The Pismire

X (Close panel) Sources

The Pismire

Poem 35

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 Frances E. Dolan.

How to cite these versions

Conventions for these editions

The Pulter Project: Poet in the Making

  • Created by Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
  • Encoded by Katherine Poland, Matthew Taylor, Elizabeth Chou, and Emily Andrey, Northwestern University
  • Website designed by Sergei Kalugin, Northwestern University
  • IT project consultation by Josh Honn, Northwestern University
  • Project sponsored by Northwestern University, Brock University, and University of Leeds
X (Close panel) Index

Index of Poems

(loading…)
X (Close panel)Notes: Transcription
Title note

 Physical note

previous poem conlcudes at top of page

 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

Previous poem concludes at top of page.
Line number 2

 Physical note

in left margin, written in hand H2
Line number 11

 Physical note

“M” appears written over other letter or letters, imperfectly erased
Line number 15

 Physical note

ink blot on “ou”
Line number 17

 Physical note

“ing” of “looking” struck through and replaced with “’d”
Line number 28

 Physical note

ascender on “k” is darker and above erased descender (as for “g”)
Line number 29

 Physical note

multiple strike-through
Line number 32

 Physical note

“l” appears to correct “k”
Line number 34

 Physical note

“About her” modified to “Aboutthe” by crowding in second “t” and crossing out final “r”
Line number 40

 Physical note

ink blot on “ha”
Sorry, but there are no notes associated with any currently displayed witness.
X (Close panel)Transcription
Transcription

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder
Physical Note
previous poem conlcudes at top of page
The Pismire
Gloss Note
the ant; or an insignificant person or person exhibiting behaviour or habits usually associated with the ant
The Pismire
The Pismire
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 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
My “amplified” editions seek to make the poems as accessible as possible by modernizing spelling and punctuation and providing only brief definitions for words, while discursive notes and the materials I gather for the “curations” section place Pulter’s poems into conversations. As I build the curations for a given poem—provisional and quirky as they are—I keep returning to the poem, re-reading, rethinking, and adding layers to the notes. I hope to show that Pulter was intellectually and politically embedded rather than isolated, taking up issues, genres, and tropes that also interested her contemporaries and that sometimes accrue unpredictable salience in later periods. Rather than focusing only on possible sources or influences, I cast a wide net both within the seventeenth century and outside it, trying to catch cultural materials Pulter might have engaged, some she excludes or ignores, and even some she probably could never have imagined. Curations don’t precede the poems nor are they implied by the poems—as if the poem gathers them to itself (although it can sometimes feel that way) or hales them forth. Instead, as a curator I weave the poem into a web of relations, seeking to open out rather than close down interpretive possibilities. This extends to including extracts that are long enough that readers might find things therein that I do not anticipate. I also look for a multi-vectored traffic among Pulter’s poetry and the other materials. What might the materials I’ve gathered help readers see in the poems—or notice is not there? But also, how do the poems bring fresh perspectives into the conversations into which I draw them? The more one reads the poems as participants in wider ranging conversations, the more fascinatingly twisty Pulter appears. Often, I don’t grasp how she upends or comes at conventions aslant until I have mucked about composting my “curations.”

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
Although not in the “Emblems” section of Pulter’s manuscript, partway through this poem the troubled speaker deliberately shifts into an emblematic way of seeing and writing about the world, in part to distract her from her melancholic thoughts. She thus spots (and then depicts) a busy anthill from which she extrapolates macrocosmic reflections. Instead of distracting her, though, the microcosm of laboring ants—whose tasks range from parenting to bringing in the harvest—largely and dispiritingly echoes the human world. Only a few shining-winged insects on “perpetual holiday” function, proleptically, as emblems of the winged soul, by which means the speaker longingly anticipates leaving earth’s dusty toil. Packed into this short poem are several unexpected shifts in the visual frame, with an initial bout of introspection replaced by a close-up of the natural world, which in turn precedes the imagined (and desired) “distance” of a heavenly perspective.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
Although Pulter’s manuscript includes this among the poems rather than the emblems, “The Pismire” reflects on its own status as emblem in line 28. Many of Pulter’s emblems announce their subject in the first line, often inviting the reader to “see,” “behold,” “mark,” or “view” what is being described. Here, the speaker does not “look about” until line 17 and finally sees the hill of pismires in line 20. While Pulter’s poem uses the pismire to describe the futility of endless earthly labors, a long tradition beginning with Aesop and Proverbs praises the pismire’s careful planning and hard work. As the texts in “Curations” indicate, the “behavior and habits” of ants were often set out as models for humans. For Thomas Moffett, for instance, the pismire, “this divine little creature,” is superior to humans because cleaner and harder working. It is “an emblem of divine providence, and labor, and of household care.” (See Moffett’s chapter on “the commendation of pismires” in his Theatre of Insects [1634], included in “Curations.”) The pismire’s tiny size could make it seem insignificant; by the sixteenth century, the word could be used as an insult for “an insignificant person; a person exhibiting behavior or habits usually associated with the ant” OED). The pismire’s very name evokes both urine and mire, or swampy ground in which "a person may be engulfed or become stuck fast." But the ant’s tiny size might also make its tireless industry even more impressive and heighten the contrast to humans. As John Bunyan puts it in a verse for children, “Man’s a fool, / Or silly ants would not be made his guide” (“Curations”). Pulter, however, overturns the conventional meaning of the pismire, taking it as a negative rather than positive example. The speaker’s description of his or her mind as “busy” (line 27) links the “I” to the pismire’s proverbial industry and perhaps the slave’s drudgery. For the link between the pismire and the housewife, see the epistle “To the Gentlewoman Reader” in Richard Brathwaite, The English gentlewoman (London, 1631): “She distastes none more than these busy housewives, who are ever running into discourse of others’ families, but forget their own. Neither holds she it sufficient to be only a housekeeper; or snail-like to be still under roof; she partakes therefore of the pismire in providing, of the Sarreptan widow [Kings 17], in disposing, holding ever an absent providence better than an improvident presence.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
1
Physical Note
Previous poem concludes at top of page.
Walking a b^road once in a Sumers day,
Walking abroad, once in a summer’s day,
Walking abroad once in a summer’s day,
2
Physical Note
in left margin, written in hand H2
And
(As I well remember twas) in May.
And (as I well remember) ’twas in May,
And (as I well remember) ’twas in May,
3
Beeing tird with fancies, & my panting Breast
Being tired with fancies, and my panting breast
Being tired with fancies, and my panting breast
4
Beeing full of trouble, I lookt where I might Rest.
Being full of trouble, I looked where I might rest.
Being full of trouble, I looked where I might rest.
5
Then down I threw my Selfe upon ye Graſs,
Then down I threw myself upon the grass;
Then down I threw myself upon the grass;
6
Som Solitary^howrs I thought to paſs,
Some solitary hours I thought to pass.
Some solitary hours I thought to pass.
7
Leaning my head against a Siccamoore,
Leaning my head against a sycamore,
Leaning my head against a sycamore,
8
My heavy eyes upon the Ground did pore;
My heavy eyes upon the ground did pore.
My heavy eyes upon the ground did pore.
Muſe

