “forlorn,” adj. 2, 3). I read the “Forlorn of Hell” as referring to Charles’ subjects, the perpetrators of “Crimes,” rather than the “Crimes” themselves.
Forlorn of Hell
23
Then o my
Physical Note
“r” appears corrected from earlier “o”
Gracious
God give mee thy grace
Then, O my gracious God, give me Thy grace
Then o my Gracious God give me thy grace
24
Although my Sins thy Image doe deface
Gloss Note
To “deface” is to mar the features of, disfigure, or blot out; see also Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
Although my sins Thy image do deface.
Although
Critical Note
Genesis 1:26 notes that God made man “in our image” (KJV); this image is defaced by the shedding of blood, Genesis 9:6 implies: “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” The speaker’s acceptance of her own “defac[ing]” sin in this line is at odds with line 26, which implies that the speaker remains clean of “Such Horrid Crimes.” Such ambiguity echoes that of the preceding lines which similarly elide victim and perpetrator.
my Sins thy Image do deface
25
Yet from Such Horrid Crim’s preſerve mee Soe
Yet from such horrid crimes preserve me so
Yet from Such Horrid Crimes preserve me So
26
That Love and Gratefulnes from mee may flow
That love and gratefulness from me may flow.
That Love and Gratefulness
Critical Note
The turn from the first person plural (ll. 18, 20) to singular in these lines signals Pulter’s deviation from emblem convention. Rather than expounding upon the images of the matricidal animals to encourage the reader’s future morality, she turns inward; the speaker turns from the nation’s “Crimes” to her own “Sins,” as if she is taking on all of England’s sins as her own.
from me
may flow
27
And till above thy glorious face I See
And ’til above Thy glorious face I see,
And till above thy glorious face I see
28
Give mee dear God Eternall Charitie
Give me, dear God, eternal
Gloss Note
Christian term for love of one’s fellow human beings
charity
.
Critical Note
This final couplet–evoking the speaker’s personal, future experience of heaven–is more reminiscent of Pulter’s devotional lyrics than other English emblem books. See, for instance, the final lines of The Eclipse [Poem 1], or Of Night and Morning [Poem 5]. Such a devotional turn is extremely unusual in English emblem books, and may represent Pulter’s appeal to divine authority as a solution to what she portrays as unprecedented events.
Give me dear God Eternal Charity
X (Close panel)Notes: Elemental Edition

 Editorial note

The aim of the elemental edition is to make the poems accessible to the largest variety of readers, which involves modernizing spelling and punctuation as well as adding basic glosses. Spelling and punctuation reflect current standard American usage; punctuation highlights syntax which might otherwise be obscure. Outmoded but still familiar word forms (“thou,” “‘tis,” “hold’st”) are not modernized, and we do not modernize grammar when the sense remains legible. After a brief headnote aimed at offering a “way in” to the poem’s unique qualities and connections with other verse by Pulter or her contemporaries, the edition features a minimum of notes and interpretative framing to allow more immediate engagement with the poem. Glosses clarify synonyms or showcase various possible meanings in Pulter’s time. Other notes identify named people and places or clarify obscure material. We rely (without citation) primarily on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the Oxford Reference database, and the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. When we rely on Alice Eardley’s edition of Pulter’s work, we cite her text generally (“Eardley”); other sources are cited in full. The result is an edition we consider a springboard for further work on Pulter’s poetry. See full conventions for this edition here.

 Headnote

When humans condemn the horrific violence that animal offspring commit against their parents, or when they they read of histories in which parents have been disrespected or killed, they should not feel superior. In this emblem, Pulter first vividly details how baby snakes, birds, and wolves devour and murder their parents, only to proclaim boldly: “But man is worse.” The backdrop of the natural world foregrounds, for the speaker of this poem, a national crisis that has escalated from general filial ingratitude to the unspoken crime of regicide. The resolution offered is a personal appeal to God for a charity that will flow in and out of the speaker. Presumably, only individual reckoning can brace humans and English citizens to brace themselves against the “impieties on this our stage.”
Line number 1

 Gloss note

Her character or temperament, largely determined by the balance or mixture of qualities in what was called humoral or Galenic physiology, is not disposed to animation or nurturing. Humoral theory saw bodies as intermixing fluids identified by their characteristics of being hot, dry, wet, cold.
Line number 3

 Critical note

Now known as a “brood parasite,” the cuckoo was known to lay her egg in another bird’s nest; the cuckoo baby, as this poem goes on to describe, then devours its new family. See Pliny, History of the World, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1634), 275.
Line number 4

 Gloss note

the compliant sparrow
Line number 5

 Gloss note

open-mouthed baby cuckoo
Line number 9

 Critical note

It was thought that young snakes eat their way out of their mother’s womb, killing her in the process. See Holland, Natural History, 1.302; Plin. HN 10.82.
Line number 9

 Gloss note

mothers
Line number 10

 Gloss note

young offspring
Line number 10

 Critical note

proverb alluding to the belief that female wolves would select a mate to impregnate her from a group of males; the other wolves would then seek revenge for not being selected by killing the father. See Nicholas Cox, The Gentleman’s Recreation (London, 1686), pp. 122-23
Line number 11

 Critical note

poisonous spiders, whom Edward Topsell describes as matricidal: “Phalangies do lay their eggs in a net or web, (which for the purpose they make very strong and thick) and sit upon them in very great number, and when their brood is increased to some growth, they kill their dam [mother] by their hard embracements, and fling her clean away; … They hatch at one time three hundred” (The Historie of Serpents, 1608, p. 249).
Line number 16

 Critical note

Roman emperor Nero was reported to have killed his mother; “dissected” either refers to injuring her body or handling or viewing parts of her corpse after her death (see Old Aeschylus (Emblem 31) [Poem 96]).
Line number 19

 Gloss note

amazement, astonishment
Line number 21

 Critical note

Though the crimes of the present time are unspecified here, other poems articulate Pulter’s denunciation of the civil war and of regicide.
Line number 24

 Gloss note

To “deface” is to mar the features of, disfigure, or blot out; see also Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
Line number 28

 Gloss note

Christian term for love of one’s fellow human beings
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X (Close panel)Elemental Edition
Elemental Edition

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[Emblem 29]
The Cuckoo
(Emblem 29)
Emblem 29
In these transcriptions we preserve as many details of the original material, textual, and graphic properties of Hester Pulter’s manuscript verse as we have found practical. Whenever possible, for instance, original spelling, punctuation, capitalization, lineation, insertions, deletions, alterations, spacing between words and lines, and indentation are all maintained; abbreviations and brevigraphs are not expanded; and superscript and subscript representations are retained. See full conventions for the transcriptions here.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
The aim of the elemental edition is to make the poems accessible to the largest variety of readers, which involves modernizing spelling and punctuation as well as adding basic glosses. Spelling and punctuation reflect current standard American usage; punctuation highlights syntax which might otherwise be obscure. Outmoded but still familiar word forms (“thou,” “‘tis,” “hold’st”) are not modernized, and we do not modernize grammar when the sense remains legible. After a brief headnote aimed at offering a “way in” to the poem’s unique qualities and connections with other verse by Pulter or her contemporaries, the edition features a minimum of notes and interpretative framing to allow more immediate engagement with the poem. Glosses clarify synonyms or showcase various possible meanings in Pulter’s time. Other notes identify named people and places or clarify obscure material. We rely (without citation) primarily on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the Oxford Reference database, and the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. When we rely on Alice Eardley’s edition of Pulter’s work, we cite her text generally (“Eardley”); other sources are cited in full. The result is an edition we consider a springboard for further work on Pulter’s poetry. See full conventions for this edition here.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
Though the syntax, diction, capitalization, and spelling of Pulter’s poems may not conform to modern standards, it is analytically productive for the modern reader to consider these elements as they appear in the manuscript; they may, for instance, create links between different parts of the text, emphasize particular words, or create syntactical slippage that encourages multiple interpretations. In order to retain Pulter’s unique poetic voice, as well as maintain the possibility of multiple interpretations created by her text, I take a conservative editorial approach. I have chosen not to modernize grammar, capitalization, or punctuation, and adhere to the original spelling in cases where doing so retains a particular tone or analytical complexity that would be lost in modernization (e.g., “groan” in line 5, which conveys a physical utterance that would be lost if modernized to “grown”).

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
When humans condemn the horrific violence that animal offspring commit against their parents, or when they they read of histories in which parents have been disrespected or killed, they should not feel superior. In this emblem, Pulter first vividly details how baby snakes, birds, and wolves devour and murder their parents, only to proclaim boldly: “But man is worse.” The backdrop of the natural world foregrounds, for the speaker of this poem, a national crisis that has escalated from general filial ingratitude to the unspoken crime of regicide. The resolution offered is a personal appeal to God for a charity that will flow in and out of the speaker. Presumably, only individual reckoning can brace humans and English citizens to brace themselves against the “impieties on this our stage.”

