This Fell Catablepe (Emblem 33)

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This Fell Catablepe (Emblem 33)

Poem 98

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
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X (Close panel)Notes: Transcription

 Editorial note

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

 Physical note

“b” written over imperfectly erased “p”
Line number 8

 Physical note

“e” appears written over imperfectly erased letter with long descender
Line number 11

 Physical note

written above two imperfectly erased illegible words, the first of three letters (likely “her”) and the next either “Tayl” or “Tayls”
Line number 21

 Physical note

last part of “u” and “s” appear added after in darker ink and different hand from main scribe
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
[Emblem 33]
This Fell Catablepe
(Emblem 33)
Emblem 33
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 marginal glosses. Then I use the notes and the materials I gather for the “curations” section to 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
Drawing on natural history and the Bible primarily, this emblem portrays various exemplars, animal and human, of mutually assured destruction, where, in seeking to bring about another’s death, a figure brings about its own. These examples are meant to forestall the fear of death, since it ends all enmity; the speaker personally predicts she will befriend death for ending her sorrows. Unusual in calling attention to its own function and form (as an emblem), the poem links to many others in the collection that describe death as the welcomed decomposition to original dust.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
The poem addresses one of Pulter’s favorite topics, the antagonism between humans and their own mortality. Organized around a series of deadly conflicts, it moves from mortal antipathy between creatures to religious conflicts between Levites and idol-worshipping Israelites, Samson and the Philistines. Each confrontation between foes is, at some level, self-defeating, even as it also resolves enmity by uniting the antagonists in death. With the shift in line 17 from the natural world (however fancifully imagined) to the Old Testament, from animals to humans, death becomes a way not only of turning enmity to sympathy, as antagonists join in death, but also of achieving victory over one’s own sins and sorrows. The imagery also moves from the catablepe’s poisonous gaze to Samson’s blindness.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
1
33 Could this ffell
Physical Note
“b” written over imperfectly erased “p”
Catablepe
lift up her head
Could this
Gloss Note
deadly, shrewd
fell
Critical Note
According to Pliny, the catoblepas is a mythological creature who looks down because unable to lift its big head; anyone in its direct line of sight would die; see The History of the World, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1601), 206; and Samuel Purchas, Purchas His Pilgrimage (London, 1613), 467.
catablepe
lift up her head,
Could this
Gloss Note
treacherous
fell
Critical Note
One of the earliest descriptions of the catablepe (whose name is variously spelled) appears in the writings of the first-century Roman writer Pliny. Descriptions of this creature (see “Curations”) seem to evoke the gnu (a large antelope or wildebeast) even as they also assign the catablepe qualities (such as its poisonous gaze) that link it to mythical serpents. Its Greek name means “to look downwards.” The catablepe’s downward gaze is both a design-flaw and a providential shield protecting others from her poisonous sight.
catablepe
lift up her head
2
Her poyſonous Eyes would look all Creatures dead
Her poisonous eyes would look all creatures dead.
Her poisonous eyes would look all creatures dead.
3
She Scorcheth up the fflowers as Shee doth goe
She scorcheth up the flowers as she doth go,
She scorcheth up the flowers as she doth go,
4
Yet the Small Weaſell dares to bee her ffoe
Yet the small weasel dares to be her foe.
Yet the small weasel dares to be her foe.
5
Their Strang Antipathy doth all Excell
Their strange antipathy doth all excel:
Their strange
Gloss Note
aversion
antipathy
doth all excel:
6
One Kils by Sight the other by his Swell
One kills by sight, the other by his
Physical Note
“swell” in manuscript
smell
.
Critical Note
Addressing the basilisk, another mythical beast with poisonous sight, after he describes the catablepe, Pliny claims that the weasel can kill the basilisk with its stench but that it, too, dies in the combat (see “Curations”). Pulter seems to conflate the catablepe and the basilisk here. This conflation prepares the way for the later references to serpents in the poem.