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder
9
Muſeing and looking on my Mother, Earth.
Musing and looking on my Mother Earth,
Musing and looking on
Critical Note
Figuring the earth as a mother is now so conventional that it might not seem to require comment. The figure has Roman roots, including gendering the earth or terra feminine, calling her a mother, and linking her to goddesses, including Ceres. From the start, this figuration works in two ways. First, it emphasizes the earth’s generative and nurturing power, suggesting a relationship of care, love, and perhaps even reciprocity between earth and her human children. Ovid’s Metamorphoses refers to the soil as a generative “mother’s womb” (1.501). Pulter’s contemporaries pick up this usage. See, for example, the passages from Lucy Hutchinson’s translation of Lucretius in “Curations.” Second, this figuration depicts the earth as a treasure trove to be exploited, which is variously promoted or lamented. We see both strands intertwine in Pliny’s Natural History. Pliny emphasizes that “mother” is bestowed on the earth as an honorific, since she receives humans upon birth (but does not generate them), nurtures them, and finally shelters them (II.154). Yet he also points out that humans’ debt to nature does not prevent the matricide of mining the earth for precious stones and metals (II.158). Cavendish and Milton, too, both describe the earth as a womb and disparage mining as, in Milton’s terms, “ransacking” and “rifling” the “bowels of their Mother Earth / For treasures better hid” (Paradise Lost 7, 1. 696-88; see also Cavendish, “Earth’s Complaint” in “Curations”). Other seventeenth-century uses of this figuration to promote agricultural “improvement” and resource extraction suggest that mother earth is not just humanity’s womb and tomb but also its treasure trove to be mined. For example, Walter Blith, in his influential agricultural treatise The English Improver Improved (1652), describes the earth as “the very womb that bears all, and the mother that must nourish and maintain all” (sig. B2v); but he also describes “the Earth, the true mother, in whose bowels is more wealth than ever will be drawn forth” so as to enjoin his reader to act “as the midwife to deliver the earth of its throws” (Blith sigs. R3v-R4r). The figuration that casts resource extraction as rape and murder of the mother, then, does not necessarily work to prevent it.
my Mother, Earth
,
10
To which I must; from whence I drew my breath.
To which I
Gloss Note
must go
must
, from whence I drew my breath,
To which I
Critical Note
“Mother Earth, / To which I must” seems to imply “to which I must return.” But the appearance of “dust” in the next line also activates the meanings of “must” as a noun meaning mustiness, mold, or even the grape pulp or “must” that through fermentation becomes wine.
must
, from whence I drew my breath;
11
Then did I think how I to duſt
Physical Note
“M” appears written over other letter or letters, imperfectly erased
Must
turn,
Then did I think how I to
Critical Note
fine particles, esp. of disintegrating dead body; also, formative physical elements; see Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
dust
must turn,
Then did I think how I to
Critical Note
“Dust” is a favorite word for Pulter, drawing on both a scriptural tradition—Genesis describes humans as made from dust and as destined to revert to dust when they die (“for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” [Genesis 3:19])—and an alchemical tradition in which dust, like the atom, is used to describe the fundamental matter of creation. Pulter’s fascination with dust is not unique to her. Her contemporary Lucy Hutchinson, for instance, similarly advises mindfulness of how dust is both “originary” and the body’s inevitable destination (see Order and Disorder [1679], Canto III, 123-6).
dust
must turn,
12
And lie forgotten, in my Silent Urn,
And lie forgotten in my silent urn,
And lie forgotten, in my silent urn,
13
Where I Should looſ, the Comfortable Sight
Where I should lose the comfortable sight
Where I should lose the
Gloss Note
comforting
comfortable
sight
14
Of my deare ffreinds, and all diſcovering light,
Of my dear friends, and all-discovering light.
Of my dear friends, and all discovering light.
15
As I these
Physical Note
ink blot on “ou”
thoughts
within my mind Revolved,
As I these thoughts within my mind revolved,
As I these thoughts within my mind revolved,
16
Sighs fils my heart, till they in tears deſolved.
Sighs fills my heart, till they in tears dissolved;
Sighs fill my heart, till they in tears dissolved.
17
Then clearing^of mine Eyes, I
Physical Note
“ing” of “looking” struck through and replaced with “’d”
look’dng
about
Then, clearing of mine eyes, I looked
Gloss Note
about to see
about
Then, clearing of mine eyes, I looked
Gloss Note
around
about
18
What I could See, to put these Sorrowes out
What I could see to put these sorrows out
What I could see, to put these sorrows out
19
Of my Sad heart, where inſtantly I Spied
Of my sad heart; where instantly I spied
Of my sad heart?—where instantly I spied
20
A hill of Piſmires, who their Labor plied;
A hill of pismires, who their labor plied,
A hill of
Gloss Note
ants
pismires
, who their labor plied.
21
Som luggerd up and down their flatious iſſew,
Some
Gloss Note
dragged or carried
luggered
up and down their
Critical Note
This word, not in the OED, is used in John Woodall’s The surgeons mate or Military & domestique surgery (London, 1655), p.57, in reference to “belching, quartans, cold, and all flatious diseases”; it is not clear what sense Pulter means. The word is possibly written in error for “fatuous” (meaning “foolish”) or “flatuous” (meaning “inflated”).
flatious
issue,
Some
Gloss Note
dragged
luggered
up and down their
Gloss Note
inflated/swollen
flatious
Critical Note
The description of the pismires dragging their “issue” around might help to link motherhood to drudgery.
issue
,
22
And Some with glittring wings y:t Shone like tiſſew,
And some with glitt’ring wings that shone like tissue;
And some with glittering wings that shone like
Gloss Note
iridescent cloth
tissue
,
23
The Rest their wheat, and other nibled Grain
The rest their wheat and other nibbled grain
The rest their wheat, and other nibbled grain
24
Did lay in Store, from Winters Storms & Rain.
Did lay in store from winter’s storms and rain;
Did lay in store, from winter’s storms and rain.
25
And onely those with Shineing wings did play
And only those with shining wings did play,
And only those with shining wings did play,
26
Seeming to keep perpetuall holy day.
Seeming to keep perpetual holiday.
Seeming to keep
Critical Note
While descriptions of bees emphasize how anatomical differences and social hierarchies conjoin to make some queens and others drones, most descriptions of ants do not make such distinctions, valuing ants as a collective rather than a hierarchy. As Thomas Moffett puts it, “pismires are endowed with so much virtue and justice, that they need no king to govern them.” Nor does Moffett mention winged pismires, although he describes their anatomy in detail. Here again, Pulter departs from many other descriptions of the pismire, distinguishing those with glittering wings who play from the wingless workers. When the speaker looks at the anthill, s/he sees a hierarchy. She may also, at least in part, see a beehive, conflating descriptions of ants and bees to depict the pismire as winged and hierarchical.
perpetual holiday
.
27
Then instantly my buſie mind was hurld
Then instantly my busy mind was hurled,
Then instantly my busy mind was hurled,
28
Physical Note
ascender on “k” is darker and above erased descender (as for “g”)
Thinking
they were an Embleme of ye World.
Thinking they were an
Gloss Note
symbol
emblem
of the world.
Thinking they were an emblem of the world.
29
ffor all which
Physical Note
multiple strike-through
was
from this Earth doe draw their^breath
For all which from this earth do draw their breath
For all which from this earth do draw their breath
30
Still moyle and labour in this dunghill Earth.
Still
Gloss Note
toil; dig; burrow; mill about, as in a crowd
moil
and labour in this dunghill earth.
Still
Gloss Note
toil
moil
and labor in this
Critical Note
The verb “moil” corresponds to and reinforces “labor” here, inverting the order of the expression “toil and moil” to describe drudgery, the doubled words evoking the repetitive nature of the labor. But “moil” also echoes another word with which it rhymes, soil, in its meaning “to soil” or defile. Coupled with “up,” moil can also mean dig up, uproot, or grub in the ground and even to “transform into a soft mass,” much as the processes of time and decay transform many things into dust. This one word, then, to which Pulter returns in line 25, captures how laboring on the earth and in the dirt makes one dirty but also how this labor can be both destructive and productive (sometimes at once). The description of the earth as a “dunghill” or pile of refuse seems at first more negative than the description of it as a mother. In Shakespeare, for instance, the dunghill is routinely associated with low birth (“dunghill grooms” in 1 Henry VI and a “base dunghill villain and mechanical” in 2 Henry VI) and the ignominious burial of the lowborn and insubordinate, the rebel Jack Cade (2 Henry VI) and Cornwall’s servant (Lear). But this poem’s description of the pismires’ hard work suggests that the hill must be made and maintained. What’s more, contemporary attempts to revalue wastes as resources led to many proposals to promote dunghills as sources of soil enrichments and saltpeter for gunpowder.
dunghill earth
.
from

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder
31
ffrom Kings, who Earths Elixter Seem to have
From kings, who earth’s
Critical Note
secret principle; sovereign remedy; in alchemy, the philosopher’s stone, for indefinitely prolonging life
elixir
seem to have,
From kings, who earth’s
Critical Note
Alchemists assigned the power to turn stone into gold, prolong life, and cure disease, to an elusive substance—variously called the elixir, the quintessence, or the philosopher’s stone. The earth’s elixir, then, is the earth’s hidden and transformative “soul” or life force. The kings who have it would seem to have a monopoly on the best earth has to offer, the opposite of the “earthly clog” mentioned a few lines later. Yet their achievement is pointless, as in the proverbial expression of being the “cock of the dunghill.” In his Defense of Poesy, for example, Sir Philip Sidney descries the pointless contention between Alexander and Darius, “when they strove who should be cock of this world’s dunghill.” We also see the apparent contrast between elixir and dunghill erode when Adam Moore describes the poor man’s muck hill or dunghill as his “philosopher’s stone” (see Moore, Bread for the Poor, in “Curations.”)
elixir
seem to have,
32
Unto the Naked Sunburnt
Physical Note
“l” appears to correct “k”
ffemale
Slave
Unto the naked, sunburnt female slave,
Unto the naked sunburned female slave,
33
Who with her Swetty, Knotty Locks unbound
Who with her sweaty, knotty locks unbound
Who with her sweaty, knotty locks unbound,
34
Physical Note
“About her” modified to “Aboutthe” by crowding in second “t” and crossing out final “r”
Aboutther
Giddy Mill, doth trot around.
About the giddy mill, doth
Critical Note
The image is of a grinding machine with a stone which needs to be turned on an axis, here by a slave; the mill is “giddy” both in its circling action and possibly in causing dizziness.
trot around.
About her
Gloss Note
rapidly circling and therefore dizzying
giddy
mill doth
Critical Note
Pushing a stone mill to grind meal to be made into bread was an exhausting form of labor. As a consequence, the female slave pushing the mill stands as the opposite of the king or ruler. In Exodus, the plague on the first born extends from “the firstborn of Pharaoh that sits upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill” (Exodus 11:5). But the English economy also depended on slave labor by the time Pulter wrote, especially on plantations in Barbados that grew and processed sugar cane (in mills) for the European market. See Richard Ligon’s description of Indian female slaves making bread for planters on Barbados in “Curations.” Jennifer Morgan argues that more African women than men were made slaves from 1660-1700 (Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004], 58). Thus the reference to a female slave here extends beyond the Old Testament context to include the labor relations on which the English food supply actually depended by the seventeenth century. The unusual level of detail here—that the slave is female, naked, “sunburned” or dark skinned, and her hair both sweaty and knotty—invites the reader to picture this slave’s working body.
trot around
.
35
ffor who is ffree? untill his Soul doth Spring
For who is free, until his soul doth spring
For who is free until his soul doth spring
36
ffrom’s Earthly Clog, And Joyfully takes wing:
Gloss Note
From his
From’s
earthly
Gloss Note
impediment; body
clog
, and joyfully takes wing:
Gloss Note
From his
From’s
earthly
Gloss Note
burden/body
clog
and joyfully takes wing?
37
Then from that distance, wee perceive (most plain)
Then, from that distance, we perceive (most plain)
Then from that distance we perceive (most plain)
38
That all our moyling here, is but in vain.
That all our moiling here is but in vain.
That all our moiling here is but in vain.
39
ffor Earthly Glory, is our Sights deluſion;
For earthly glory is our sight’s delusion,
For earthly glory is our sight’s delusion,
40
It proving but a
Physical Note
ink blot on “ha”
Chaos
of confuſion.
It proving but a chaos of confusion.
It proving but a
Gloss Note
formless void
chaos
of confusion.
41
O then! as I in Heaven have placd my love,
O then, as I in Heaven have placed my love,
O then as I in heaven have placed my love,
42
Soe I’me ambitious of thoſe Joys above;
So I’m ambitious of those joys above;
So I’m ambitious of those joys above.
43
Grant mee the wings of Som unſpotted Dove,
Grant me the wings of some unspotted
Critical Note
messenger of peace and deliverance from anxiety, like the dove to Noah (Genesis 8:8-12); figuratively, often the Holy Spirit.
dove
,
Grant me the wings of some
Critical Note
Although Pulter twice mentions the “glittering” and “shining” wings of those pismires that rise above the earth to play, when the speaker asks for wings, they are not the gossamer wings of the pismire but those of the “unspotted dove.”
unspotted dove
,
44
To eaſe the troubles of my throbing breast;
To ease the troubles of my throbbing breast,
To ease the troubles of my throbbing breast,
45
That I may fly to my Eternall Rest.
That I may fly to my eternal rest.
That I may fly to my eternal rest.
curled line
X (Close panel)Notes: Elemental Edition
Title note

 Gloss note

the ant; or an insignificant person or person exhibiting behaviour or habits usually associated with the ant

 Editorial note

The aim of the elemental edition 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

Although not in the “Emblems” section of Pulter’s manuscript, partway through this poem the troubled speaker deliberately shifts into an emblematic way of seeing and writing about the world, in part to distract her from her melancholic thoughts. She thus spots (and then depicts) a busy anthill from which she extrapolates macrocosmic reflections. Instead of distracting her, though, the microcosm of laboring ants—whose tasks range from parenting to bringing in the harvest—largely and dispiritingly echoes the human world. Only a few shining-winged insects on “perpetual holiday” function, proleptically, as emblems of the winged soul, by which means the speaker longingly anticipates leaving earth’s dusty toil. Packed into this short poem are several unexpected shifts in the visual frame, with an initial bout of introspection replaced by a close-up of the natural world, which in turn precedes the imagined (and desired) “distance” of a heavenly perspective.
Line number 10

 Gloss note

must go
Line number 11

 Critical note

fine particles, esp. of disintegrating dead body; also, formative physical elements; see Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Line number 17