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
This emblem poem is unusual in multiple respects. First, like The Ugly Spider [Poem 102], it complicates the analogy between animals and humans that the poem initially suggests. Pulter’s presentation of the cuckoo, viper, wolf, and spider in the first section of the poem leads us to expect her comparison of these matricidal animals to humans; such a comparison–conventional in emblem books–would allow readers to apply the moral embodied by the animals to their own lives. Instead, however, Pulter declares that “Man is worse” than these matricidal animals.
This poem is also unusual in taking matricide as an emblematic theme. Many emblem books urge proper care of one’s parents; George Wither’s A Collection of Emblems (1635) even warns against children “consum[ing]” their parents, as part of a larger warning against wasting one’s resources.
Gloss Note
See Book 1, Emblem XIV in Wither, A Collection of Emblemes, 14. For taking care of one’s parents, see for example Whitney, A Choice of Emblemes (1586), 163.
1
Yet Pulter’s is the only English emblem poem devoted to matricide of which I am aware. This topic likely derives from conventional early modern depictions of the king’s relationship to his subjects as that of a parent to his children. Extensively discussed by political theorists, the comparison was openly propagated by earlier emblem books, as well as Stuart monarchs themselves.
Critical Note
James I repeatedly compared monarchs to parents, writing in The True Lawe of Free Monarchies (1598), “as fathers the good Princes, & magistrates of the people of God acknowledge themselves to their subjects” (sig. 3r). Henry Peacham used James’ Basilikon Doron (1599)–another expression of James’ patriarchal view of kingship–as the direct inspiration for his emblem book manuscripts, as well as the later printed Minerva Britanna (1612); in the latter, he cites a passage from Basilikon Doron for an emblem in which he writes, “We doe adore by nature, Princes good, / And gladly as our Parents, them obey.” Minerva Britanna, 144. For discussion of the king-parent comparison in relation to political theory, see Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha, which was written in manuscript around 1628 but was not published until 1680. See also Deborah Shuger’s discussion of the representation of kings as nursing fathers in “Nursing Fathers: Patriarchy as a Cultural Ideal,” in Deborah Shuger, ed., Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 218-249.
2
Thus the rebellion against and execution of Charles I during the civil wars–decried throughout Pulter’s manuscript–would be a sort of patricide, the destruction of England’s father by his rebellious subjects. The topic may also attest to George Herbert’s influence. Matricide is one of many spectres Herbert raises in “The Church-Porch,”which warns the reader against a series of vices and their consequences. Warning against drunkenness, Herbert writes, “He that is drunken may his mother kill, / Big with his sister” (31-2).
The suggestion of Herbert’s influence on Pulter’s choice of topic is consistent with the influence of devotional lyric on Pulter’s emblems more broadly.
Critical Note
See discussion of Pulter’s incorporation of devotional lyric into her emblems in Dunn [Zhang], “Breaking a Tradition: Hester Pulter and the English Emblem Book,” The Seventeenth Century 30 (2015): 55-73.
3
Pulter’s devotional address in the poem’s final lines introduces a confessionalism unusual within emblem books. So “horrid” are the “impieties” of her own age in a time of civil war that Pulter turns away from her readers and ends her poem addressing God himself on her own behalf. Such a move is highly unconventional in emblem books like Pulter’s, which follow the tradition of Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum Liber (1531) and exhort the reader to virtue with images drawn from nature, history, and cultural commonplaces. While Wither occasionally ends a poem with a prayer, the majority of Pulter’s emblems (twenty-nine) end focusing on the speaker’s own spiritual state. Such a move shirks emblem books’ traditional focus on the reader’s morality, and draws attention to the speaker’s internal piety, much as the conclusion of Herbert’s “Miserie” internalizes the moral drawn from an external emblem. As in Herbert’s poem, such internalization creates an ambiguity as to the guilty party: Is the speaker herself guilty of the sins she describes, or is she voluntarily taking on others’ sin? Unconventional as this confessional turn is in emblem poetry, it does offer a potential solution to the national crisis depicted earlier in Pulter’s poem: perhaps, the poem suggests, “Love and Gratefulness … may flow” to the nation at large as a consequence of the speaker’s own devotion, thereby creating a residual morality in England that will counter its matricidal sins against the monarchy.


— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
1
29
Physical Note
poem begins on the same page as previous poem ends about halfway down
The
Cuckoes conſtitution’s cold Shee knows
Gloss Note
Her character or temperament, largely determined by the balance or mixture of qualities in what was called humoral or Galenic physiology, is not disposed to animation or nurturing. Humoral theory saw bodies as intermixing fluids identified by their characteristics of being hot, dry, wet, cold.
The cuckoo’s constitution’s cold
, she knows,
The Cuckoo’s constitution’s
Critical Note
The cuckoo’s “cold[ness]” may refer to the theory of the four bodily humors, an imbalance of which was believed to cause illness; excessive coldness was associated with being melancholic (cold and dry) or phlegmatic (cold and wet). Galen considered coldness and wetness particularly feminine qualities, associated with weakness, narrow chests, and cowardice, as opposed to hot and dry masculine qualities (Susan B. Mattern, Galen and the Rhetoric of Healing [Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008], 103). Given Pulter’s comparison of the cuckoo to Nero a few lines later, though, “cold” may not connote a gendered reading of the humors; it more likely refers to the cuckoo’s hard-heartedness towards its victims.
cold
She knows
2
Therefore unto a Sparrows Nest Shee goes
Therefore unto a sparrow’s nest she goes,
Therefore unto a Sparrow’s Nest She goes
3
Sucks up three Egs and in their Room lays one
Critical Note
Now known as a “brood parasite,” the cuckoo was known to lay her egg in another bird’s nest; the cuckoo baby, as this poem goes on to describe, then devours its new family. See Pliny, History of the World, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1634), 275.
Sucks up three eggs and in their room lays one,
Sucks up three Eggs and
Critical Note
This image derives from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, which describes the cuckoo’s practice of laying eggs in other birds’ nests; the cuckoo chick subsequently eats the other bird’s young and its adopted mother (X.IX).
in their Room lays one
4
Which the indulgent Bird Keeps as her own
Which
Gloss Note
the compliant sparrow
the indulgent bird
keeps as her own;
Which the
Critical Note
Emblem books frequently reproach children’s overindulgence by parents, e.g., Emblem 46 of Thomas Palmer’s Two Hundred Poosees (c. 1565), p. 155 of Geoffrey Whitney’s A Choice of Emblemes (1586), and Emblem XIV in Book 1 of George Wither’s A Collection of Emblemes (1635). Pulter’s poem, though, chooses not to critique the sparrow’s “indulgen[ce],”a quality she encourages parents to have in Emblems 5, 10, and 41. Instead, she censures the actions of the children.
indulgent
Bird Keeps as her own
5
And when the gapeing Cuckoe was groan great
And when the
Gloss Note
open-mouthed baby cuckoo
gaping cuckoo
was grown great,
And when the gaping Cuckoo was groan great
6
I have Seen the Sparrow trembling bring her meat
I have seen the sparrow, trembling, bring her meat;
I have Seen the Sparrow trembling bring her meat
7
But yet Shee nouriſhed him Still to her power
But yet she nourished him still to her power
But yet She nourished him Still to her power
8
Till hee ungratefully did her devour
’Til he, ungratefully, did her devour.
Till he ungratefully did her devour
9
Soe Vipers Birth makes their own Dams expire
So
Critical Note
It was thought that young snakes eat their way out of their mother’s womb, killing her in the process. See Holland, Natural History, 1.302; Plin. HN 10.82.
viper’s birth
makes their own
Gloss Note
mothers
dams
expire,
So
Critical Note
Pliny notes (in Philemon Holland’s translation) that when a viper delivers one baby, “the rest (impatient of so long delay) eat through their dams sides, and kil her.” Natural History (1634), 302. Unlike Pulter, who uses this image to condemn the viper’s young, Henry Peacham’s Minerva Britanna critiques the actions of the viper mother, analogizing it to the “Beastly lust” bred within which consumes the mind (152).
Vipers’ Birth
makes their own Dames expire
10
And Wolviſh whelps doe never ſee their Sire
And wolvish
Gloss Note
young offspring
whelps
do
Critical Note
proverb alluding to the belief that female wolves would select a mate to impregnate her from a group of males; the other wolves would then seek revenge for not being selected by killing the father. See Nicholas Cox, The Gentleman’s Recreation (London, 1686), pp. 122-23
never see their sire
.
Critical Note
Alice Eardley points to Nicholas Cox’s The Gentlemen’s Recreation (1686) for an explanation of this line. Cox describes rival wolves’ practice of setting upon the male who successfully mates with the female; the revenge, he notes, “verifies the proverb: Never Wolf yet ever saw his Sire” (123). “An Edition of Lady Hester Pulter’s Book of ‘Emblemes’” (Ph.D. diss, University of Warwick, 2008), 2:92-3.
And Wolvish whelps do never see their Sire
11
Even Soe Philangus gives three hundred Birth
Even so
Critical Note
poisonous spiders, whom Edward Topsell describes as matricidal: “Phalangies do lay their eggs in a net or web, (which for the purpose they make very strong and thick) and sit upon them in very great number, and when their brood is increased to some growth, they kill their dam [mother] by their hard embracements, and fling her clean away; … They hatch at one time three hundred” (The Historie of Serpents, 1608, p. 249).
phalangies
gives three hundred birth
Even So
Critical Note
The spider, or “phalangium.” Edward Topsell notes that phalangies’ eggs hatch three hundred at a time, and “do lay their Egges in a net or web, ... and sit upon them in very great number, and when their brood is increased to some growth, they kill their dam by their hard embracements, and fling her clean away.” Historie of Serpents (1658), 770.
Philangus
gives three hundred Birth
12
Who inſtantly Joyn all and Stop her Breath
Who instantly join all and stop her breath.
Who instantly Join all and Stop her Breath
13
But Man is wors caus hee Should better bee
But man is worse ’cause he should better be:
But Man is worse cause he Should better be
14
Look back to former Ages and you’l See,
Look back to former ages and you’ll see
Look back to former Ages and you’ll See,
15
Children their old Sick parents have neglected
Children their old, sick parents have neglected;
Children their old Sick parents have neglected
16
Some Nero Like their Mothers have deſcected
Critical Note
Roman emperor Nero was reported to have killed his mother; “dissected” either refers to injuring her body or handling or viewing parts of her corpse after her death (see Old Aeschylus (Emblem 31) [Poem 96]).
Some Nero-like their mothers have dissected.
Some
Critical Note
For reasons that remain obscure, the Roman emperor Nero (37–68 CE) decided to kill his mother Agrippina five years into his reign, an episode often considered the harbinger of Nero’s subsequent tyranny. As Edward Bolton recounts in Nero Caesar (1624), some versions of Agrippina’s death describe that Nero “saw her body opened to behold the place of his conception” (43). Many accounts, however, describe only Nero’s handling or commenting upon Agrippina’s body (see, for example, Tacitus, Annals XIV.9). Henry Peacham decries Nero’s tyranny in Minerva Britanna, 144, without mentioning matricide. Pulter, though, seems fascinated with the rumor that Nero dissected Agrippina’s body after death; Old Aeschylus (Emblem 31) [Poem 96] similarly describes Nero’s dissection of her body.
Nero-like their Mothers have dissected
but