One kills by sight, the other by his smell
.
7
Thus with their Counterpoyſons when they meet
Thus with their counter-poisons, when they meet,
Thus with their
Gloss Note
opposing poisons
counterpoisons
when they meet
8
They Conquerd
Physical Note
“e” appears written over imperfectly erased letter with long descender
lie
at one anothers ffeet
They conquered lie at one another’s feet.
They conquered lie at one another’s feet.
9
Thus though there bee the greatest Antipathy
Thus though there be the greatest antipathy,
Thus, though there be the greatest antipathy,
10
Yet death doth turn it To A Sympathy
Yet death doth turn it to a
Gloss Note
affinity
sympathy
.
Yet death doth turn it to a
Critical Note
Antipathy and sympathy are linked terms to describe the natural aversions or affinities between creatures. Death turns antipathy to sympathy when the catablepe and weasel die together.
sympathy
.
11
Soe the Slie Dragon, wrigling winds
Physical Note
written above two imperfectly erased illegible words, the first of three letters (likely “her”) and the next either “Tayl” or “Tayls”
about
So the sly dragon, wriggling, winds about
So the sly
Critical Note
This wriggling dragon is one of several serpents in the poem. For Pliny, the basilisk and the catablepe are serpents. The adder in line 19 links Samson to his ancestor, Dan, who is described as “an adder in the path, that bites the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward” (Genesis 49:17). God warns the serpent, after the fall, that he will punish him by creating the kind of antipathy Pulter discusses here: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
dragon
, wriggling, winds about
12
The Eliphant, till in his Tender Snout
The elephant, till in his tender snout
The elephant, ’til in his tender snout
13
Shee thrusts her Head Stopping his vitall breath
She thrusts her head, stopping his vital breath,
She thrusts her head, stopping his vital breath,
14
Or Sucks his blood then when this lump of Earth
Or sucks his blood; then when this
Gloss Note
the elephant
lump of earth
,
Or sucks his blood. Then when this lump of earth
15
for want of Blood and Spirits gins to fall
For want of blood and spirits,
Gloss Note
begins
’gins
to fall,
For want of blood and spirits ’gins to fall,
16
hee most Triumphant kils his foe and all
Critical Note
Pliny describes the ongoing combat between the dragon and elephant, which interlock in mortal combat until both are dead; the dragon strangles the elephant, who kills the dragon when it falls (Pliny, Natural History. Trans. Rackham. Harvard University Press, 1967; 8:33).
He most triumphant kills his foe and all
.
Critical Note
The dragon brings the elephant down but as he falls the elephant crushes the dragon. As with the catablepe and the weasel, the small defeats the great, but is also killed in the process. See Pliny’s account of the elephant and the weasel in “Curations.”
He most triumphant kills his foe and all
.
17
Soe did thoſe Israelts who Roſe up to play
So did those
Gloss Note
Israelites
Israels
who rose up to play,
So did those Israelites who rose up to play
18
With their own lives victorious end the fray
With their own lives,
Gloss Note
victoriously
victorious
Critical Note
When the biblical Moses went up the mount to convene with God, the Israelites “rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6) in committing idolatry and acting sinfully; Moses and the sons of Levi then killed three thousand of the idolators by commandment of God (Exodus 32:28); they sacrificed their lives to “end the fray.”
end the fray
.
With their own lives
Critical Note
It is hard to determine what or who the adjective “victorious” describes in this sentence. It seems most likely to be the Israelites, victorious in their willingness to sacrifice some of their number to appease God. “Victorious” echoes “triumphant” just a line above. The dragon triumphs over his foe as he kills and dies. This applies to Samson, discussed below, as well.
victorious
end the fray.
19
Even Soe the Adder bit the Horſes Heel
Even so,
Critical Note
In the Bible, Jacob prophesied to his sons that descendants of his son Dan would “be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward” (Genesis 49:17); the prophecy came true when Samson, a descendant of Dan and someone known for his strength, slew three thousand Philistines in an act of self-destruction (see Judges 16:27-30).
the adder bit the horse’s heel
;
Even so the adder bit the horse’s heel;
20
Three Thouſand at last Gasp his Strength did feel
Three thousand, at last gasp, his strength did feel.