 Gloss note

about to see
Line number 21

 Gloss note

dragged or carried
Line number 21

 Critical note

This word, not in the OED, is used in John Woodall’s The surgeons mate or Military & domestique surgery (London, 1655), p.57, in reference to “belching, quartans, cold, and all flatious diseases”; it is not clear what sense Pulter means. The word is possibly written in error for “fatuous” (meaning “foolish”) or “flatuous” (meaning “inflated”).
Line number 28

 Gloss note

symbol
Line number 30

 Gloss note

toil; dig; burrow; mill about, as in a crowd
Line number 31

 Critical note

secret principle; sovereign remedy; in alchemy, the philosopher’s stone, for indefinitely prolonging life
Line number 34

 Critical note

The image is of a grinding machine with a stone which needs to be turned on an axis, here by a slave; the mill is “giddy” both in its circling action and possibly in causing dizziness.
Line number 36

 Gloss note

From his
Line number 36

 Gloss note

impediment; body
Line number 43

 Critical note

messenger of peace and deliverance from anxiety, like the dove to Noah (Genesis 8:8-12); figuratively, often the Holy Spirit.
Sorry, but there are no notes associated with any currently displayed witness.
X (Close panel)Elemental Edition
Elemental Edition

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder
Physical Note
previous poem conlcudes at top of page
The Pismire
Gloss Note
the ant; or an insignificant person or person exhibiting behaviour or habits usually associated with the ant
The Pismire
The Pismire
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 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
My “amplified” editions seek to make the poems as accessible as possible by modernizing spelling and punctuation and providing only brief definitions for words, while discursive notes and the materials I gather for the “curations” section place Pulter’s poems into conversations. As I build the curations for a given poem—provisional and quirky as they are—I keep returning to the poem, re-reading, rethinking, and adding layers to the notes. I hope to show that Pulter was intellectually and politically embedded rather than isolated, taking up issues, genres, and tropes that also interested her contemporaries and that sometimes accrue unpredictable salience in later periods. Rather than focusing only on possible sources or influences, I cast a wide net both within the seventeenth century and outside it, trying to catch cultural materials Pulter might have engaged, some she excludes or ignores, and even some she probably could never have imagined. Curations don’t precede the poems nor are they implied by the poems—as if the poem gathers them to itself (although it can sometimes feel that way) or hales them forth. Instead, as a curator I weave the poem into a web of relations, seeking to open out rather than close down interpretive possibilities. This extends to including extracts that are long enough that readers might find things therein that I do not anticipate. I also look for a multi-vectored traffic among Pulter’s poetry and the other materials. What might the materials I’ve gathered help readers see in the poems—or notice is not there? But also, how do the poems bring fresh perspectives into the conversations into which I draw them? The more one reads the poems as participants in wider ranging conversations, the more fascinatingly twisty Pulter appears. Often, I don’t grasp how she upends or comes at conventions aslant until I have mucked about composting my “curations.”

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
Although not in the “Emblems” section of Pulter’s manuscript, partway through this poem the troubled speaker deliberately shifts into an emblematic way of seeing and writing about the world, in part to distract her from her melancholic thoughts. She thus spots (and then depicts) a busy anthill from which she extrapolates macrocosmic reflections. Instead of distracting her, though, the microcosm of laboring ants—whose tasks range from parenting to bringing in the harvest—largely and dispiritingly echoes the human world. Only a few shining-winged insects on “perpetual holiday” function, proleptically, as emblems of the winged soul, by which means the speaker longingly anticipates leaving earth’s dusty toil. Packed into this short poem are several unexpected shifts in the visual frame, with an initial bout of introspection replaced by a close-up of the natural world, which in turn precedes the imagined (and desired) “distance” of a heavenly perspective.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
Although Pulter’s manuscript includes this among the poems rather than the emblems, “The Pismire” reflects on its own status as emblem in line 28. Many of Pulter’s emblems announce their subject in the first line, often inviting the reader to “see,” “behold,” “mark,” or “view” what is being described. Here, the speaker does not “look about” until line 17 and finally sees the hill of pismires in line 20. While Pulter’s poem uses the pismire to describe the futility of endless earthly labors, a long tradition beginning with Aesop and Proverbs praises the pismire’s careful planning and hard work. As the texts in “Curations” indicate, the “behavior and habits” of ants were often set out as models for humans. For Thomas Moffett, for instance, the pismire, “this divine little creature,” is superior to humans because cleaner and harder working. It is “an emblem of divine providence, and labor, and of household care.” (See Moffett’s chapter on “the commendation of pismires” in his Theatre of Insects [1634], included in “Curations.”) The pismire’s tiny size could make it seem insignificant; by the sixteenth century, the word could be used as an insult for “an insignificant person; a person exhibiting behavior or habits usually associated with the ant” OED). The pismire’s very name evokes both urine and mire, or swampy ground in which "a person may be engulfed or become stuck fast." But the ant’s tiny size might also make its tireless industry even more impressive and heighten the contrast to humans. As John Bunyan puts it in a verse for children, “Man’s a fool, / Or silly ants would not be made his guide” (“Curations”). Pulter, however, overturns the conventional meaning of the pismire, taking it as a negative rather than positive example. The speaker’s description of his or her mind as “busy” (line 27) links the “I” to the pismire’s proverbial industry and perhaps the slave’s drudgery. For the link between the pismire and the housewife, see the epistle “To the Gentlewoman Reader” in Richard Brathwaite, The English gentlewoman (London, 1631): “She distastes none more than these busy housewives, who are ever running into discourse of others’ families, but forget their own. Neither holds she it sufficient to be only a housekeeper; or snail-like to be still under roof; she partakes therefore of the pismire in providing, of the Sarreptan widow [Kings 17], in disposing, holding ever an absent providence better than an improvident presence.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
1
Physical Note
Previous poem concludes at top of page.
Walking a b^road once in a Sumers day,
Walking abroad, once in a summer’s day,
Walking abroad once in a summer’s day,
2
Physical Note
in left margin, written in hand H2
And
(As I well remember twas) in May.
And (as I well remember) ’twas in May,
And (as I well remember) ’twas in May,
3
Beeing tird with fancies, & my panting Breast
Being tired with fancies, and my panting breast
Being tired with fancies, and my panting breast
4
Beeing full of trouble, I lookt where I might Rest.
Being full of trouble, I looked where I might rest.
Being full of trouble, I looked where I might rest.
5
Then down I threw my Selfe upon ye Graſs,
Then down I threw myself upon the grass;
Then down I threw myself upon the grass;
6
Som Solitary^howrs I thought to paſs,
Some solitary hours I thought to pass.
Some solitary hours I thought to pass.
7
Leaning my head against a Siccamoore,
Leaning my head against a sycamore,
Leaning my head against a sycamore,
8
My heavy eyes upon the Ground did pore;
My heavy eyes upon the ground did pore.
My heavy eyes upon the ground did pore.
Muſe