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17
But why Should wee look back to former Age
But why should we look back to former age
But why Should we look back to former Age
18
When Such impieties on this our Stage
When such impieties on this our stage
When Such
Critical Note
Pulter likely alludes here to the execution of Charles I and other “impieties” committed by Parliament, such as those described in Doves and Pearls (Emblem 36) [Poem 101]. This latter emblem depicts the parliamentarian army’s occupation of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the imprisonment of royalist soldiers in the royal stables at Charing Cross as “profan[ations]” of “a sacred fane [temple].”
impieties
on this our
Critical Note
Civil war writers commonly referred to Charles I as being executed upon a “stage,” given both the physical construction outside the Banqueting House upon which the king was killed, and the king’s reputation as an actor, in court masques as well as before the public. Andrew Marvell’s “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” famously describes Charles I as a “royal actor” upon a “Tragic Scaffold.” If referencing Charles’ execution here, Pulter’s use of dramatic rhetoric is far less ambivalent than Marvell’s; her reference to the impious stage would be an outright condemnation of the regicide. Such theatrical rhetoric carries additional weight given the Protectorate context (c. 1650s) in which this emblem was likely composed: Pulter rhetorically resurrects the stage in defiance of the closure of public theatres by Charles I’s political opponents in 1642.
Stage
19
Have Acted been, all Nations in A maze
Have acted been? All nations in
Gloss Note
amazement, astonishment
amaze
Have Acted been, all Nations in A maze
20
ffor our deſerved, expected, vengence
Physical Note
“G” appears corrected from other letter; “z” also seems a correction
Gaze
For our deserved, expected vengeance gaze.
For our
Critical Note
Unlike the sparrow, who does not deserve to be eaten by her adopted chick, and the other maternal animals that Pulter cites, England “deserve[s]” and “expect[s]” vengeance for the crimes against its monarchical parent, these lines suggest. This makes the nation worse than animals, whose consumption by their offspring is undeserved, and who cannot expect justice. Yet these lines create ambiguity: It is unclear both who has committed the crimes and who is exacting “vengeance.” Is England “deserv[ing]” of vengeance upon itself, or does it “deserv[e]” to enact it? Similarly, does the “our” in line 20 refer to those who have suffered crimes, or those who perpetrated them? By allowing such ambiguity, Pulter suggests that England is both the victim of unspeakable crimes and the perpetrator of them, while encouraging the idea that retribution will come both from within England and from a divine power above it.
deserved, expected, vengeance Gaze
21
When Crimes to Such a Magnitude doe Swell
When
Critical Note
Though the crimes of the present time are unspecified here, other poems articulate Pulter’s denunciation of the civil war and of regicide.
crimes
to such a magnitude do swell,
When Crimes to Such a Magnitude do Swell
22
They are (o Horrid) the fforelorn of Hell
They are (O horrid!) the forlorn of Hell.
They are (o Horrid) the
Critical Note
Pulter here deploys what is now an obsolete use of “forlorn,” denoting the state of being morally depraved or “doomed to destruction” (see OED “forlorn,” adj. 2, 3). I read the “Forlorn of Hell” as referring to Charles’ subjects, the perpetrators of “Crimes,” rather than the “Crimes” themselves.
Forlorn of Hell
23
Then o my
Physical Note
“r” appears corrected from earlier “o”
Gracious
God give mee thy grace
Then, O my gracious God, give me Thy grace
Then o my Gracious God give me thy grace
24
Although my Sins thy Image doe deface
Gloss Note
To “deface” is to mar the features of, disfigure, or blot out; see also Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
Although my sins Thy image do deface.
Although
Critical Note
Genesis 1:26 notes that God made man “in our image” (KJV); this image is defaced by the shedding of blood, Genesis 9:6 implies: “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” The speaker’s acceptance of her own “defac[ing]” sin in this line is at odds with line 26, which implies that the speaker remains clean of “Such Horrid Crimes.” Such ambiguity echoes that of the preceding lines which similarly elide victim and perpetrator.
my Sins thy Image do deface
25
Yet from Such Horrid Crim’s preſerve mee Soe
Yet from such horrid crimes preserve me so
Yet from Such Horrid Crimes preserve me So
26
That Love and Gratefulnes from mee may flow
That love and gratefulness from me may flow.
That Love and Gratefulness
Critical Note
The turn from the first person plural (ll. 18, 20) to singular in these lines signals Pulter’s deviation from emblem convention. Rather than expounding upon the images of the matricidal animals to encourage the reader’s future morality, she turns inward; the speaker turns from the nation’s “Crimes” to her own “Sins,” as if she is taking on all of England’s sins as her own.
from me
may flow
27
And till above thy glorious face I See
And ’til above Thy glorious face I see,
And till above thy glorious face I see
28
Give mee dear God Eternall Charitie
Give me, dear God, eternal
Gloss Note
Christian term for love of one’s fellow human beings
charity
.
Critical Note
This final couplet–evoking the speaker’s personal, future experience of heaven–is more reminiscent of Pulter’s devotional lyrics than other English emblem books. See, for instance, the final lines of The Eclipse [Poem 1], or Of Night and Morning [Poem 5]. Such a devotional turn is extremely unusual in English emblem books, and may represent Pulter’s appeal to divine authority as a solution to what she portrays as unprecedented events.
Give me dear God Eternal Charity
X (Close panel)Notes: Amplified Edition

 Editorial note

Though the syntax, diction, capitalization, and spelling of Pulter’s poems may not conform to modern standards, it is analytically productive for the modern reader to consider these elements as they appear in the manuscript; they may, for instance, create links between different parts of the text, emphasize particular words, or create syntactical slippage that encourages multiple interpretations. In order to retain Pulter’s unique poetic voice, as well as maintain the possibility of multiple interpretations created by her text, I take a conservative editorial approach. I have chosen not to modernize grammar, capitalization, or punctuation, and adhere to the original spelling in cases where doing so retains a particular tone or analytical complexity that would be lost in modernization (e.g., “groan” in line 5, which conveys a physical utterance that would be lost if modernized to “grown”).