Critical Note
“So . . . feel.” These four lines draw together two Old Testament stories of retribution against idol worshippers, linked by the body count of three thousand. In Moses’s absence, the Israelites make a golden calf to worship, offer it burnt sacrifices, “and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6). One seventeenth-century commentator specifies that this means that they rose up “namely to dance, to leap, and be merry, rejoicing in their new God” (Gervase Babington, The Works . . . Containing Comfortable Notes upon the Five Books of Moses [London, 1615], p. 403). Moses talks Jehovah out of killing all of the Israelites but then loses his temper when he hears the Israelites singing and sees them dancing. Moses then orders the “children of Levi” to kill the idol worshippers, including their own sons and brothers, “and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men” (Exodus 32:28). In this context, emphasis seems to fall on the self-sacrificing nature of their victory. When the blinded prisoner Samson pulls down the temple where Philistines are offering a sacrifice to their god, Dagon, he too kills three thousand people, getting his revenge but also killing himself so that he is simultaneously victorious and dead (Judges 16:27). One commentator struggles to explain that Samson was not suicidal: “His primary and direct intention was not such as is theirs that make away themselves, but his direct aim was to destroy the Philistines; only he was content to lose his life in an action so advantageous to the people of God, and whereby he should give such a deadly blow to their enemies” (Arthur Jackson, Annotations upon the Remaining Historical Part of the Old Testament [Cambridge, 1646], sig. M2r). It’s hard to be sure where the story of Moses ends and that of Samson begins in these four lines in the poem. Samson’s story of antipathy turning into a kind of sympathy as he and his antagonists die at once best suits the argument Pulter seems to be making here. As the Messenger puts it in Milton’s Samson Agonistes (London, 1671): “Samson with these inmixed, inevitably / Pulled down the same destruction on himself” (1657-8). Pulter’s poem may suggest that the slaughter of the Israelites was a kind of self-sacrifice the Levites were willing to make to appease God, or that the antagonisms between Israelites and Levites, Samson and the Philistines result from a natural antipathy resolvable only in death, or that even enemies are ultimately united in death.
Three thousand at last gasp his strength did feel
.
21
Physical Note
last part of “u” and “s” appear added after in darker ink and different hand from main scribe
Thus
Death doth make all emnity to ceas
Thus death doth make all
Gloss Note
strife
enmity
to cease;
Thus death doth make all enmity to cease.
22
When all is dust (Surely) there will bee peace
When all is
Critical Note
the material from which life derives to and to which it will return; see Genesis 3:19: “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
dust
, surely there will be peace.
When all is dust
Critical Note
The parenthetical “(surely)” might be seen as a key word in the poem. Is this an assertion of certainty or a desperate plea? As the accounts of the catablepe in “Curations” demonstrate, the creature is often associated with what Walter Charleton calls “that itch of fiction,” its existence and qualities debated. How then can it ground the reassurance that we should not fear death?
(surely) there will be peace
.
23
Then let none think of Death with Soe much Terrour
Then let none think of death with so much terror,
Then let none think of death with so much terror,
24
ffor by this Emblem they may see their Errour
For by this
Gloss Note
moral fable or allegory; here, this poem
emblem
they may see their error.
For by this emblem they may see their error.
25
Then will I meet it as my last best ffriend
Then will I meet
Gloss Note
death
it
as my last best friend;
Then will I meet it as my last best friend,
26
ffor it my Sins and Sorrows all will End.
For it my sins and sorrows all will end.
For it
Critical Note
The relationship here between the “they” who err in fearing death and the “I” who will now greet it as a friend is a bit unclear. How have these tales of mutually assured destruction rendered death less terrifying? These lines attempt to close down some of the poem’s ambiguity by asserting that the enmity between the speaker and death as foe will, paradoxically, be resolved in death as foe becomes friend.
my sins and sorrows all will end
.
curled line
X (Close panel)Notes: 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.