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder
9
Muſeing and looking on my Mother, Earth.
Musing and looking on my Mother Earth,
Musing and looking on
Critical Note
Figuring the earth as a mother is now so conventional that it might not seem to require comment. The figure has Roman roots, including gendering the earth or terra feminine, calling her a mother, and linking her to goddesses, including Ceres. From the start, this figuration works in two ways. First, it emphasizes the earth’s generative and nurturing power, suggesting a relationship of care, love, and perhaps even reciprocity between earth and her human children. Ovid’s Metamorphoses refers to the soil as a generative “mother’s womb” (1.501). Pulter’s contemporaries pick up this usage. See, for example, the passages from Lucy Hutchinson’s translation of Lucretius in “Curations.” Second, this figuration depicts the earth as a treasure trove to be exploited, which is variously promoted or lamented. We see both strands intertwine in Pliny’s Natural History. Pliny emphasizes that “mother” is bestowed on the earth as an honorific, since she receives humans upon birth (but does not generate them), nurtures them, and finally shelters them (II.154). Yet he also points out that humans’ debt to nature does not prevent the matricide of mining the earth for precious stones and metals (II.158). Cavendish and Milton, too, both describe the earth as a womb and disparage mining as, in Milton’s terms, “ransacking” and “rifling” the “bowels of their Mother Earth / For treasures better hid” (Paradise Lost 7, 1. 696-88; see also Cavendish, “Earth’s Complaint” in “Curations”). Other seventeenth-century uses of this figuration to promote agricultural “improvement” and resource extraction suggest that mother earth is not just humanity’s womb and tomb but also its treasure trove to be mined. For example, Walter Blith, in his influential agricultural treatise The English Improver Improved (1652), describes the earth as “the very womb that bears all, and the mother that must nourish and maintain all” (sig. B2v); but he also describes “the Earth, the true mother, in whose bowels is more wealth than ever will be drawn forth” so as to enjoin his reader to act “as the midwife to deliver the earth of its throws” (Blith sigs. R3v-R4r). The figuration that casts resource extraction as rape and murder of the mother, then, does not necessarily work to prevent it.
my Mother, Earth
,
10
To which I must; from whence I drew my breath.
To which I
Gloss Note
must go
must
, from whence I drew my breath,
To which I
Critical Note
“Mother Earth, / To which I must” seems to imply “to which I must return.” But the appearance of “dust” in the next line also activates the meanings of “must” as a noun meaning mustiness, mold, or even the grape pulp or “must” that through fermentation becomes wine.
must
, from whence I drew my breath;
11
Then did I think how I to duſt
Physical Note
“M” appears written over other letter or letters, imperfectly erased
Must
turn,
Then did I think how I to
Critical Note
fine particles, esp. of disintegrating dead body; also, formative physical elements; see Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
dust
must turn,
Then did I think how I to
Critical Note
“Dust” is a favorite word for Pulter, drawing on both a scriptural tradition—Genesis describes humans as made from dust and as destined to revert to dust when they die (“for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” [Genesis 3:19])—and an alchemical tradition in which dust, like the atom, is used to describe the fundamental matter of creation. Pulter’s fascination with dust is not unique to her. Her contemporary Lucy Hutchinson, for instance, similarly advises mindfulness of how dust is both “originary” and the body’s inevitable destination (see Order and Disorder [1679], Canto III, 123-6).
dust
must turn,
12
And lie forgotten, in my Silent Urn,
And lie forgotten in my silent urn,
And lie forgotten, in my silent urn,
13
Where I Should looſ, the Comfortable Sight
Where I should lose the comfortable sight
Where I should lose the
Gloss Note
comforting
comfortable
sight
14
Of my deare ffreinds, and all diſcovering light,
Of my dear friends, and all-discovering light.
Of my dear friends, and all discovering light.
15
As I these
Physical Note
ink blot on “ou”
thoughts
within my mind Revolved,
As I these thoughts within my mind revolved,
As I these thoughts within my mind revolved,
16
Sighs fils my heart, till they in tears deſolved.
Sighs fills my heart, till they in tears dissolved;
Sighs fill my heart, till they in tears dissolved.
17
Then clearing^of mine Eyes, I
Physical Note
“ing” of “looking” struck through and replaced with “’d”
look’dng
about
Then, clearing of mine eyes, I looked
Gloss Note
about to see
about
Then, clearing of mine eyes, I looked
Gloss Note
around
about
18
What I could See, to put these Sorrowes out
What I could see to put these sorrows out
What I could see, to put these sorrows out
19
Of my Sad heart, where inſtantly I Spied
Of my sad heart; where instantly I spied
Of my sad heart?—where instantly I spied
20
A hill of Piſmires, who their Labor plied;
A hill of pismires, who their labor plied,
A hill of
Gloss Note
ants
pismires
, who their labor plied.
21
Som luggerd up and down their flatious iſſew,
Some
Gloss Note
dragged or carried
luggered
up and down their
Critical Note
This word, not in the OED, is used in John Woodall’s The surgeons mate or Military & domestique surgery (London, 1655), p.57, in reference to “belching, quartans, cold, and all flatious diseases”; it is not clear what sense Pulter means. The word is possibly written in error for “fatuous” (meaning “foolish”) or “flatuous” (meaning “inflated”).
flatious
issue,
Some
Gloss Note
dragged
luggered
up and down their
Gloss Note
inflated/swollen
flatious
Critical Note
The description of the pismires dragging their “issue” around might help to link motherhood to drudgery.
issue
,
22
And Some with glittring wings y:t Shone like tiſſew,
And some with glitt’ring wings that shone like tissue;
And some with glittering wings that shone like
Gloss Note
iridescent cloth
tissue
,
23
The Rest their wheat, and other nibled Grain
The rest their wheat and other nibbled grain
The rest their wheat, and other nibbled grain
24
Did lay in Store, from Winters Storms & Rain.
Did lay in store from winter’s storms and rain;
Did lay in store, from winter’s storms and rain.
25
And onely those with Shineing wings did play
And only those with shining wings did play,
And only those with shining wings did play,
26
Seeming to keep perpetuall holy day.
Seeming to keep perpetual holiday.
Seeming to keep
Critical Note
While descriptions of bees emphasize how anatomical differences and social hierarchies conjoin to make some queens and others drones, most descriptions of ants do not make such distinctions, valuing ants as a collective rather than a hierarchy. As Thomas Moffett puts it, “pismires are endowed with so much virtue and justice, that they need no king to govern them.” Nor does Moffett mention winged pismires, although he describes their anatomy in detail. Here again, Pulter departs from many other descriptions of the pismire, distinguishing those with glittering wings who play from the wingless workers. When the speaker looks at the anthill, s/he sees a hierarchy. She may also, at least in part, see a beehive, conflating descriptions of ants and bees to depict the pismire as winged and hierarchical.
perpetual holiday
.
27
Then instantly my buſie mind was hurld
Then instantly my busy mind was hurled,
Then instantly my busy mind was hurled,
28
Physical Note
ascender on “k” is darker and above erased descender (as for “g”)
Thinking
they were an Embleme of ye World.
Thinking they were an
Gloss Note
symbol
emblem
of the world.
Thinking they were an emblem of the world.
29
ffor all which
Physical Note
multiple strike-through
was
from this Earth doe draw their^breath
For all which from this earth do draw their breath
For all which from this earth do draw their breath
30
Still moyle and labour in this dunghill Earth.
Still
Gloss Note
toil; dig; burrow; mill about, as in a crowd
moil
and labour in this dunghill earth.
Still
Gloss Note
toil
moil
and labor in this
Critical Note
The verb “moil” corresponds to and reinforces “labor” here, inverting the order of the expression “toil and moil” to describe drudgery, the doubled words evoking the repetitive nature of the labor. But “moil” also echoes another word with which it rhymes, soil, in its meaning “to soil” or defile. Coupled with “up,” moil can also mean dig up, uproot, or grub in the ground and even to “transform into a soft mass,” much as the processes of time and decay transform many things into dust. This one word, then, to which Pulter returns in line 25, captures how laboring on the earth and in the dirt makes one dirty but also how this labor can be both destructive and productive (sometimes at once). The description of the earth as a “dunghill” or pile of refuse seems at first more negative than the description of it as a mother. In Shakespeare, for instance, the dunghill is routinely associated with low birth (“dunghill grooms” in 1 Henry VI and a “base dunghill villain and mechanical” in 2 Henry VI) and the ignominious burial of the lowborn and insubordinate, the rebel Jack Cade (2 Henry VI) and Cornwall’s servant (Lear). But this poem’s description of the pismires’ hard work suggests that the hill must be made and maintained. What’s more, contemporary attempts to revalue wastes as resources led to many proposals to promote dunghills as sources of soil enrichments and saltpeter for gunpowder.
dunghill earth
.
from

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder
31
ffrom Kings, who Earths Elixter Seem to have
From kings, who earth’s
Critical Note
secret principle; sovereign remedy; in alchemy, the philosopher’s stone, for indefinitely prolonging life
elixir
seem to have,
From kings, who earth’s
Critical Note
Alchemists assigned the power to turn stone into gold, prolong life, and cure disease, to an elusive substance—variously called the elixir, the quintessence, or the philosopher’s stone. The earth’s elixir, then, is the earth’s hidden and transformative “soul” or life force. The kings who have it would seem to have a monopoly on the best earth has to offer, the opposite of the “earthly clog” mentioned a few lines later. Yet their achievement is pointless, as in the proverbial expression of being the “cock of the dunghill.” In his Defense of Poesy, for example, Sir Philip Sidney descries the pointless contention between Alexander and Darius, “when they strove who should be cock of this world’s dunghill.” We also see the apparent contrast between elixir and dunghill erode when Adam Moore describes the poor man’s muck hill or dunghill as his “philosopher’s stone” (see Moore, Bread for the Poor, in “Curations.”)
elixir
seem to have,
32
Unto the Naked Sunburnt
Physical Note
“l” appears to correct “k”
ffemale
Slave
Unto the naked, sunburnt female slave,
Unto the naked sunburned female slave,
33
Who with her Swetty, Knotty Locks unbound
Who with her sweaty, knotty locks unbound
Who with her sweaty, knotty locks unbound,
34
Physical Note
“About her” modified to “Aboutthe” by crowding in second “t” and crossing out final “r”
Aboutther
Giddy Mill, doth trot around.
About the giddy mill, doth
Critical Note
The image is of a grinding machine with a stone which needs to be turned on an axis, here by a slave; the mill is “giddy” both in its circling action and possibly in causing dizziness.
trot around.
About her
Gloss Note
rapidly circling and therefore dizzying
giddy
mill doth
Critical Note
Pushing a stone mill to grind meal to be made into bread was an exhausting form of labor. As a consequence, the female slave pushing the mill stands as the opposite of the king or ruler. In Exodus, the plague on the first born extends from “the firstborn of Pharaoh that sits upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill” (Exodus 11:5). But the English economy also depended on slave labor by the time Pulter wrote, especially on plantations in Barbados that grew and processed sugar cane (in mills) for the European market. See Richard Ligon’s description of Indian female slaves making bread for planters on Barbados in “Curations.” Jennifer Morgan argues that more African women than men were made slaves from 1660-1700 (Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004], 58). Thus the reference to a female slave here extends beyond the Old Testament context to include the labor relations on which the English food supply actually depended by the seventeenth century. The unusual level of detail here—that the slave is female, naked, “sunburned” or dark skinned, and her hair both sweaty and knotty—invites the reader to picture this slave’s working body.
trot around
.
35
ffor who is ffree? untill his Soul doth Spring
For who is free, until his soul doth spring
For who is free until his soul doth spring
36
ffrom’s Earthly Clog, And Joyfully takes wing:
Gloss Note
From his
From’s
earthly
Gloss Note
impediment; body
clog
, and joyfully takes wing:
Gloss Note
From his
From’s
earthly
Gloss Note
burden/body
clog
and joyfully takes wing?
37
Then from that distance, wee perceive (most plain)
Then, from that distance, we perceive (most plain)
Then from that distance we perceive (most plain)
38
That all our moyling here, is but in vain.
That all our moiling here is but in vain.
That all our moiling here is but in vain.
39
ffor Earthly Glory, is our Sights deluſion;
For earthly glory is our sight’s delusion,
For earthly glory is our sight’s delusion,
40
It proving but a
Physical Note
ink blot on “ha”
Chaos
of confuſion.
It proving but a chaos of confusion.
It proving but a
Gloss Note
formless void
chaos
of confusion.
41
O then! as I in Heaven have placd my love,
O then, as I in Heaven have placed my love,
O then as I in heaven have placed my love,
42
Soe I’me ambitious of thoſe Joys above;
So I’m ambitious of those joys above;
So I’m ambitious of those joys above.
43
Grant mee the wings of Som unſpotted Dove,
Grant me the wings of some unspotted
Critical Note
messenger of peace and deliverance from anxiety, like the dove to Noah (Genesis 8:8-12); figuratively, often the Holy Spirit.
dove
,
Grant me the wings of some
Critical Note
Although Pulter twice mentions the “glittering” and “shining” wings of those pismires that rise above the earth to play, when the speaker asks for wings, they are not the gossamer wings of the pismire but those of the “unspotted dove.”
unspotted dove
,
44
To eaſe the troubles of my throbing breast;
To ease the troubles of my throbbing breast,
To ease the troubles of my throbbing breast,
45
That I may fly to my Eternall Rest.
That I may fly to my eternal rest.
That I may fly to my eternal rest.
curled line
X (Close panel)Notes: Amplified Edition

 Editorial note

My “amplified” editions seek to make the poems as accessible as possible by modernizing spelling and punctuation and providing only brief definitions for words, while discursive notes and the materials I gather for the “curations” section place Pulter’s poems into conversations. As I build the curations for a given poem—provisional and quirky as they are—I keep returning to the poem, re-reading, rethinking, and adding layers to the notes. I hope to show that Pulter was intellectually and politically embedded rather than isolated, taking up issues, genres, and tropes that also interested her contemporaries and that sometimes accrue unpredictable salience in later periods. Rather than focusing only on possible sources or influences, I cast a wide net both within the seventeenth century and outside it, trying to catch cultural materials Pulter might have engaged, some she excludes or ignores, and even some she probably could never have imagined. Curations don’t precede the poems nor are they implied by the poems—as if the poem gathers them to itself (although it can sometimes feel that way) or hales them forth. Instead, as a curator I weave the poem into a web of relations, seeking to open out rather than close down interpretive possibilities. This extends to including extracts that are long enough that readers might find things therein that I do not anticipate. I also look for a multi-vectored traffic among Pulter’s poetry and the other materials. What might the materials I’ve gathered help readers see in the poems—or notice is not there? But also, how do the poems bring fresh perspectives into the conversations into which I draw them? The more one reads the poems as participants in wider ranging conversations, the more fascinatingly twisty Pulter appears. Often, I don’t grasp how she upends or comes at conventions aslant until I have mucked about composting my “curations.”