 Headnote

This emblem poem is unusual in multiple respects. First, like The Ugly Spider [Poem 102], it complicates the analogy between animals and humans that the poem initially suggests. Pulter’s presentation of the cuckoo, viper, wolf, and spider in the first section of the poem leads us to expect her comparison of these matricidal animals to humans; such a comparison–conventional in emblem books–would allow readers to apply the moral embodied by the animals to their own lives. Instead, however, Pulter declares that “Man is worse” than these matricidal animals.
This poem is also unusual in taking matricide as an emblematic theme. Many emblem books urge proper care of one’s parents; George Wither’s A Collection of Emblems (1635) even warns against children “consum[ing]” their parents, as part of a larger warning against wasting one’s resources.
Gloss Note
See Book 1, Emblem XIV in Wither, A Collection of Emblemes, 14. For taking care of one’s parents, see for example Whitney, A Choice of Emblemes (1586), 163.
1
Yet Pulter’s is the only English emblem poem devoted to matricide of which I am aware. This topic likely derives from conventional early modern depictions of the king’s relationship to his subjects as that of a parent to his children. Extensively discussed by political theorists, the comparison was openly propagated by earlier emblem books, as well as Stuart monarchs themselves.
Critical Note
James I repeatedly compared monarchs to parents, writing in The True Lawe of Free Monarchies (1598), “as fathers the good Princes, & magistrates of the people of God acknowledge themselves to their subjects” (sig. 3r). Henry Peacham used James’ Basilikon Doron (1599)–another expression of James’ patriarchal view of kingship–as the direct inspiration for his emblem book manuscripts, as well as the later printed Minerva Britanna (1612); in the latter, he cites a passage from Basilikon Doron for an emblem in which he writes, “We doe adore by nature, Princes good, / And gladly as our Parents, them obey.” Minerva Britanna, 144. For discussion of the king-parent comparison in relation to political theory, see Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha, which was written in manuscript around 1628 but was not published until 1680. See also Deborah Shuger’s discussion of the representation of kings as nursing fathers in “Nursing Fathers: Patriarchy as a Cultural Ideal,” in Deborah Shuger, ed., Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 218-249.
2
Thus the rebellion against and execution of Charles I during the civil wars–decried throughout Pulter’s manuscript–would be a sort of patricide, the destruction of England’s father by his rebellious subjects. The topic may also attest to George Herbert’s influence. Matricide is one of many spectres Herbert raises in “The Church-Porch,”which warns the reader against a series of vices and their consequences. Warning against drunkenness, Herbert writes, “He that is drunken may his mother kill, / Big with his sister” (31-2).
The suggestion of Herbert’s influence on Pulter’s choice of topic is consistent with the influence of devotional lyric on Pulter’s emblems more broadly.
Critical Note
See discussion of Pulter’s incorporation of devotional lyric into her emblems in Dunn [Zhang], “Breaking a Tradition: Hester Pulter and the English Emblem Book,” The Seventeenth Century 30 (2015): 55-73.
3
Pulter’s devotional address in the poem’s final lines introduces a confessionalism unusual within emblem books. So “horrid” are the “impieties” of her own age in a time of civil war that Pulter turns away from her readers and ends her poem addressing God himself on her own behalf. Such a move is highly unconventional in emblem books like Pulter’s, which follow the tradition of Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum Liber (1531) and exhort the reader to virtue with images drawn from nature, history, and cultural commonplaces. While Wither occasionally ends a poem with a prayer, the majority of Pulter’s emblems (twenty-nine) end focusing on the speaker’s own spiritual state. Such a move shirks emblem books’ traditional focus on the reader’s morality, and draws attention to the speaker’s internal piety, much as the conclusion of Herbert’s “Miserie” internalizes the moral drawn from an external emblem. As in Herbert’s poem, such internalization creates an ambiguity as to the guilty party: Is the speaker herself guilty of the sins she describes, or is she voluntarily taking on others’ sin? Unconventional as this confessional turn is in emblem poetry, it does offer a potential solution to the national crisis depicted earlier in Pulter’s poem: perhaps, the poem suggests, “Love and Gratefulness … may flow” to the nation at large as a consequence of the speaker’s own devotion, thereby creating a residual morality in England that will counter its matricidal sins against the monarchy.
Line number 1

 Critical note

The cuckoo’s “cold[ness]” may refer to the theory of the four bodily humors, an imbalance of which was believed to cause illness; excessive coldness was associated with being melancholic (cold and dry) or phlegmatic (cold and wet). Galen considered coldness and wetness particularly feminine qualities, associated with weakness, narrow chests, and cowardice, as opposed to hot and dry masculine qualities (Susan B. Mattern, Galen and the Rhetoric of Healing [Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008], 103). Given Pulter’s comparison of the cuckoo to Nero a few lines later, though, “cold” may not connote a gendered reading of the humors; it more likely refers to the cuckoo’s hard-heartedness towards its victims.
Line number 3

 Critical note

This image derives from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, which describes the cuckoo’s practice of laying eggs in other birds’ nests; the cuckoo chick subsequently eats the other bird’s young and its adopted mother (X.IX).
Line number 4

 Critical note

Emblem books frequently reproach children’s overindulgence by parents, e.g., Emblem 46 of Thomas Palmer’s Two Hundred Poosees (c. 1565), p. 155 of Geoffrey Whitney’s A Choice of Emblemes (1586), and Emblem XIV in Book 1 of George Wither’s A Collection of Emblemes (1635). Pulter’s poem, though, chooses not to critique the sparrow’s “indulgen[ce],”a quality she encourages parents to have in Emblems 5, 10, and 41. Instead, she censures the actions of the children.
Line number 9

 Critical note

Pliny notes (in Philemon Holland’s translation) that when a viper delivers one baby, “the rest (impatient of so long delay) eat through their dams sides, and kil her.” Natural History (1634), 302. Unlike Pulter, who uses this image to condemn the viper’s young, Henry Peacham’s Minerva Britanna critiques the actions of the viper mother, analogizing it to the “Beastly lust” bred within which consumes the mind (152).
Line number 10

 Critical note

Alice Eardley points to Nicholas Cox’s The Gentlemen’s Recreation (1686) for an explanation of this line. Cox describes rival wolves’ practice of setting upon the male who successfully mates with the female; the revenge, he notes, “verifies the proverb: Never Wolf yet ever saw his Sire” (123). “An Edition of Lady Hester Pulter’s Book of ‘Emblemes’” (Ph.D. diss, University of Warwick, 2008), 2:92-3.
Line number 11

 Critical note

The spider, or “phalangium.” Edward Topsell notes that phalangies’ eggs hatch three hundred at a time, and “do lay their Egges in a net or web, ... and sit upon them in very great number, and when their brood is increased to some growth, they kill their dam by their hard embracements, and fling her clean away.” Historie of Serpents (1658), 770.
Line number 16

 Critical note

For reasons that remain obscure, the Roman emperor Nero (37–68 CE) decided to kill his mother Agrippina five years into his reign, an episode often considered the harbinger of Nero’s subsequent tyranny. As Edward Bolton recounts in Nero Caesar (1624), some versions of Agrippina’s death describe that Nero “saw her body opened to behold the place of his conception” (43). Many accounts, however, describe only Nero’s handling or commenting upon Agrippina’s body (see, for example, Tacitus, Annals XIV.9). Henry Peacham decries Nero’s tyranny in Minerva Britanna, 144, without mentioning matricide. Pulter, though, seems fascinated with the rumor that Nero dissected Agrippina’s body after death; Old Aeschylus (Emblem 31) [Poem 96] similarly describes Nero’s dissection of her body.
Line number 18

 Critical note

Pulter likely alludes here to the execution of Charles I and other “impieties” committed by Parliament, such as those described in Doves and Pearls (Emblem 36) [Poem 101]. This latter emblem depicts the parliamentarian army’s occupation of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the imprisonment of royalist soldiers in the royal stables at Charing Cross as “profan[ations]” of “a sacred fane [temple].”
Line number 18

 Critical note

Civil war writers commonly referred to Charles I as being executed upon a “stage,” given both the physical construction outside the Banqueting House upon which the king was killed, and the king’s reputation as an actor, in court masques as well as before the public. Andrew Marvell’s “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” famously describes Charles I as a “royal actor” upon a “Tragic Scaffold.” If referencing Charles’ execution here, Pulter’s use of dramatic rhetoric is far less ambivalent than Marvell’s; her reference to the impious stage would be an outright condemnation of the regicide. Such theatrical rhetoric carries additional weight given the Protectorate context (c. 1650s) in which this emblem was likely composed: Pulter rhetorically resurrects the stage in defiance of the closure of public theatres by Charles I’s political opponents in 1642.
Line number 20

 Critical note

Unlike the sparrow, who does not deserve to be eaten by her adopted chick, and the other maternal animals that Pulter cites, England “deserve[s]” and “expect[s]” vengeance for the crimes against its monarchical parent, these lines suggest. This makes the nation worse than animals, whose consumption by their offspring is undeserved, and who cannot expect justice. Yet these lines create ambiguity: It is unclear both who has committed the crimes and who is exacting “vengeance.” Is England “deserv[ing]” of vengeance upon itself, or does it “deserv[e]” to enact it? Similarly, does the “our” in line 20 refer to those who have suffered crimes, or those who perpetrated them? By allowing such ambiguity, Pulter suggests that England is both the victim of unspeakable crimes and the perpetrator of them, while encouraging the idea that retribution will come both from within England and from a divine power above it.
Line number 22

 Critical note

Pulter here deploys what is now an obsolete use of “forlorn,” denoting the state of being morally depraved or “doomed to destruction” (see OED “forlorn,” adj. 2, 3). I read the “Forlorn of Hell” as referring to Charles’ subjects, the perpetrators of “Crimes,” rather than the “Crimes” themselves.
Line number 24

 Critical note

Genesis 1:26 notes that God made man “in our image” (KJV); this image is defaced by the shedding of blood, Genesis 9:6 implies: “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” The speaker’s acceptance of her own “defac[ing]” sin in this line is at odds with line 26, which implies that the speaker remains clean of “Such Horrid Crimes.” Such ambiguity echoes that of the preceding lines which similarly elide victim and perpetrator.
Line number 26

 Critical note

The turn from the first person plural (ll. 18, 20) to singular in these lines signals Pulter’s deviation from emblem convention. Rather than expounding upon the images of the matricidal animals to encourage the reader’s future morality, she turns inward; the speaker turns from the nation’s “Crimes” to her own “Sins,” as if she is taking on all of England’s sins as her own.
Line number 28

 Critical note

This final couplet–evoking the speaker’s personal, future experience of heaven–is more reminiscent of Pulter’s devotional lyrics than other English emblem books. See, for instance, the final lines of The Eclipse [Poem 1], or Of Night and Morning [Poem 5]. Such a devotional turn is extremely unusual in English emblem books, and may represent Pulter’s appeal to divine authority as a solution to what she portrays as unprecedented events.
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[Emblem 29]
The Cuckoo
(Emblem 29)
Emblem 29
In these transcriptions we preserve as many details of the original material, textual, and graphic properties of Hester Pulter’s manuscript verse as we have found practical. Whenever possible, for instance, original spelling, punctuation, capitalization, lineation, insertions, deletions, alterations, spacing between words and lines, and indentation are all maintained; abbreviations and brevigraphs are not expanded; and superscript and subscript representations are retained. See full conventions for the transcriptions here.