 Headnote

Drawing on natural history and the Bible primarily, this emblem portrays various exemplars, animal and human, of mutually assured destruction, where, in seeking to bring about another’s death, a figure brings about its own. These examples are meant to forestall the fear of death, since it ends all enmity; the speaker personally predicts she will befriend death for ending her sorrows. Unusual in calling attention to its own function and form (as an emblem), the poem links to many others in the collection that describe death as the welcomed decomposition to original dust.
Line number 1

 Gloss note

deadly, shrewd
Line number 1

 Critical note

According to Pliny, the catoblepas is a mythological creature who looks down because unable to lift its big head; anyone in its direct line of sight would die; see The History of the World, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1601), 206; and Samuel Purchas, Purchas His Pilgrimage (London, 1613), 467.
Line number 6

 Physical note

“swell” in manuscript
Line number 10

 Gloss note

affinity
Line number 14

 Gloss note

the elephant
Line number 15

 Gloss note

begins
Line number 16

 Critical note

Pliny describes the ongoing combat between the dragon and elephant, which interlock in mortal combat until both are dead; the dragon strangles the elephant, who kills the dragon when it falls (Pliny, Natural History. Trans. Rackham. Harvard University Press, 1967; 8:33).
Line number 17

 Gloss note

Israelites
Line number 18

 Gloss note

victoriously
Line number 18

 Critical note

When the biblical Moses went up the mount to convene with God, the Israelites “rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6) in committing idolatry and acting sinfully; Moses and the sons of Levi then killed three thousand of the idolators by commandment of God (Exodus 32:28); they sacrificed their lives to “end the fray.”
Line number 19

 Critical note

In the Bible, Jacob prophesied to his sons that descendants of his son Dan would “be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward” (Genesis 49:17); the prophecy came true when Samson, a descendant of Dan and someone known for his strength, slew three thousand Philistines in an act of self-destruction (see Judges 16:27-30).
Line number 21

 Gloss note

strife
Line number 22

 Critical note

the material from which life derives to and to which it will return; see Genesis 3:19: “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
Line number 24