 Headnote

Although Pulter’s manuscript includes this among the poems rather than the emblems, “The Pismire” reflects on its own status as emblem in line 28. Many of Pulter’s emblems announce their subject in the first line, often inviting the reader to “see,” “behold,” “mark,” or “view” what is being described. Here, the speaker does not “look about” until line 17 and finally sees the hill of pismires in line 20. While Pulter’s poem uses the pismire to describe the futility of endless earthly labors, a long tradition beginning with Aesop and Proverbs praises the pismire’s careful planning and hard work. As the texts in “Curations” indicate, the “behavior and habits” of ants were often set out as models for humans. For Thomas Moffett, for instance, the pismire, “this divine little creature,” is superior to humans because cleaner and harder working. It is “an emblem of divine providence, and labor, and of household care.” (See Moffett’s chapter on “the commendation of pismires” in his Theatre of Insects [1634], included in “Curations.”) The pismire’s tiny size could make it seem insignificant; by the sixteenth century, the word could be used as an insult for “an insignificant person; a person exhibiting behavior or habits usually associated with the ant” OED). The pismire’s very name evokes both urine and mire, or swampy ground in which "a person may be engulfed or become stuck fast." But the ant’s tiny size might also make its tireless industry even more impressive and heighten the contrast to humans. As John Bunyan puts it in a verse for children, “Man’s a fool, / Or silly ants would not be made his guide” (“Curations”). Pulter, however, overturns the conventional meaning of the pismire, taking it as a negative rather than positive example. The speaker’s description of his or her mind as “busy” (line 27) links the “I” to the pismire’s proverbial industry and perhaps the slave’s drudgery. For the link between the pismire and the housewife, see the epistle “To the Gentlewoman Reader” in Richard Brathwaite, The English gentlewoman (London, 1631): “She distastes none more than these busy housewives, who are ever running into discourse of others’ families, but forget their own. Neither holds she it sufficient to be only a housekeeper; or snail-like to be still under roof; she partakes therefore of the pismire in providing, of the Sarreptan widow [Kings 17], in disposing, holding ever an absent providence better than an improvident presence.
Line number 9

 Critical note

Figuring the earth as a mother is now so conventional that it might not seem to require comment. The figure has Roman roots, including gendering the earth or terra feminine, calling her a mother, and linking her to goddesses, including Ceres. From the start, this figuration works in two ways. First, it emphasizes the earth’s generative and nurturing power, suggesting a relationship of care, love, and perhaps even reciprocity between earth and her human children. Ovid’s Metamorphoses refers to the soil as a generative “mother’s womb” (1.501). Pulter’s contemporaries pick up this usage. See, for example, the passages from Lucy Hutchinson’s translation of Lucretius in “Curations.” Second, this figuration depicts the earth as a treasure trove to be exploited, which is variously promoted or lamented. We see both strands intertwine in Pliny’s Natural History. Pliny emphasizes that “mother” is bestowed on the earth as an honorific, since she receives humans upon birth (but does not generate them), nurtures them, and finally shelters them (II.154). Yet he also points out that humans’ debt to nature does not prevent the matricide of mining the earth for precious stones and metals (II.158). Cavendish and Milton, too, both describe the earth as a womb and disparage mining as, in Milton’s terms, “ransacking” and “rifling” the “bowels of their Mother Earth / For treasures better hid” (Paradise Lost 7, 1. 696-88; see also Cavendish, “Earth’s Complaint” in “Curations”). Other seventeenth-century uses of this figuration to promote agricultural “improvement” and resource extraction suggest that mother earth is not just humanity’s womb and tomb but also its treasure trove to be mined. For example, Walter Blith, in his influential agricultural treatise The English Improver Improved (1652), describes the earth as “the very womb that bears all, and the mother that must nourish and maintain all” (sig. B2v); but he also describes “the Earth, the true mother, in whose bowels is more wealth than ever will be drawn forth” so as to enjoin his reader to act “as the midwife to deliver the earth of its throws” (Blith sigs. R3v-R4r). The figuration that casts resource extraction as rape and murder of the mother, then, does not necessarily work to prevent it.
Line number 10

 Critical note

“Mother Earth, / To which I must” seems to imply “to which I must return.” But the appearance of “dust” in the next line also activates the meanings of “must” as a noun meaning mustiness, mold, or even the grape pulp or “must” that through fermentation becomes wine.
Line number 11

 Critical note

“Dust” is a favorite word for Pulter, drawing on both a scriptural tradition—Genesis describes humans as made from dust and as destined to revert to dust when they die (“for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” [Genesis 3:19])—and an alchemical tradition in which dust, like the atom, is used to describe the fundamental matter of creation. Pulter’s fascination with dust is not unique to her. Her contemporary Lucy Hutchinson, for instance, similarly advises mindfulness of how dust is both “originary” and the body’s inevitable destination (see Order and Disorder [1679], Canto III, 123-6).
Line number 13

 Gloss note

comforting
Line number 17

 Gloss note

around
Line number 20

 Gloss note

ants
Line number 21

 Gloss note

dragged
Line number 21

 Gloss note

inflated/swollen
Line number 21

 Critical note

The description of the pismires dragging their “issue” around might help to link motherhood to drudgery.
Line number 22

 Gloss note

iridescent cloth
Line number 26

 Critical note

While descriptions of bees emphasize how anatomical differences and social hierarchies conjoin to make some queens and others drones, most descriptions of ants do not make such distinctions, valuing ants as a collective rather than a hierarchy. As Thomas Moffett puts it, “pismires are endowed with so much virtue and justice, that they need no king to govern them.” Nor does Moffett mention winged pismires, although he describes their anatomy in detail. Here again, Pulter departs from many other descriptions of the pismire, distinguishing those with glittering wings who play from the wingless workers. When the speaker looks at the anthill, s/he sees a hierarchy. She may also, at least in part, see a beehive, conflating descriptions of ants and bees to depict the pismire as winged and hierarchical.
Line number 30

 Gloss note

toil
Line number 30

 Critical note

The verb “moil” corresponds to and reinforces “labor” here, inverting the order of the expression “toil and moil” to describe drudgery, the doubled words evoking the repetitive nature of the labor. But “moil” also echoes another word with which it rhymes, soil, in its meaning “to soil” or defile. Coupled with “up,” moil can also mean dig up, uproot, or grub in the ground and even to “transform into a soft mass,” much as the processes of time and decay transform many things into dust. This one word, then, to which Pulter returns in line 25, captures how laboring on the earth and in the dirt makes one dirty but also how this labor can be both destructive and productive (sometimes at once). The description of the earth as a “dunghill” or pile of refuse seems at first more negative than the description of it as a mother. In Shakespeare, for instance, the dunghill is routinely associated with low birth (“dunghill grooms” in 1 Henry VI and a “base dunghill villain and mechanical” in 2 Henry VI) and the ignominious burial of the lowborn and insubordinate, the rebel Jack Cade (2 Henry VI) and Cornwall’s servant (Lear). But this poem’s description of the pismires’ hard work suggests that the hill must be made and maintained. What’s more, contemporary attempts to revalue wastes as resources led to many proposals to promote dunghills as sources of soil enrichments and saltpeter for gunpowder.
Line number 31

 Critical note

Alchemists assigned the power to turn stone into gold, prolong life, and cure disease, to an elusive substance—variously called the elixir, the quintessence, or the philosopher’s stone. The earth’s elixir, then, is the earth’s hidden and transformative “soul” or life force. The kings who have it would seem to have a monopoly on the best earth has to offer, the opposite of the “earthly clog” mentioned a few lines later. Yet their achievement is pointless, as in the proverbial expression of being the “cock of the dunghill.” In his Defense of Poesy, for example, Sir Philip Sidney descries the pointless contention between Alexander and Darius, “when they strove who should be cock of this world’s dunghill.” We also see the apparent contrast between elixir and dunghill erode when Adam Moore describes the poor man’s muck hill or dunghill as his “philosopher’s stone” (see Moore, Bread for the Poor, in “Curations.”)
Line number 34

 Gloss note

rapidly circling and therefore dizzying
Line number 34

 Critical note

Pushing a stone mill to grind meal to be made into bread was an exhausting form of labor. As a consequence, the female slave pushing the mill stands as the opposite of the king or ruler. In Exodus, the plague on the first born extends from “the firstborn of Pharaoh that sits upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill” (Exodus 11:5). But the English economy also depended on slave labor by the time Pulter wrote, especially on plantations in Barbados that grew and processed sugar cane (in mills) for the European market. See Richard Ligon’s description of Indian female slaves making bread for planters on Barbados in “Curations.” Jennifer Morgan argues that more African women than men were made slaves from 1660-1700 (Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004], 58). Thus the reference to a female slave here extends beyond the Old Testament context to include the labor relations on which the English food supply actually depended by the seventeenth century. The unusual level of detail here—that the slave is female, naked, “sunburned” or dark skinned, and her hair both sweaty and knotty—invites the reader to picture this slave’s working body.
Line number 36

 Gloss note

From his
Line number 36

 Gloss note

burden/body
Line number 40

 Gloss note

formless void
Line number 43

 Critical note

Although Pulter twice mentions the “glittering” and “shining” wings of those pismires that rise above the earth to play, when the speaker asks for wings, they are not the gossamer wings of the pismire but those of the “unspotted dove.”
Sorry, but there are no notes associated with any currently displayed witness.
X (Close panel)Amplified Edition
Amplified Edition

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder
Physical Note
previous poem conlcudes at top of page
The Pismire
Gloss Note
the ant; or an insignificant person or person exhibiting behaviour or habits usually associated with the ant
The Pismire
The Pismire
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.

— Frances E. Dolan
The aim of the elemental edition 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.

— Frances E. Dolan
My “amplified” editions seek to make the poems as accessible as possible by modernizing spelling and punctuation and providing only brief definitions for words, while discursive notes and the materials I gather for the “curations” section place Pulter’s poems into conversations. As I build the curations for a given poem—provisional and quirky as they are—I keep returning to the poem, re-reading, rethinking, and adding layers to the notes. I hope to show that Pulter was intellectually and politically embedded rather than isolated, taking up issues, genres, and tropes that also interested her contemporaries and that sometimes accrue unpredictable salience in later periods. Rather than focusing only on possible sources or influences, I cast a wide net both within the seventeenth century and outside it, trying to catch cultural materials Pulter might have engaged, some she excludes or ignores, and even some she probably could never have imagined. Curations don’t precede the poems nor are they implied by the poems—as if the poem gathers them to itself (although it can sometimes feel that way) or hales them forth. Instead, as a curator I weave the poem into a web of relations, seeking to open out rather than close down interpretive possibilities. This extends to including extracts that are long enough that readers might find things therein that I do not anticipate. I also look for a multi-vectored traffic among Pulter’s poetry and the other materials. What might the materials I’ve gathered help readers see in the poems—or notice is not there? But also, how do the poems bring fresh perspectives into the conversations into which I draw them? The more one reads the poems as participants in wider ranging conversations, the more fascinatingly twisty Pulter appears. Often, I don’t grasp how she upends or comes at conventions aslant until I have mucked about composting my “curations.”