— Rachel Zhang
The aim of the elemental edition is to make the poems accessible to the largest variety of readers, which involves modernizing spelling and punctuation as well as adding basic glosses. Spelling and punctuation reflect current standard American usage; punctuation highlights syntax which might otherwise be obscure. Outmoded but still familiar word forms (“thou,” “‘tis,” “hold’st”) are not modernized, and we do not modernize grammar when the sense remains legible. After a brief headnote aimed at offering a “way in” to the poem’s unique qualities and connections with other verse by Pulter or her contemporaries, the edition features a minimum of notes and interpretative framing to allow more immediate engagement with the poem. Glosses clarify synonyms or showcase various possible meanings in Pulter’s time. Other notes identify named people and places or clarify obscure material. We rely (without citation) primarily on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the Oxford Reference database, and the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. When we rely on Alice Eardley’s edition of Pulter’s work, we cite her text generally (“Eardley”); other sources are cited in full. The result is an edition we consider a springboard for further work on Pulter’s poetry. See full conventions for this edition here.

— Rachel Zhang
Though the syntax, diction, capitalization, and spelling of Pulter’s poems may not conform to modern standards, it is analytically productive for the modern reader to consider these elements as they appear in the manuscript; they may, for instance, create links between different parts of the text, emphasize particular words, or create syntactical slippage that encourages multiple interpretations. In order to retain Pulter’s unique poetic voice, as well as maintain the possibility of multiple interpretations created by her text, I take a conservative editorial approach. I have chosen not to modernize grammar, capitalization, or punctuation, and adhere to the original spelling in cases where doing so retains a particular tone or analytical complexity that would be lost in modernization (e.g., “groan” in line 5, which conveys a physical utterance that would be lost if modernized to “grown”).

— Rachel Zhang
When humans condemn the horrific violence that animal offspring commit against their parents, or when they they read of histories in which parents have been disrespected or killed, they should not feel superior. In this emblem, Pulter first vividly details how baby snakes, birds, and wolves devour and murder their parents, only to proclaim boldly: “But man is worse.” The backdrop of the natural world foregrounds, for the speaker of this poem, a national crisis that has escalated from general filial ingratitude to the unspoken crime of regicide. The resolution offered is a personal appeal to God for a charity that will flow in and out of the speaker. Presumably, only individual reckoning can brace humans and English citizens to brace themselves against the “impieties on this our stage.”

— Rachel Zhang
This emblem poem is unusual in multiple respects. First, like The Ugly Spider [Poem 102], it complicates the analogy between animals and humans that the poem initially suggests. Pulter’s presentation of the cuckoo, viper, wolf, and spider in the first section of the poem leads us to expect her comparison of these matricidal animals to humans; such a comparison–conventional in emblem books–would allow readers to apply the moral embodied by the animals to their own lives. Instead, however, Pulter declares that “Man is worse” than these matricidal animals.
This poem is also unusual in taking matricide as an emblematic theme. Many emblem books urge proper care of one’s parents; George Wither’s A Collection of Emblems (1635) even warns against children “consum[ing]” their parents, as part of a larger warning against wasting one’s resources.
Gloss Note
See Book 1, Emblem XIV in Wither, A Collection of Emblemes, 14. For taking care of one’s parents, see for example Whitney, A Choice of Emblemes (1586), 163.
1
Yet Pulter’s is the only English emblem poem devoted to matricide of which I am aware. This topic likely derives from conventional early modern depictions of the king’s relationship to his subjects as that of a parent to his children. Extensively discussed by political theorists, the comparison was openly propagated by earlier emblem books, as well as Stuart monarchs themselves.
Critical Note
James I repeatedly compared monarchs to parents, writing in The True Lawe of Free Monarchies (1598), “as fathers the good Princes, & magistrates of the people of God acknowledge themselves to their subjects” (sig. 3r). Henry Peacham used James’ Basilikon Doron (1599)–another expression of James’ patriarchal view of kingship–as the direct inspiration for his emblem book manuscripts, as well as the later printed Minerva Britanna (1612); in the latter, he cites a passage from Basilikon Doron for an emblem in which he writes, “We doe adore by nature, Princes good, / And gladly as our Parents, them obey.” Minerva Britanna, 144. For discussion of the king-parent comparison in relation to political theory, see Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha, which was written in manuscript around 1628 but was not published until 1680. See also Deborah Shuger’s discussion of the representation of kings as nursing fathers in “Nursing Fathers: Patriarchy as a Cultural Ideal,” in Deborah Shuger, ed., Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 218-249.
2
Thus the rebellion against and execution of Charles I during the civil wars–decried throughout Pulter’s manuscript–would be a sort of patricide, the destruction of England’s father by his rebellious subjects. The topic may also attest to George Herbert’s influence. Matricide is one of many spectres Herbert raises in “The Church-Porch,”which warns the reader against a series of vices and their consequences. Warning against drunkenness, Herbert writes, “He that is drunken may his mother kill, / Big with his sister” (31-2).
The suggestion of Herbert’s influence on Pulter’s choice of topic is consistent with the influence of devotional lyric on Pulter’s emblems more broadly.
Critical Note
See discussion of Pulter’s incorporation of devotional lyric into her emblems in Dunn [Zhang], “Breaking a Tradition: Hester Pulter and the English Emblem Book,” The Seventeenth Century 30 (2015): 55-73.
3
Pulter’s devotional address in the poem’s final lines introduces a confessionalism unusual within emblem books. So “horrid” are the “impieties” of her own age in a time of civil war that Pulter turns away from her readers and ends her poem addressing God himself on her own behalf. Such a move is highly unconventional in emblem books like Pulter’s, which follow the tradition of Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum Liber (1531) and exhort the reader to virtue with images drawn from nature, history, and cultural commonplaces. While Wither occasionally ends a poem with a prayer, the majority of Pulter’s emblems (twenty-nine) end focusing on the speaker’s own spiritual state. Such a move shirks emblem books’ traditional focus on the reader’s morality, and draws attention to the speaker’s internal piety, much as the conclusion of Herbert’s “Miserie” internalizes the moral drawn from an external emblem. As in Herbert’s poem, such internalization creates an ambiguity as to the guilty party: Is the speaker herself guilty of the sins she describes, or is she voluntarily taking on others’ sin? Unconventional as this confessional turn is in emblem poetry, it does offer a potential solution to the national crisis depicted earlier in Pulter’s poem: perhaps, the poem suggests, “Love and Gratefulness … may flow” to the nation at large as a consequence of the speaker’s own devotion, thereby creating a residual morality in England that will counter its matricidal sins against the monarchy.