 Gloss note

moral fable or allegory; here, this poem
Line number 25

 Gloss note

death
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
[Emblem 33]
This Fell Catablepe
(Emblem 33)
Emblem 33
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 marginal glosses. Then I use the notes and the materials I gather for the “curations” section to 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
Drawing on natural history and the Bible primarily, this emblem portrays various exemplars, animal and human, of mutually assured destruction, where, in seeking to bring about another’s death, a figure brings about its own. These examples are meant to forestall the fear of death, since it ends all enmity; the speaker personally predicts she will befriend death for ending her sorrows. Unusual in calling attention to its own function and form (as an emblem), the poem links to many others in the collection that describe death as the welcomed decomposition to original dust.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
The poem addresses one of Pulter’s favorite topics, the antagonism between humans and their own mortality. Organized around a series of deadly conflicts, it moves from mortal antipathy between creatures to religious conflicts between Levites and idol-worshipping Israelites, Samson and the Philistines. Each confrontation between foes is, at some level, self-defeating, even as it also resolves enmity by uniting the antagonists in death. With the shift in line 17 from the natural world (however fancifully imagined) to the Old Testament, from animals to humans, death becomes a way not only of turning enmity to sympathy, as antagonists join in death, but also of achieving victory over one’s own sins and sorrows. The imagery also moves from the catablepe’s poisonous gaze to Samson’s blindness.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
1
33 Could this ffell
Physical Note
“b” written over imperfectly erased “p”
Catablepe
lift up her head
Could this
Gloss Note
deadly, shrewd
fell
Critical Note
According to Pliny, the catoblepas is a mythological creature who looks down because unable to lift its big head; anyone in its direct line of sight would die; see The History of the World, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1601), 206; and Samuel Purchas, Purchas His Pilgrimage (London, 1613), 467.
catablepe
lift up her head,
Could this
Gloss Note
treacherous
fell
Critical Note
One of the earliest descriptions of the catablepe (whose name is variously spelled) appears in the writings of the first-century Roman writer Pliny. Descriptions of this creature (see “Curations”) seem to evoke the gnu (a large antelope or wildebeast) even as they also assign the catablepe qualities (such as its poisonous gaze) that link it to mythical serpents. Its Greek name means “to look downwards.” The catablepe’s downward gaze is both a design-flaw and a providential shield protecting others from her poisonous sight.
catablepe
lift up her head
2
Her poyſonous Eyes would look all Creatures dead
Her poisonous eyes would look all creatures dead.
Her poisonous eyes would look all creatures dead.
3
She Scorcheth up the fflowers as Shee doth goe
She scorcheth up the flowers as she doth go,
She scorcheth up the flowers as she doth go,
4
Yet the Small Weaſell dares to bee her ffoe
Yet the small weasel dares to be her foe.
Yet the small weasel dares to be her foe.
5
Their Strang Antipathy doth all Excell
Their strange antipathy doth all excel:
Their strange
Gloss Note
aversion
antipathy
doth all excel:
6
One Kils by Sight the other by his Swell
One kills by sight, the other by his
Physical Note
“swell” in manuscript
smell
.
Critical Note
Addressing the basilisk, another mythical beast with poisonous sight, after he describes the catablepe, Pliny claims that the weasel can kill the basilisk with its stench but that it, too, dies in the combat (see “Curations”). Pulter seems to conflate the catablepe and the basilisk here. This conflation prepares the way for the later references to serpents in the poem.
One kills by sight, the other by his smell
.
7
Thus with their Counterpoyſons when they meet
Thus with their counter-poisons, when they meet,
Thus with their
Gloss Note
opposing poisons
counterpoisons
when they meet
8
They Conquerd
Physical Note
“e” appears written over imperfectly erased letter with long descender
lie
at one anothers ffeet
They conquered lie at one another’s feet.
They conquered lie at one another’s feet.
9
Thus though there bee the greatest Antipathy
Thus though there be the greatest antipathy,
Thus, though there be the greatest antipathy,
10
Yet death doth turn it To A Sympathy
Yet death doth turn it to a
Gloss Note
affinity
sympathy
.
Yet death doth turn it to a
Critical Note
Antipathy and sympathy are linked terms to describe the natural aversions or affinities between creatures. Death turns antipathy to sympathy when the catablepe and weasel die together.
sympathy
.
11
Soe the Slie Dragon, wrigling winds
Physical Note
written above two imperfectly erased illegible words, the first of three letters (likely “her”) and the next either “Tayl” or “Tayls”
about
So the sly dragon, wriggling, winds about
So the sly
Critical Note
This wriggling dragon is one of several serpents in the poem. For Pliny, the basilisk and the catablepe are serpents. The adder in line 19 links Samson to his ancestor, Dan, who is described as “an adder in the path, that bites the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward” (Genesis 49:17). God warns the serpent, after the fall, that he will punish him by creating the kind of antipathy Pulter discusses here: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
dragon
, wriggling, winds about
12
The Eliphant, till in his Tender Snout
The elephant, till in his tender snout
The elephant, ’til in his tender snout
13
Shee thrusts her Head Stopping his vitall breath
She thrusts her head, stopping his vital breath,
She thrusts her head, stopping his vital breath,
14
Or Sucks his blood then when this lump of Earth
Or sucks his blood; then when this
Gloss Note
the elephant
lump of earth
,
Or sucks his blood. Then when this lump of earth
15
for want of Blood and Spirits gins to fall
For want of blood and spirits,
Gloss Note
begins
’gins
to fall,
For want of blood and spirits ’gins to fall,
16
hee most Triumphant kils his foe and all
Critical Note
Pliny describes the ongoing combat between the dragon and elephant, which interlock in mortal combat until both are dead; the dragon strangles the elephant, who kills the dragon when it falls (Pliny, Natural History. Trans. Rackham. Harvard University Press, 1967; 8:33).
He most triumphant kills his foe and all
.
Critical Note
The dragon brings the elephant down but as he falls the elephant crushes the dragon. As with the catablepe and the weasel, the small defeats the great, but is also killed in the process. See Pliny’s account of the elephant and the weasel in “Curations.”