— Frances E. Dolan
Although not in the “Emblems” section of Pulter’s manuscript, partway through this poem the troubled speaker deliberately shifts into an emblematic way of seeing and writing about the world, in part to distract her from her melancholic thoughts. She thus spots (and then depicts) a busy anthill from which she extrapolates macrocosmic reflections. Instead of distracting her, though, the microcosm of laboring ants—whose tasks range from parenting to bringing in the harvest—largely and dispiritingly echoes the human world. Only a few shining-winged insects on “perpetual holiday” function, proleptically, as emblems of the winged soul, by which means the speaker longingly anticipates leaving earth’s dusty toil. Packed into this short poem are several unexpected shifts in the visual frame, with an initial bout of introspection replaced by a close-up of the natural world, which in turn precedes the imagined (and desired) “distance” of a heavenly perspective.

— Frances E. Dolan
Although Pulter’s manuscript includes this among the poems rather than the emblems, “The Pismire” reflects on its own status as emblem in line 28. Many of Pulter’s emblems announce their subject in the first line, often inviting the reader to “see,” “behold,” “mark,” or “view” what is being described. Here, the speaker does not “look about” until line 17 and finally sees the hill of pismires in line 20. While Pulter’s poem uses the pismire to describe the futility of endless earthly labors, a long tradition beginning with Aesop and Proverbs praises the pismire’s careful planning and hard work. As the texts in “Curations” indicate, the “behavior and habits” of ants were often set out as models for humans. For Thomas Moffett, for instance, the pismire, “this divine little creature,” is superior to humans because cleaner and harder working. It is “an emblem of divine providence, and labor, and of household care.” (See Moffett’s chapter on “the commendation of pismires” in his Theatre of Insects [1634], included in “Curations.”) The pismire’s tiny size could make it seem insignificant; by the sixteenth century, the word could be used as an insult for “an insignificant person; a person exhibiting behavior or habits usually associated with the ant” OED). The pismire’s very name evokes both urine and mire, or swampy ground in which "a person may be engulfed or become stuck fast." But the ant’s tiny size might also make its tireless industry even more impressive and heighten the contrast to humans. As John Bunyan puts it in a verse for children, “Man’s a fool, / Or silly ants would not be made his guide” (“Curations”). Pulter, however, overturns the conventional meaning of the pismire, taking it as a negative rather than positive example. The speaker’s description of his or her mind as “busy” (line 27) links the “I” to the pismire’s proverbial industry and perhaps the slave’s drudgery. For the link between the pismire and the housewife, see the epistle “To the Gentlewoman Reader” in Richard Brathwaite, The English gentlewoman (London, 1631): “She distastes none more than these busy housewives, who are ever running into discourse of others’ families, but forget their own. Neither holds she it sufficient to be only a housekeeper; or snail-like to be still under roof; she partakes therefore of the pismire in providing, of the Sarreptan widow [Kings 17], in disposing, holding ever an absent providence better than an improvident presence.

— Frances E. Dolan
1
Physical Note
Previous poem concludes at top of page.
Walking a b^road once in a Sumers day,
Walking abroad, once in a summer’s day,
Walking abroad once in a summer’s day,
2
Physical Note
in left margin, written in hand H2
And
(As I well remember twas) in May.
And (as I well remember) ’twas in May,
And (as I well remember) ’twas in May,
3
Beeing tird with fancies, & my panting Breast
Being tired with fancies, and my panting breast
Being tired with fancies, and my panting breast
4
Beeing full of trouble, I lookt where I might Rest.
Being full of trouble, I looked where I might rest.
Being full of trouble, I looked where I might rest.
5
Then down I threw my Selfe upon ye Graſs,
Then down I threw myself upon the grass;
Then down I threw myself upon the grass;
6
Som Solitary^howrs I thought to paſs,
Some solitary hours I thought to pass.
Some solitary hours I thought to pass.
7
Leaning my head against a Siccamoore,
Leaning my head against a sycamore,
Leaning my head against a sycamore,
8
My heavy eyes upon the Ground did pore;
My heavy eyes upon the ground did pore.
My heavy eyes upon the ground did pore.
Muſe

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder
9
Muſeing and looking on my Mother, Earth.
Musing and looking on my Mother Earth,
Musing and looking on
Critical Note
Figuring the earth as a mother is now so conventional that it might not seem to require comment. The figure has Roman roots, including gendering the earth or terra feminine, calling her a mother, and linking her to goddesses, including Ceres. From the start, this figuration works in two ways. First, it emphasizes the earth’s generative and nurturing power, suggesting a relationship of care, love, and perhaps even reciprocity between earth and her human children. Ovid’s Metamorphoses refers to the soil as a generative “mother’s womb” (1.501). Pulter’s contemporaries pick up this usage. See, for example, the passages from Lucy Hutchinson’s translation of Lucretius in “Curations.” Second, this figuration depicts the earth as a treasure trove to be exploited, which is variously promoted or lamented. We see both strands intertwine in Pliny’s Natural History. Pliny emphasizes that “mother” is bestowed on the earth as an honorific, since she receives humans upon birth (but does not generate them), nurtures them, and finally shelters them (II.154). Yet he also points out that humans’ debt to nature does not prevent the matricide of mining the earth for precious stones and metals (II.158). Cavendish and Milton, too, both describe the earth as a womb and disparage mining as, in Milton’s terms, “ransacking” and “rifling” the “bowels of their Mother Earth / For treasures better hid” (Paradise Lost 7, 1. 696-88; see also Cavendish, “Earth’s Complaint” in “Curations”). Other seventeenth-century uses of this figuration to promote agricultural “improvement” and resource extraction suggest that mother earth is not just humanity’s womb and tomb but also its treasure trove to be mined. For example, Walter Blith, in his influential agricultural treatise The English Improver Improved (1652), describes the earth as “the very womb that bears all, and the mother that must nourish and maintain all” (sig. B2v); but he also describes “the Earth, the true mother, in whose bowels is more wealth than ever will be drawn forth” so as to enjoin his reader to act “as the midwife to deliver the earth of its throws” (Blith sigs. R3v-R4r). The figuration that casts resource extraction as rape and murder of the mother, then, does not necessarily work to prevent it.
my Mother, Earth
,
10
To which I must; from whence I drew my breath.
To which I
Gloss Note
must go
must
, from whence I drew my breath,
To which I
Critical Note
“Mother Earth, / To which I must” seems to imply “to which I must return.” But the appearance of “dust” in the next line also activates the meanings of “must” as a noun meaning mustiness, mold, or even the grape pulp or “must” that through fermentation becomes wine.
must
, from whence I drew my breath;
11
Then did I think how I to duſt
Physical Note
“M” appears written over other letter or letters, imperfectly erased
Must
turn,
Then did I think how I to
Critical Note
fine particles, esp. of disintegrating dead body; also, formative physical elements; see Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
dust
must turn,
Then did I think how I to
Critical Note
“Dust” is a favorite word for Pulter, drawing on both a scriptural tradition—Genesis describes humans as made from dust and as destined to revert to dust when they die (“for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” [Genesis 3:19])—and an alchemical tradition in which dust, like the atom, is used to describe the fundamental matter of creation. Pulter’s fascination with dust is not unique to her. Her contemporary Lucy Hutchinson, for instance, similarly advises mindfulness of how dust is both “originary” and the body’s inevitable destination (see Order and Disorder [1679], Canto III, 123-6).
dust
must turn,
12
And lie forgotten, in my Silent Urn,
And lie forgotten in my silent urn,
And lie forgotten, in my silent urn,
13
Where I Should looſ, the Comfortable Sight
Where I should lose the comfortable sight
Where I should lose the
Gloss Note
comforting
comfortable
sight
14
Of my deare ffreinds, and all diſcovering light,
Of my dear friends, and all-discovering light.
Of my dear friends, and all discovering light.
15
As I these
Physical Note
ink blot on “ou”
thoughts
within my mind Revolved,
As I these thoughts within my mind revolved,
As I these thoughts within my mind revolved,
16
Sighs fils my heart, till they in tears deſolved.
Sighs fills my heart, till they in tears dissolved;
Sighs fill my heart, till they in tears dissolved.
17
Then clearing^of mine Eyes, I
Physical Note
“ing” of “looking” struck through and replaced with “’d”
look’dng
about
Then, clearing of mine eyes, I looked
Gloss Note
about to see
about
Then, clearing of mine eyes, I looked
Gloss Note
around
about
18
What I could See, to put these Sorrowes out
What I could see to put these sorrows out
What I could see, to put these sorrows out
19
Of my Sad heart, where inſtantly I Spied
Of my sad heart; where instantly I spied
Of my sad heart?—where instantly I spied
20
A hill of Piſmires, who their Labor plied;
A hill of pismires, who their labor plied,
A hill of
Gloss Note
ants
pismires
, who their labor plied.
21
Som luggerd up and down their flatious iſſew,
Some
Gloss Note
dragged or carried
luggered
up and down their
Critical Note
This word, not in the OED, is used in John Woodall’s The surgeons mate or Military & domestique surgery (London, 1655), p.57, in reference to “belching, quartans, cold, and all flatious diseases”; it is not clear what sense Pulter means. The word is possibly written in error for “fatuous” (meaning “foolish”) or “flatuous” (meaning “inflated”).
flatious
issue,
Some
Gloss Note
dragged
luggered
up and down their
Gloss Note
inflated/swollen
flatious
Critical Note
The description of the pismires dragging their “issue” around might help to link motherhood to drudgery.
issue
,
22
And Some with glittring wings y:t Shone like tiſſew,
And some with glitt’ring wings that shone like tissue;
And some with glittering wings that shone like
Gloss Note
iridescent cloth
tissue
,
23
The Rest their wheat, and other nibled Grain
The rest their wheat and other nibbled grain
The rest their wheat, and other nibbled grain
24
Did lay in Store, from Winters Storms & Rain.
Did lay in store from winter’s storms and rain;
Did lay in store, from winter’s storms and rain.
25
And onely those with Shineing wings did play
And only those with shining wings did play,
And only those with shining wings did play,
26
Seeming to keep perpetuall holy day.
Seeming to keep perpetual holiday.
Seeming to keep
Critical Note
While descriptions of bees emphasize how anatomical differences and social hierarchies conjoin to make some queens and others drones, most descriptions of ants do not make such distinctions, valuing ants as a collective rather than a hierarchy. As Thomas Moffett puts it, “pismires are endowed with so much virtue and justice, that they need no king to govern them.” Nor does Moffett mention winged pismires, although he describes their anatomy in detail. Here again, Pulter departs from many other descriptions of the pismire, distinguishing those with glittering wings who play from the wingless workers. When the speaker looks at the anthill, s/he sees a hierarchy. She may also, at least in part, see a beehive, conflating descriptions of ants and bees to depict the pismire as winged and hierarchical.
perpetual holiday
.
27
Then instantly my buſie mind was hurld
Then instantly my busy mind was hurled,
Then instantly my busy mind was hurled,
28
Physical Note
ascender on “k” is darker and above erased descender (as for “g”)
Thinking
they were an Embleme of ye World.
Thinking they were an
Gloss Note
symbol
emblem
of the world.
Thinking they were an emblem of the world.
29
ffor all which
Physical Note
multiple strike-through
was
from this Earth doe draw their^breath
For all which from this earth do draw their breath
For all which from this earth do draw their breath
30
Still moyle and labour in this dunghill Earth.
Still
Gloss Note
toil; dig; burrow; mill about, as in a crowd
moil
and labour in this dunghill earth.
Still
Gloss Note
toil
moil
and labor in this
Critical Note
The verb “moil” corresponds to and reinforces “labor” here, inverting the order of the expression “toil and moil” to describe drudgery, the doubled words evoking the repetitive nature of the labor. But “moil” also echoes another word with which it rhymes, soil, in its meaning “to soil” or defile. Coupled with “up,” moil can also mean dig up, uproot, or grub in the ground and even to “transform into a soft mass,” much as the processes of time and decay transform many things into dust. This one word, then, to which Pulter returns in line 25, captures how laboring on the earth and in the dirt makes one dirty but also how this labor can be both destructive and productive (sometimes at once). The description of the earth as a “dunghill” or pile of refuse seems at first more negative than the description of it as a mother. In Shakespeare, for instance, the dunghill is routinely associated with low birth (“dunghill grooms” in 1 Henry VI and a “base dunghill villain and mechanical” in 2 Henry VI) and the ignominious burial of the lowborn and insubordinate, the rebel Jack Cade (2 Henry VI) and Cornwall’s servant (Lear). But this poem’s description of the pismires’ hard work suggests that the hill must be made and maintained. What’s more, contemporary attempts to revalue wastes as resources led to many proposals to promote dunghills as sources of soil enrichments and saltpeter for gunpowder.
dunghill earth
.
from