— Rachel Zhang
1
29
Physical Note
poem begins on the same page as previous poem ends about halfway down
The
Cuckoes conſtitution’s cold Shee knows
Gloss Note
Her character or temperament, largely determined by the balance or mixture of qualities in what was called humoral or Galenic physiology, is not disposed to animation or nurturing. Humoral theory saw bodies as intermixing fluids identified by their characteristics of being hot, dry, wet, cold.
The cuckoo’s constitution’s cold
, she knows,
The Cuckoo’s constitution’s
Critical Note
The cuckoo’s “cold[ness]” may refer to the theory of the four bodily humors, an imbalance of which was believed to cause illness; excessive coldness was associated with being melancholic (cold and dry) or phlegmatic (cold and wet). Galen considered coldness and wetness particularly feminine qualities, associated with weakness, narrow chests, and cowardice, as opposed to hot and dry masculine qualities (Susan B. Mattern, Galen and the Rhetoric of Healing [Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008], 103). Given Pulter’s comparison of the cuckoo to Nero a few lines later, though, “cold” may not connote a gendered reading of the humors; it more likely refers to the cuckoo’s hard-heartedness towards its victims.
cold
She knows
2
Therefore unto a Sparrows Nest Shee goes
Therefore unto a sparrow’s nest she goes,
Therefore unto a Sparrow’s Nest She goes
3
Sucks up three Egs and in their Room lays one
Critical Note
Now known as a “brood parasite,” the cuckoo was known to lay her egg in another bird’s nest; the cuckoo baby, as this poem goes on to describe, then devours its new family. See Pliny, History of the World, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1634), 275.
Sucks up three eggs and in their room lays one,
Sucks up three Eggs and
Critical Note
This image derives from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, which describes the cuckoo’s practice of laying eggs in other birds’ nests; the cuckoo chick subsequently eats the other bird’s young and its adopted mother (X.IX).
in their Room lays one
4
Which the indulgent Bird Keeps as her own
Which
Gloss Note
the compliant sparrow
the indulgent bird
keeps as her own;
Which the
Critical Note
Emblem books frequently reproach children’s overindulgence by parents, e.g., Emblem 46 of Thomas Palmer’s Two Hundred Poosees (c. 1565), p. 155 of Geoffrey Whitney’s A Choice of Emblemes (1586), and Emblem XIV in Book 1 of George Wither’s A Collection of Emblemes (1635). Pulter’s poem, though, chooses not to critique the sparrow’s “indulgen[ce],”a quality she encourages parents to have in Emblems 5, 10, and 41. Instead, she censures the actions of the children.
indulgent
Bird Keeps as her own
5
And when the gapeing Cuckoe was groan great
And when the
Gloss Note
open-mouthed baby cuckoo
gaping cuckoo
was grown great,
And when the gaping Cuckoo was groan great
6
I have Seen the Sparrow trembling bring her meat
I have seen the sparrow, trembling, bring her meat;
I have Seen the Sparrow trembling bring her meat
7
But yet Shee nouriſhed him Still to her power
But yet she nourished him still to her power
But yet She nourished him Still to her power
8
Till hee ungratefully did her devour
’Til he, ungratefully, did her devour.
Till he ungratefully did her devour
9
Soe Vipers Birth makes their own Dams expire
So
Critical Note
It was thought that young snakes eat their way out of their mother’s womb, killing her in the process. See Holland, Natural History, 1.302; Plin. HN 10.82.
viper’s birth
makes their own
Gloss Note
mothers
dams
expire,
So
Critical Note
Pliny notes (in Philemon Holland’s translation) that when a viper delivers one baby, “the rest (impatient of so long delay) eat through their dams sides, and kil her.” Natural History (1634), 302. Unlike Pulter, who uses this image to condemn the viper’s young, Henry Peacham’s Minerva Britanna critiques the actions of the viper mother, analogizing it to the “Beastly lust” bred within which consumes the mind (152).
Vipers’ Birth
makes their own Dames expire
10
And Wolviſh whelps doe never ſee their Sire
And wolvish
Gloss Note
young offspring
whelps
do
Critical Note
proverb alluding to the belief that female wolves would select a mate to impregnate her from a group of males; the other wolves would then seek revenge for not being selected by killing the father. See Nicholas Cox, The Gentleman’s Recreation (London, 1686), pp. 122-23
never see their sire
.
Critical Note
Alice Eardley points to Nicholas Cox’s The Gentlemen’s Recreation (1686) for an explanation of this line. Cox describes rival wolves’ practice of setting upon the male who successfully mates with the female; the revenge, he notes, “verifies the proverb: Never Wolf yet ever saw his Sire” (123). “An Edition of Lady Hester Pulter’s Book of ‘Emblemes’” (Ph.D. diss, University of Warwick, 2008), 2:92-3.
And Wolvish whelps do never see their Sire
11
Even Soe Philangus gives three hundred Birth
Even so
Critical Note
poisonous spiders, whom Edward Topsell describes as matricidal: “Phalangies do lay their eggs in a net or web, (which for the purpose they make very strong and thick) and sit upon them in very great number, and when their brood is increased to some growth, they kill their dam [mother] by their hard embracements, and fling her clean away; … They hatch at one time three hundred” (The Historie of Serpents, 1608, p. 249).
phalangies
gives three hundred birth
Even So
Critical Note
The spider, or “phalangium.” Edward Topsell notes that phalangies’ eggs hatch three hundred at a time, and “do lay their Egges in a net or web, ... and sit upon them in very great number, and when their brood is increased to some growth, they kill their dam by their hard embracements, and fling her clean away.” Historie of Serpents (1658), 770.
Philangus
gives three hundred Birth
12
Who inſtantly Joyn all and Stop her Breath
Who instantly join all and stop her breath.
Who instantly Join all and Stop her Breath
13
But Man is wors caus hee Should better bee
But man is worse ’cause he should better be:
But Man is worse cause he Should better be
14
Look back to former Ages and you’l See,
Look back to former ages and you’ll see
Look back to former Ages and you’ll See,
15
Children their old Sick parents have neglected
Children their old, sick parents have neglected;
Children their old Sick parents have neglected
16
Some Nero Like their Mothers have deſcected
Critical Note
Roman emperor Nero was reported to have killed his mother; “dissected” either refers to injuring her body or handling or viewing parts of her corpse after her death (see Old Aeschylus (Emblem 31) [Poem 96]).
Some Nero-like their mothers have dissected.
Some
Critical Note
For reasons that remain obscure, the Roman emperor Nero (37–68 CE) decided to kill his mother Agrippina five years into his reign, an episode often considered the harbinger of Nero’s subsequent tyranny. As Edward Bolton recounts in Nero Caesar (1624), some versions of Agrippina’s death describe that Nero “saw her body opened to behold the place of his conception” (43). Many accounts, however, describe only Nero’s handling or commenting upon Agrippina’s body (see, for example, Tacitus, Annals XIV.9). Henry Peacham decries Nero’s tyranny in Minerva Britanna, 144, without mentioning matricide. Pulter, though, seems fascinated with the rumor that Nero dissected Agrippina’s body after death; Old Aeschylus (Emblem 31) [Poem 96] similarly describes Nero’s dissection of her body.
Nero-like their Mothers have dissected
but

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17
But why Should wee look back to former Age
But why should we look back to former age
But why Should we look back to former Age
18
When Such impieties on this our Stage
When such impieties on this our stage
When Such
Critical Note
Pulter likely alludes here to the execution of Charles I and other “impieties” committed by Parliament, such as those described in Doves and Pearls (Emblem 36) [Poem 101]. This latter emblem depicts the parliamentarian army’s occupation of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the imprisonment of royalist soldiers in the royal stables at Charing Cross as “profan[ations]” of “a sacred fane [temple].”
impieties
on this our
Critical Note
Civil war writers commonly referred to Charles I as being executed upon a “stage,” given both the physical construction outside the Banqueting House upon which the king was killed, and the king’s reputation as an actor, in court masques as well as before the public. Andrew Marvell’s “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” famously describes Charles I as a “royal actor” upon a “Tragic Scaffold.” If referencing Charles’ execution here, Pulter’s use of dramatic rhetoric is far less ambivalent than Marvell’s; her reference to the impious stage would be an outright condemnation of the regicide. Such theatrical rhetoric carries additional weight given the Protectorate context (c. 1650s) in which this emblem was likely composed: Pulter rhetorically resurrects the stage in defiance of the closure of public theatres by Charles I’s political opponents in 1642.
Stage
19
Have Acted been, all Nations in A maze
Have acted been? All nations in
Gloss Note
amazement, astonishment
amaze
Have Acted been, all Nations in A maze
20
ffor our deſerved, expected, vengence
Physical Note
“G” appears corrected from other letter; “z” also seems a correction
Gaze
For our deserved, expected vengeance gaze.
For our
Critical Note
Unlike the sparrow, who does not deserve to be eaten by her adopted chick, and the other maternal animals that Pulter cites, England “deserve[s]” and “expect[s]” vengeance for the crimes against its monarchical parent, these lines suggest. This makes the nation worse than animals, whose consumption by their offspring is undeserved, and who cannot expect justice. Yet these lines create ambiguity: It is unclear both who has committed the crimes and who is exacting “vengeance.” Is England “deserv[ing]” of vengeance upon itself, or does it “deserv[e]” to enact it? Similarly, does the “our” in line 20 refer to those who have suffered crimes, or those who perpetrated them? By allowing such ambiguity, Pulter suggests that England is both the victim of unspeakable crimes and the perpetrator of them, while encouraging the idea that retribution will come both from within England and from a divine power above it.
deserved, expected, vengeance Gaze
21
When Crimes to Such a Magnitude doe Swell
When
Critical Note
Though the crimes of the present time are unspecified here, other poems articulate Pulter’s denunciation of the civil war and of regicide.
crimes
to such a magnitude do swell,
When Crimes to Such a Magnitude do Swell
22
They are (o Horrid) the fforelorn of Hell
They are (O horrid!) the forlorn of Hell.
They are (o Horrid) the
Critical Note
Pulter here deploys what is now an obsolete use of “forlorn,” denoting the state of being morally depraved or “doomed to destruction” (see OED “forlorn,” adj. 2, 3). I read the “Forlorn of Hell” as referring to Charles’ subjects, the perpetrators of “Crimes,” rather than the “Crimes” themselves.
Forlorn of Hell
23
Then o my
Physical Note
“r” appears corrected from earlier “o”
Gracious
God give mee thy grace
Then, O my gracious God, give me Thy grace
Then o my Gracious God give me thy grace
24
Although my Sins thy Image doe deface
Gloss Note
To “deface” is to mar the features of, disfigure, or blot out; see also Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
Although my sins Thy image do deface.
Although
Critical Note
Genesis 1:26 notes that God made man “in our image” (KJV); this image is defaced by the shedding of blood, Genesis 9:6 implies: “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” The speaker’s acceptance of her own “defac[ing]” sin in this line is at odds with line 26, which implies that the speaker remains clean of “Such Horrid Crimes.” Such ambiguity echoes that of the preceding lines which similarly elide victim and perpetrator.
my Sins thy Image do deface
25
Yet from Such Horrid Crim’s preſerve mee Soe
Yet from such horrid crimes preserve me so
Yet from Such Horrid Crimes preserve me So
26
That Love and Gratefulnes from mee may flow
That love and gratefulness from me may flow.
That Love and Gratefulness
Critical Note
The turn from the first person plural (ll. 18, 20) to singular in these lines signals Pulter’s deviation from emblem convention. Rather than expounding upon the images of the matricidal animals to encourage the reader’s future morality, she turns inward; the speaker turns from the nation’s “Crimes” to her own “Sins,” as if she is taking on all of England’s sins as her own.
from me
may flow
27
And till above thy glorious face I See
And ’til above Thy glorious face I see,
And till above thy glorious face I see
28
Give mee dear God Eternall Charitie
Give me, dear God, eternal
Gloss Note
Christian term for love of one’s fellow human beings
charity
.
Critical Note
This final couplet–evoking the speaker’s personal, future experience of heaven–is more reminiscent of Pulter’s devotional lyrics than other English emblem books. See, for instance, the final lines of The Eclipse [Poem 1], or Of Night and Morning [Poem 5]. Such a devotional turn is extremely unusual in English emblem books, and may represent Pulter’s appeal to divine authority as a solution to what she portrays as unprecedented events.
Give me dear God Eternal Charity
X (Close panel) All Notes
Transcription

 Editorial note

In these transcriptions we preserve as many details of the original material, textual, and graphic properties of Hester Pulter’s manuscript verse as we have found practical. Whenever possible, for instance, original spelling, punctuation, capitalization, lineation, insertions, deletions, alterations, spacing between words and lines, and indentation are all maintained; abbreviations and brevigraphs are not expanded; and superscript and subscript representations are retained. See full conventions for the transcriptions here.
Elemental Edition

 Editorial note

The aim of the elemental edition is to make the poems accessible to the largest variety of readers, which involves modernizing spelling and punctuation as well as adding basic glosses. Spelling and punctuation reflect current standard American usage; punctuation highlights syntax which might otherwise be obscure. Outmoded but still familiar word forms (“thou,” “‘tis,” “hold’st”) are not modernized, and we do not modernize grammar when the sense remains legible. After a brief headnote aimed at offering a “way in” to the poem’s unique qualities and connections with other verse by Pulter or her contemporaries, the edition features a minimum of notes and interpretative framing to allow more immediate engagement with the poem. Glosses clarify synonyms or showcase various possible meanings in Pulter’s time. Other notes identify named people and places or clarify obscure material. We rely (without citation) primarily on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the Oxford Reference database, and the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. When we rely on Alice Eardley’s edition of Pulter’s work, we cite her text generally (“Eardley”); other sources are cited in full. The result is an edition we consider a springboard for further work on Pulter’s poetry. See full conventions for this edition here.
Amplified Edition

 Editorial note

Though the syntax, diction, capitalization, and spelling of Pulter’s poems may not conform to modern standards, it is analytically productive for the modern reader to consider these elements as they appear in the manuscript; they may, for instance, create links between different parts of the text, emphasize particular words, or create syntactical slippage that encourages multiple interpretations. In order to retain Pulter’s unique poetic voice, as well as maintain the possibility of multiple interpretations created by her text, I take a conservative editorial approach. I have chosen not to modernize grammar, capitalization, or punctuation, and adhere to the original spelling in cases where doing so retains a particular tone or analytical complexity that would be lost in modernization (e.g., “groan” in line 5, which conveys a physical utterance that would be lost if modernized to “grown”).
Elemental Edition

 Headnote

When humans condemn the horrific violence that animal offspring commit against their parents, or when they they read of histories in which parents have been disrespected or killed, they should not feel superior. In this emblem, Pulter first vividly details how baby snakes, birds, and wolves devour and murder their parents, only to proclaim boldly: “But man is worse.” The backdrop of the natural world foregrounds, for the speaker of this poem, a national crisis that has escalated from general filial ingratitude to the unspoken crime of regicide. The resolution offered is a personal appeal to God for a charity that will flow in and out of the speaker. Presumably, only individual reckoning can brace humans and English citizens to brace themselves against the “impieties on this our stage.”
Amplified Edition

 Headnote

This emblem poem is unusual in multiple respects. First, like The Ugly Spider [Poem 102], it complicates the analogy between animals and humans that the poem initially suggests. Pulter’s presentation of the cuckoo, viper, wolf, and spider in the first section of the poem leads us to expect her comparison of these matricidal animals to humans; such a comparison–conventional in emblem books–would allow readers to apply the moral embodied by the animals to their own lives. Instead, however, Pulter declares that “Man is worse” than these matricidal animals.
This poem is also unusual in taking matricide as an emblematic theme. Many emblem books urge proper care of one’s parents; George Wither’s A Collection of Emblems (1635) even warns against children “consum[ing]” their parents, as part of a larger warning against wasting one’s resources.
Gloss Note
See Book 1, Emblem XIV in Wither, A Collection of Emblemes, 14. For taking care of one’s parents, see for example Whitney, A Choice of Emblemes (1586), 163.
1
Yet Pulter’s is the only English emblem poem devoted to matricide of which I am aware. This topic likely derives from conventional early modern depictions of the king’s relationship to his subjects as that of a parent to his children. Extensively discussed by political theorists, the comparison was openly propagated by earlier emblem books, as well as Stuart monarchs themselves.
Critical Note
James I repeatedly compared monarchs to parents, writing in The True Lawe of Free Monarchies (1598), “as fathers the good Princes, & magistrates of the people of God acknowledge themselves to their subjects” (sig. 3r). Henry Peacham used James’ Basilikon Doron (1599)–another expression of James’ patriarchal view of kingship–as the direct inspiration for his emblem book manuscripts, as well as the later printed Minerva Britanna (1612); in the latter, he cites a passage from Basilikon Doron for an emblem in which he writes, “We doe adore by nature, Princes good, / And gladly as our Parents, them obey.” Minerva Britanna, 144. For discussion of the king-parent comparison in relation to political theory, see Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha, which was written in manuscript around 1628 but was not published until 1680. See also Deborah Shuger’s discussion of the representation of kings as nursing fathers in “Nursing Fathers: Patriarchy as a Cultural Ideal,” in Deborah Shuger, ed., Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 218-249.
2
Thus the rebellion against and execution of Charles I during the civil wars–decried throughout Pulter’s manuscript–would be a sort of patricide, the destruction of England’s father by his rebellious subjects. The topic may also attest to George Herbert’s influence. Matricide is one of many spectres Herbert raises in “The Church-Porch,”which warns the reader against a series of vices and their consequences. Warning against drunkenness, Herbert writes, “He that is drunken may his mother kill, / Big with his sister” (31-2).
The suggestion of Herbert’s influence on Pulter’s choice of topic is consistent with the influence of devotional lyric on Pulter’s emblems more broadly.
Critical Note
See discussion of Pulter’s incorporation of devotional lyric into her emblems in Dunn [Zhang], “Breaking a Tradition: Hester Pulter and the English Emblem Book,” The Seventeenth Century 30 (2015): 55-73.
3
Pulter’s devotional address in the poem’s final lines introduces a confessionalism unusual within emblem books. So “horrid” are the “impieties” of her own age in a time of civil war that Pulter turns away from her readers and ends her poem addressing God himself on her own behalf. Such a move is highly unconventional in emblem books like Pulter’s, which follow the tradition of Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum Liber (1531) and exhort the reader to virtue with images drawn from nature, history, and cultural commonplaces. While Wither occasionally ends a poem with a prayer, the majority of Pulter’s emblems (twenty-nine) end focusing on the speaker’s own spiritual state. Such a move shirks emblem books’ traditional focus on the reader’s morality, and draws attention to the speaker’s internal piety, much as the conclusion of Herbert’s “Miserie” internalizes the moral drawn from an external emblem. As in Herbert’s poem, such internalization creates an ambiguity as to the guilty party: Is the speaker herself guilty of the sins she describes, or is she voluntarily taking on others’ sin? Unconventional as this confessional turn is in emblem poetry, it does offer a potential solution to the national crisis depicted earlier in Pulter’s poem: perhaps, the poem suggests, “Love and Gratefulness … may flow” to the nation at large as a consequence of the speaker’s own devotion, thereby creating a residual morality in England that will counter its matricidal sins against the monarchy.
Transcription
Line number 1

 Physical note

poem begins on the same page as previous poem ends about halfway down
Elemental Edition
Line number 1

 Gloss note

Her character or temperament, largely determined by the balance or mixture of qualities in what was called humoral or Galenic physiology, is not disposed to animation or nurturing. Humoral theory saw bodies as intermixing fluids identified by their characteristics of being hot, dry, wet, cold.
Amplified Edition
Line number 1