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder
31
ffrom Kings, who Earths Elixter Seem to have
From kings, who earth’s
Critical Note
secret principle; sovereign remedy; in alchemy, the philosopher’s stone, for indefinitely prolonging life
elixir
seem to have,
From kings, who earth’s
Critical Note
Alchemists assigned the power to turn stone into gold, prolong life, and cure disease, to an elusive substance—variously called the elixir, the quintessence, or the philosopher’s stone. The earth’s elixir, then, is the earth’s hidden and transformative “soul” or life force. The kings who have it would seem to have a monopoly on the best earth has to offer, the opposite of the “earthly clog” mentioned a few lines later. Yet their achievement is pointless, as in the proverbial expression of being the “cock of the dunghill.” In his Defense of Poesy, for example, Sir Philip Sidney descries the pointless contention between Alexander and Darius, “when they strove who should be cock of this world’s dunghill.” We also see the apparent contrast between elixir and dunghill erode when Adam Moore describes the poor man’s muck hill or dunghill as his “philosopher’s stone” (see Moore, Bread for the Poor, in “Curations.”)
elixir
seem to have,
32
Unto the Naked Sunburnt
Physical Note
“l” appears to correct “k”
ffemale
Slave
Unto the naked, sunburnt female slave,
Unto the naked sunburned female slave,
33
Who with her Swetty, Knotty Locks unbound
Who with her sweaty, knotty locks unbound
Who with her sweaty, knotty locks unbound,
34
Physical Note
“About her” modified to “Aboutthe” by crowding in second “t” and crossing out final “r”
Aboutther
Giddy Mill, doth trot around.
About the giddy mill, doth
Critical Note
The image is of a grinding machine with a stone which needs to be turned on an axis, here by a slave; the mill is “giddy” both in its circling action and possibly in causing dizziness.
trot around.
About her
Gloss Note
rapidly circling and therefore dizzying
giddy
mill doth
Critical Note
Pushing a stone mill to grind meal to be made into bread was an exhausting form of labor. As a consequence, the female slave pushing the mill stands as the opposite of the king or ruler. In Exodus, the plague on the first born extends from “the firstborn of Pharaoh that sits upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill” (Exodus 11:5). But the English economy also depended on slave labor by the time Pulter wrote, especially on plantations in Barbados that grew and processed sugar cane (in mills) for the European market. See Richard Ligon’s description of Indian female slaves making bread for planters on Barbados in “Curations.” Jennifer Morgan argues that more African women than men were made slaves from 1660-1700 (Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004], 58). Thus the reference to a female slave here extends beyond the Old Testament context to include the labor relations on which the English food supply actually depended by the seventeenth century. The unusual level of detail here—that the slave is female, naked, “sunburned” or dark skinned, and her hair both sweaty and knotty—invites the reader to picture this slave’s working body.
trot around
.
35
ffor who is ffree? untill his Soul doth Spring
For who is free, until his soul doth spring
For who is free until his soul doth spring
36
ffrom’s Earthly Clog, And Joyfully takes wing:
Gloss Note
From his
From’s
earthly
Gloss Note
impediment; body
clog
, and joyfully takes wing:
Gloss Note
From his
From’s
earthly
Gloss Note
burden/body
clog
and joyfully takes wing?
37
Then from that distance, wee perceive (most plain)
Then, from that distance, we perceive (most plain)
Then from that distance we perceive (most plain)
38
That all our moyling here, is but in vain.
That all our moiling here is but in vain.
That all our moiling here is but in vain.
39
ffor Earthly Glory, is our Sights deluſion;
For earthly glory is our sight’s delusion,
For earthly glory is our sight’s delusion,
40
It proving but a
Physical Note
ink blot on “ha”
Chaos
of confuſion.
It proving but a chaos of confusion.
It proving but a
Gloss Note
formless void
chaos
of confusion.
41
O then! as I in Heaven have placd my love,
O then, as I in Heaven have placed my love,
O then as I in heaven have placed my love,
42
Soe I’me ambitious of thoſe Joys above;
So I’m ambitious of those joys above;
So I’m ambitious of those joys above.
43
Grant mee the wings of Som unſpotted Dove,
Grant me the wings of some unspotted
Critical Note
messenger of peace and deliverance from anxiety, like the dove to Noah (Genesis 8:8-12); figuratively, often the Holy Spirit.
dove
,
Grant me the wings of some
Critical Note
Although Pulter twice mentions the “glittering” and “shining” wings of those pismires that rise above the earth to play, when the speaker asks for wings, they are not the gossamer wings of the pismire but those of the “unspotted dove.”
unspotted dove
,
44
To eaſe the troubles of my throbing breast;
To ease the troubles of my throbbing breast,
To ease the troubles of my throbbing breast,
45
That I may fly to my Eternall Rest.
That I may fly to my eternal rest.
That I may fly to my eternal rest.
curled line
X (Close panel) All Notes
Transcription
Title note

 Physical note

previous poem conlcudes at top of page
Elemental Edition
Title note

 Gloss note

the ant; or an insignificant person or person exhibiting behaviour or habits usually associated with the ant
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 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

My “amplified” editions seek to make the poems as accessible as possible by modernizing spelling and punctuation and providing only brief definitions for words, while discursive notes and the materials I gather for the “curations” section place Pulter’s poems into conversations. As I build the curations for a given poem—provisional and quirky as they are—I keep returning to the poem, re-reading, rethinking, and adding layers to the notes. I hope to show that Pulter was intellectually and politically embedded rather than isolated, taking up issues, genres, and tropes that also interested her contemporaries and that sometimes accrue unpredictable salience in later periods. Rather than focusing only on possible sources or influences, I cast a wide net both within the seventeenth century and outside it, trying to catch cultural materials Pulter might have engaged, some she excludes or ignores, and even some she probably could never have imagined. Curations don’t precede the poems nor are they implied by the poems—as if the poem gathers them to itself (although it can sometimes feel that way) or hales them forth. Instead, as a curator I weave the poem into a web of relations, seeking to open out rather than close down interpretive possibilities. This extends to including extracts that are long enough that readers might find things therein that I do not anticipate. I also look for a multi-vectored traffic among Pulter’s poetry and the other materials. What might the materials I’ve gathered help readers see in the poems—or notice is not there? But also, how do the poems bring fresh perspectives into the conversations into which I draw them? The more one reads the poems as participants in wider ranging conversations, the more fascinatingly twisty Pulter appears. Often, I don’t grasp how she upends or comes at conventions aslant until I have mucked about composting my “curations.”
Elemental Edition

 Headnote

Although not in the “Emblems” section of Pulter’s manuscript, partway through this poem the troubled speaker deliberately shifts into an emblematic way of seeing and writing about the world, in part to distract her from her melancholic thoughts. She thus spots (and then depicts) a busy anthill from which she extrapolates macrocosmic reflections. Instead of distracting her, though, the microcosm of laboring ants—whose tasks range from parenting to bringing in the harvest—largely and dispiritingly echoes the human world. Only a few shining-winged insects on “perpetual holiday” function, proleptically, as emblems of the winged soul, by which means the speaker longingly anticipates leaving earth’s dusty toil. Packed into this short poem are several unexpected shifts in the visual frame, with an initial bout of introspection replaced by a close-up of the natural world, which in turn precedes the imagined (and desired) “distance” of a heavenly perspective.
Amplified Edition

 Headnote

Although Pulter’s manuscript includes this among the poems rather than the emblems, “The Pismire” reflects on its own status as emblem in line 28. Many of Pulter’s emblems announce their subject in the first line, often inviting the reader to “see,” “behold,” “mark,” or “view” what is being described. Here, the speaker does not “look about” until line 17 and finally sees the hill of pismires in line 20. While Pulter’s poem uses the pismire to describe the futility of endless earthly labors, a long tradition beginning with Aesop and Proverbs praises the pismire’s careful planning and hard work. As the texts in “Curations” indicate, the “behavior and habits” of ants were often set out as models for humans. For Thomas Moffett, for instance, the pismire, “this divine little creature,” is superior to humans because cleaner and harder working. It is “an emblem of divine providence, and labor, and of household care.” (See Moffett’s chapter on “the commendation of pismires” in his Theatre of Insects [1634], included in “Curations.”) The pismire’s tiny size could make it seem insignificant; by the sixteenth century, the word could be used as an insult for “an insignificant person; a person exhibiting behavior or habits usually associated with the ant” OED). The pismire’s very name evokes both urine and mire, or swampy ground in which "a person may be engulfed or become stuck fast." But the ant’s tiny size might also make its tireless industry even more impressive and heighten the contrast to humans. As John Bunyan puts it in a verse for children, “Man’s a fool, / Or silly ants would not be made his guide” (“Curations”). Pulter, however, overturns the conventional meaning of the pismire, taking it as a negative rather than positive example. The speaker’s description of his or her mind as “busy” (line 27) links the “I” to the pismire’s proverbial industry and perhaps the slave’s drudgery. For the link between the pismire and the housewife, see the epistle “To the Gentlewoman Reader” in Richard Brathwaite, The English gentlewoman (London, 1631): “She distastes none more than these busy housewives, who are ever running into discourse of others’ families, but forget their own. Neither holds she it sufficient to be only a housekeeper; or snail-like to be still under roof; she partakes therefore of the pismire in providing, of the Sarreptan widow [Kings 17], in disposing, holding ever an absent providence better than an improvident presence.
Transcription
Line number 1