 Critical note

The cuckoo’s “cold[ness]” may refer to the theory of the four bodily humors, an imbalance of which was believed to cause illness; excessive coldness was associated with being melancholic (cold and dry) or phlegmatic (cold and wet). Galen considered coldness and wetness particularly feminine qualities, associated with weakness, narrow chests, and cowardice, as opposed to hot and dry masculine qualities (Susan B. Mattern, Galen and the Rhetoric of Healing [Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008], 103). Given Pulter’s comparison of the cuckoo to Nero a few lines later, though, “cold” may not connote a gendered reading of the humors; it more likely refers to the cuckoo’s hard-heartedness towards its victims.
Elemental Edition
Line number 3

 Critical note

Now known as a “brood parasite,” the cuckoo was known to lay her egg in another bird’s nest; the cuckoo baby, as this poem goes on to describe, then devours its new family. See Pliny, History of the World, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1634), 275.
Amplified Edition
Line number 3

 Critical note

This image derives from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, which describes the cuckoo’s practice of laying eggs in other birds’ nests; the cuckoo chick subsequently eats the other bird’s young and its adopted mother (X.IX).
Elemental Edition
Line number 4

 Gloss note

the compliant sparrow
Amplified Edition
Line number 4

 Critical note

Emblem books frequently reproach children’s overindulgence by parents, e.g., Emblem 46 of Thomas Palmer’s Two Hundred Poosees (c. 1565), p. 155 of Geoffrey Whitney’s A Choice of Emblemes (1586), and Emblem XIV in Book 1 of George Wither’s A Collection of Emblemes (1635). Pulter’s poem, though, chooses not to critique the sparrow’s “indulgen[ce],”a quality she encourages parents to have in Emblems 5, 10, and 41. Instead, she censures the actions of the children.
Elemental Edition
Line number 5

 Gloss note

open-mouthed baby cuckoo
Elemental Edition
Line number 9

 Critical note

It was thought that young snakes eat their way out of their mother’s womb, killing her in the process. See Holland, Natural History, 1.302; Plin. HN 10.82.
Elemental Edition
Line number 9

 Gloss note

mothers
Amplified Edition
Line number 9

 Critical note

Pliny notes (in Philemon Holland’s translation) that when a viper delivers one baby, “the rest (impatient of so long delay) eat through their dams sides, and kil her.” Natural History (1634), 302. Unlike Pulter, who uses this image to condemn the viper’s young, Henry Peacham’s Minerva Britanna critiques the actions of the viper mother, analogizing it to the “Beastly lust” bred within which consumes the mind (152).
Elemental Edition
Line number 10

 Gloss note

young offspring
Elemental Edition
Line number 10

 Critical note

proverb alluding to the belief that female wolves would select a mate to impregnate her from a group of males; the other wolves would then seek revenge for not being selected by killing the father. See Nicholas Cox, The Gentleman’s Recreation (London, 1686), pp. 122-23
Amplified Edition
Line number 10

 Critical note

Alice Eardley points to Nicholas Cox’s The Gentlemen’s Recreation (1686) for an explanation of this line. Cox describes rival wolves’ practice of setting upon the male who successfully mates with the female; the revenge, he notes, “verifies the proverb: Never Wolf yet ever saw his Sire” (123). “An Edition of Lady Hester Pulter’s Book of ‘Emblemes’” (Ph.D. diss, University of Warwick, 2008), 2:92-3.
Elemental Edition
Line number 11

 Critical note

poisonous spiders, whom Edward Topsell describes as matricidal: “Phalangies do lay their eggs in a net or web, (which for the purpose they make very strong and thick) and sit upon them in very great number, and when their brood is increased to some growth, they kill their dam [mother] by their hard embracements, and fling her clean away; … They hatch at one time three hundred” (The Historie of Serpents, 1608, p. 249).
Amplified Edition
Line number 11

 Critical note

The spider, or “phalangium.” Edward Topsell notes that phalangies’ eggs hatch three hundred at a time, and “do lay their Egges in a net or web, ... and sit upon them in very great number, and when their brood is increased to some growth, they kill their dam by their hard embracements, and fling her clean away.” Historie of Serpents (1658), 770.
Elemental Edition
Line number 16

 Critical note

Roman emperor Nero was reported to have killed his mother; “dissected” either refers to injuring her body or handling or viewing parts of her corpse after her death (see Old Aeschylus (Emblem 31) [Poem 96]).
Amplified Edition
Line number 16

 Critical note

For reasons that remain obscure, the Roman emperor Nero (37–68 CE) decided to kill his mother Agrippina five years into his reign, an episode often considered the harbinger of Nero’s subsequent tyranny. As Edward Bolton recounts in Nero Caesar (1624), some versions of Agrippina’s death describe that Nero “saw her body opened to behold the place of his conception” (43). Many accounts, however, describe only Nero’s handling or commenting upon Agrippina’s body (see, for example, Tacitus, Annals XIV.9). Henry Peacham decries Nero’s tyranny in Minerva Britanna, 144, without mentioning matricide. Pulter, though, seems fascinated with the rumor that Nero dissected Agrippina’s body after death; Old Aeschylus (Emblem 31) [Poem 96] similarly describes Nero’s dissection of her body.
Amplified Edition
Line number 18

 Critical note

Pulter likely alludes here to the execution of Charles I and other “impieties” committed by Parliament, such as those described in Doves and Pearls (Emblem 36) [Poem 101]. This latter emblem depicts the parliamentarian army’s occupation of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the imprisonment of royalist soldiers in the royal stables at Charing Cross as “profan[ations]” of “a sacred fane [temple].”
Amplified Edition
Line number 18

 Critical note

Civil war writers commonly referred to Charles I as being executed upon a “stage,” given both the physical construction outside the Banqueting House upon which the king was killed, and the king’s reputation as an actor, in court masques as well as before the public. Andrew Marvell’s “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” famously describes Charles I as a “royal actor” upon a “Tragic Scaffold.” If referencing Charles’ execution here, Pulter’s use of dramatic rhetoric is far less ambivalent than Marvell’s; her reference to the impious stage would be an outright condemnation of the regicide. Such theatrical rhetoric carries additional weight given the Protectorate context (c. 1650s) in which this emblem was likely composed: Pulter rhetorically resurrects the stage in defiance of the closure of public theatres by Charles I’s political opponents in 1642.
Elemental Edition
Line number 19

 Gloss note

amazement, astonishment
Transcription
Line number 20

 Physical note

“G” appears corrected from other letter; “z” also seems a correction
Amplified Edition
Line number 20

 Critical note

Unlike the sparrow, who does not deserve to be eaten by her adopted chick, and the other maternal animals that Pulter cites, England “deserve[s]” and “expect[s]” vengeance for the crimes against its monarchical parent, these lines suggest. This makes the nation worse than animals, whose consumption by their offspring is undeserved, and who cannot expect justice. Yet these lines create ambiguity: It is unclear both who has committed the crimes and who is exacting “vengeance.” Is England “deserv[ing]” of vengeance upon itself, or does it “deserv[e]” to enact it? Similarly, does the “our” in line 20 refer to those who have suffered crimes, or those who perpetrated them? By allowing such ambiguity, Pulter suggests that England is both the victim of unspeakable crimes and the perpetrator of them, while encouraging the idea that retribution will come both from within England and from a divine power above it.
Elemental Edition
Line number 21

 Critical note

Though the crimes of the present time are unspecified here, other poems articulate Pulter’s denunciation of the civil war and of regicide.
Amplified Edition
Line number 22

 Critical note

Pulter here deploys what is now an obsolete use of “forlorn,” denoting the state of being morally depraved or “doomed to destruction” (see OED “forlorn,” adj. 2, 3). I read the “Forlorn of Hell” as referring to Charles’ subjects, the perpetrators of “Crimes,” rather than the “Crimes” themselves.
Transcription
Line number 23

 Physical note

“r” appears corrected from earlier “o”
Elemental Edition
Line number 24

 Gloss note

To “deface” is to mar the features of, disfigure, or blot out; see also Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
Amplified Edition
Line number 24

 Critical note

Genesis 1:26 notes that God made man “in our image” (KJV); this image is defaced by the shedding of blood, Genesis 9:6 implies: “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” The speaker’s acceptance of her own “defac[ing]” sin in this line is at odds with line 26, which implies that the speaker remains clean of “Such Horrid Crimes.” Such ambiguity echoes that of the preceding lines which similarly elide victim and perpetrator.
Amplified Edition
Line number 26

 Critical note

The turn from the first person plural (ll. 18, 20) to singular in these lines signals Pulter’s deviation from emblem convention. Rather than expounding upon the images of the matricidal animals to encourage the reader’s future morality, she turns inward; the speaker turns from the nation’s “Crimes” to her own “Sins,” as if she is taking on all of England’s sins as her own.
Elemental Edition
Line number 28

 Gloss note

Christian term for love of one’s fellow human beings
Amplified Edition
Line number 28

 Critical note

This final couplet–evoking the speaker’s personal, future experience of heaven–is more reminiscent of Pulter’s devotional lyrics than other English emblem books. See, for instance, the final lines of The Eclipse [Poem 1], or Of Night and Morning [Poem 5]. Such a devotional turn is extremely unusual in English emblem books, and may represent Pulter’s appeal to divine authority as a solution to what she portrays as unprecedented events.
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