 Physical note

Previous poem concludes at top of page.
Transcription
Line number 2

 Physical note

in left margin, written in hand H2
Amplified Edition
Line number 9

 Critical note

Figuring the earth as a mother is now so conventional that it might not seem to require comment. The figure has Roman roots, including gendering the earth or terra feminine, calling her a mother, and linking her to goddesses, including Ceres. From the start, this figuration works in two ways. First, it emphasizes the earth’s generative and nurturing power, suggesting a relationship of care, love, and perhaps even reciprocity between earth and her human children. Ovid’s Metamorphoses refers to the soil as a generative “mother’s womb” (1.501). Pulter’s contemporaries pick up this usage. See, for example, the passages from Lucy Hutchinson’s translation of Lucretius in “Curations.” Second, this figuration depicts the earth as a treasure trove to be exploited, which is variously promoted or lamented. We see both strands intertwine in Pliny’s Natural History. Pliny emphasizes that “mother” is bestowed on the earth as an honorific, since she receives humans upon birth (but does not generate them), nurtures them, and finally shelters them (II.154). Yet he also points out that humans’ debt to nature does not prevent the matricide of mining the earth for precious stones and metals (II.158). Cavendish and Milton, too, both describe the earth as a womb and disparage mining as, in Milton’s terms, “ransacking” and “rifling” the “bowels of their Mother Earth / For treasures better hid” (Paradise Lost 7, 1. 696-88; see also Cavendish, “Earth’s Complaint” in “Curations”). Other seventeenth-century uses of this figuration to promote agricultural “improvement” and resource extraction suggest that mother earth is not just humanity’s womb and tomb but also its treasure trove to be mined. For example, Walter Blith, in his influential agricultural treatise The English Improver Improved (1652), describes the earth as “the very womb that bears all, and the mother that must nourish and maintain all” (sig. B2v); but he also describes “the Earth, the true mother, in whose bowels is more wealth than ever will be drawn forth” so as to enjoin his reader to act “as the midwife to deliver the earth of its throws” (Blith sigs. R3v-R4r). The figuration that casts resource extraction as rape and murder of the mother, then, does not necessarily work to prevent it.
Elemental Edition
Line number 10

 Gloss note

must go
Amplified Edition
Line number 10

 Critical note

“Mother Earth, / To which I must” seems to imply “to which I must return.” But the appearance of “dust” in the next line also activates the meanings of “must” as a noun meaning mustiness, mold, or even the grape pulp or “must” that through fermentation becomes wine.
Transcription
Line number 11

 Physical note

“M” appears written over other letter or letters, imperfectly erased
Elemental Edition
Line number 11

 Critical note

fine particles, esp. of disintegrating dead body; also, formative physical elements; see Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Amplified Edition
Line number 11

 Critical note

“Dust” is a favorite word for Pulter, drawing on both a scriptural tradition—Genesis describes humans as made from dust and as destined to revert to dust when they die (“for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” [Genesis 3:19])—and an alchemical tradition in which dust, like the atom, is used to describe the fundamental matter of creation. Pulter’s fascination with dust is not unique to her. Her contemporary Lucy Hutchinson, for instance, similarly advises mindfulness of how dust is both “originary” and the body’s inevitable destination (see Order and Disorder [1679], Canto III, 123-6).
Amplified Edition
Line number 13

 Gloss note

comforting
Transcription
Line number 15

 Physical note

ink blot on “ou”
Transcription
Line number 17

 Physical note

“ing” of “looking” struck through and replaced with “’d”
Elemental Edition
Line number 17

 Gloss note

about to see
Amplified Edition
Line number 17

 Gloss note

around
Amplified Edition
Line number 20

 Gloss note

ants
Elemental Edition
Line number 21

 Gloss note

dragged or carried
Elemental Edition
Line number 21

 Critical note

This word, not in the OED, is used in John Woodall’s The surgeons mate or Military & domestique surgery (London, 1655), p.57, in reference to “belching, quartans, cold, and all flatious diseases”; it is not clear what sense Pulter means. The word is possibly written in error for “fatuous” (meaning “foolish”) or “flatuous” (meaning “inflated”).
Amplified Edition
Line number 21

 Gloss note

dragged
Amplified Edition
Line number 21

 Gloss note

inflated/swollen
Amplified Edition
Line number 21

 Critical note

The description of the pismires dragging their “issue” around might help to link motherhood to drudgery.
Amplified Edition
Line number 22

 Gloss note

iridescent cloth
Amplified Edition
Line number 26

 Critical note

While descriptions of bees emphasize how anatomical differences and social hierarchies conjoin to make some queens and others drones, most descriptions of ants do not make such distinctions, valuing ants as a collective rather than a hierarchy. As Thomas Moffett puts it, “pismires are endowed with so much virtue and justice, that they need no king to govern them.” Nor does Moffett mention winged pismires, although he describes their anatomy in detail. Here again, Pulter departs from many other descriptions of the pismire, distinguishing those with glittering wings who play from the wingless workers. When the speaker looks at the anthill, s/he sees a hierarchy. She may also, at least in part, see a beehive, conflating descriptions of ants and bees to depict the pismire as winged and hierarchical.
Transcription
Line number 28

 Physical note

ascender on “k” is darker and above erased descender (as for “g”)
Elemental Edition
Line number 28

 Gloss note

symbol
Transcription
Line number 29

 Physical note

multiple strike-through
Elemental Edition
Line number 30

 Gloss note

toil; dig; burrow; mill about, as in a crowd
Amplified Edition
Line number 30

 Gloss note

toil
Amplified Edition
Line number 30

 Critical note

The verb “moil” corresponds to and reinforces “labor” here, inverting the order of the expression “toil and moil” to describe drudgery, the doubled words evoking the repetitive nature of the labor. But “moil” also echoes another word with which it rhymes, soil, in its meaning “to soil” or defile. Coupled with “up,” moil can also mean dig up, uproot, or grub in the ground and even to “transform into a soft mass,” much as the processes of time and decay transform many things into dust. This one word, then, to which Pulter returns in line 25, captures how laboring on the earth and in the dirt makes one dirty but also how this labor can be both destructive and productive (sometimes at once). The description of the earth as a “dunghill” or pile of refuse seems at first more negative than the description of it as a mother. In Shakespeare, for instance, the dunghill is routinely associated with low birth (“dunghill grooms” in 1 Henry VI and a “base dunghill villain and mechanical” in 2 Henry VI) and the ignominious burial of the lowborn and insubordinate, the rebel Jack Cade (2 Henry VI) and Cornwall’s servant (Lear). But this poem’s description of the pismires’ hard work suggests that the hill must be made and maintained. What’s more, contemporary attempts to revalue wastes as resources led to many proposals to promote dunghills as sources of soil enrichments and saltpeter for gunpowder.
Elemental Edition
Line number 31

 Critical note

secret principle; sovereign remedy; in alchemy, the philosopher’s stone, for indefinitely prolonging life
Amplified Edition
Line number 31

 Critical note

Alchemists assigned the power to turn stone into gold, prolong life, and cure disease, to an elusive substance—variously called the elixir, the quintessence, or the philosopher’s stone. The earth’s elixir, then, is the earth’s hidden and transformative “soul” or life force. The kings who have it would seem to have a monopoly on the best earth has to offer, the opposite of the “earthly clog” mentioned a few lines later. Yet their achievement is pointless, as in the proverbial expression of being the “cock of the dunghill.” In his Defense of Poesy, for example, Sir Philip Sidney descries the pointless contention between Alexander and Darius, “when they strove who should be cock of this world’s dunghill.” We also see the apparent contrast between elixir and dunghill erode when Adam Moore describes the poor man’s muck hill or dunghill as his “philosopher’s stone” (see Moore, Bread for the Poor, in “Curations.”)
Transcription
Line number 32

 Physical note

“l” appears to correct “k”
Transcription
Line number 34

 Physical note

“About her” modified to “Aboutthe” by crowding in second “t” and crossing out final “r”
Elemental Edition
Line number 34

 Critical note

The image is of a grinding machine with a stone which needs to be turned on an axis, here by a slave; the mill is “giddy” both in its circling action and possibly in causing dizziness.
Amplified Edition
Line number 34

 Gloss note

rapidly circling and therefore dizzying
Amplified Edition
Line number 34

 Critical note

Pushing a stone mill to grind meal to be made into bread was an exhausting form of labor. As a consequence, the female slave pushing the mill stands as the opposite of the king or ruler. In Exodus, the plague on the first born extends from “the firstborn of Pharaoh that sits upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill” (Exodus 11:5). But the English economy also depended on slave labor by the time Pulter wrote, especially on plantations in Barbados that grew and processed sugar cane (in mills) for the European market. See Richard Ligon’s description of Indian female slaves making bread for planters on Barbados in “Curations.” Jennifer Morgan argues that more African women than men were made slaves from 1660-1700 (Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004], 58). Thus the reference to a female slave here extends beyond the Old Testament context to include the labor relations on which the English food supply actually depended by the seventeenth century. The unusual level of detail here—that the slave is female, naked, “sunburned” or dark skinned, and her hair both sweaty and knotty—invites the reader to picture this slave’s working body.
Elemental Edition
Line number 36

 Gloss note

From his
Elemental Edition
Line number 36

 Gloss note

impediment; body
Amplified Edition
Line number 36

 Gloss note

From his
Amplified Edition
Line number 36

 Gloss note

burden/body
Transcription
Line number 40

 Physical note

ink blot on “ha”
Amplified Edition
Line number 40

 Gloss note

formless void
Elemental Edition
Line number 43

 Critical note

messenger of peace and deliverance from anxiety, like the dove to Noah (Genesis 8:8-12); figuratively, often the Holy Spirit.
Amplified Edition
Line number 43

 Critical note

Although Pulter twice mentions the “glittering” and “shining” wings of those pismires that rise above the earth to play, when the speaker asks for wings, they are not the gossamer wings of the pismire but those of the “unspotted dove.”
Sorry, but there are no notes associated with any currently displayed witness.
ManuscriptX (Close panel)
image
ManuscriptX (Close panel)
image
ManuscriptX (Close panel)
image