He most triumphant kills his foe and all
.
17
Soe did thoſe Israelts who Roſe up to play
So did those
Gloss Note
Israelites
Israels
who rose up to play,
So did those Israelites who rose up to play
18
With their own lives victorious end the fray
With their own lives,
Gloss Note
victoriously
victorious
Critical Note
When the biblical Moses went up the mount to convene with God, the Israelites “rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6) in committing idolatry and acting sinfully; Moses and the sons of Levi then killed three thousand of the idolators by commandment of God (Exodus 32:28); they sacrificed their lives to “end the fray.”
end the fray
.
With their own lives
Critical Note
It is hard to determine what or who the adjective “victorious” describes in this sentence. It seems most likely to be the Israelites, victorious in their willingness to sacrifice some of their number to appease God. “Victorious” echoes “triumphant” just a line above. The dragon triumphs over his foe as he kills and dies. This applies to Samson, discussed below, as well.
victorious
end the fray.
19
Even Soe the Adder bit the Horſes Heel
Even so,
Critical Note
In the Bible, Jacob prophesied to his sons that descendants of his son Dan would “be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward” (Genesis 49:17); the prophecy came true when Samson, a descendant of Dan and someone known for his strength, slew three thousand Philistines in an act of self-destruction (see Judges 16:27-30).
the adder bit the horse’s heel
;
Even so the adder bit the horse’s heel;
20
Three Thouſand at last Gasp his Strength did feel
Three thousand, at last gasp, his strength did feel.
Critical Note
“So . . . feel.” These four lines draw together two Old Testament stories of retribution against idol worshippers, linked by the body count of three thousand. In Moses’s absence, the Israelites make a golden calf to worship, offer it burnt sacrifices, “and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6). One seventeenth-century commentator specifies that this means that they rose up “namely to dance, to leap, and be merry, rejoicing in their new God” (Gervase Babington, The Works . . . Containing Comfortable Notes upon the Five Books of Moses [London, 1615], p. 403). Moses talks Jehovah out of killing all of the Israelites but then loses his temper when he hears the Israelites singing and sees them dancing. Moses then orders the “children of Levi” to kill the idol worshippers, including their own sons and brothers, “and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men” (Exodus 32:28). In this context, emphasis seems to fall on the self-sacrificing nature of their victory. When the blinded prisoner Samson pulls down the temple where Philistines are offering a sacrifice to their god, Dagon, he too kills three thousand people, getting his revenge but also killing himself so that he is simultaneously victorious and dead (Judges 16:27). One commentator struggles to explain that Samson was not suicidal: “His primary and direct intention was not such as is theirs that make away themselves, but his direct aim was to destroy the Philistines; only he was content to lose his life in an action so advantageous to the people of God, and whereby he should give such a deadly blow to their enemies” (Arthur Jackson, Annotations upon the Remaining Historical Part of the Old Testament [Cambridge, 1646], sig. M2r). It’s hard to be sure where the story of Moses ends and that of Samson begins in these four lines in the poem. Samson’s story of antipathy turning into a kind of sympathy as he and his antagonists die at once best suits the argument Pulter seems to be making here. As the Messenger puts it in Milton’s Samson Agonistes (London, 1671): “Samson with these inmixed, inevitably / Pulled down the same destruction on himself” (1657-8). Pulter’s poem may suggest that the slaughter of the Israelites was a kind of self-sacrifice the Levites were willing to make to appease God, or that the antagonisms between Israelites and Levites, Samson and the Philistines result from a natural antipathy resolvable only in death, or that even enemies are ultimately united in death.
Three thousand at last gasp his strength did feel
.
21
Physical Note
last part of “u” and “s” appear added after in darker ink and different hand from main scribe
Thus
Death doth make all emnity to ceas
Thus death doth make all
Gloss Note
strife
enmity
to cease;
Thus death doth make all enmity to cease.
22
When all is dust (Surely) there will bee peace
When all is
Critical Note
the material from which life derives to and to which it will return; see Genesis 3:19: “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
dust
, surely there will be peace.
When all is dust
Critical Note
The parenthetical “(surely)” might be seen as a key word in the poem. Is this an assertion of certainty or a desperate plea? As the accounts of the catablepe in “Curations” demonstrate, the creature is often associated with what Walter Charleton calls “that itch of fiction,” its existence and qualities debated. How then can it ground the reassurance that we should not fear death?
(surely) there will be peace
.
23
Then let none think of Death with Soe much Terrour
Then let none think of death with so much terror,
Then let none think of death with so much terror,
24
ffor by this Emblem they may see their Errour
For by this
Gloss Note
moral fable or allegory; here, this poem
emblem
they may see their error.
For by this emblem they may see their error.
25
Then will I meet it as my last best ffriend
Then will I meet
Gloss Note
death
it
as my last best friend;
Then will I meet it as my last best friend,
26
ffor it my Sins and Sorrows all will End.
For it my sins and sorrows all will end.
For it
Critical Note
The relationship here between the “they” who err in fearing death and the “I” who will now greet it as a friend is a bit unclear. How have these tales of mutually assured destruction rendered death less terrifying? These lines attempt to close down some of the poem’s ambiguity by asserting that the enmity between the speaker and death as foe will, paradoxically, be resolved in death as foe becomes friend.
my sins and sorrows all will end
.
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 marginal glosses. Then I use the notes and the materials I gather for the “curations” section to 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

The poem addresses one of Pulter’s favorite topics, the antagonism between humans and their own mortality. Organized around a series of deadly conflicts, it moves from mortal antipathy between creatures to religious conflicts between Levites and idol-worshipping Israelites, Samson and the Philistines. Each confrontation between foes is, at some level, self-defeating, even as it also resolves enmity by uniting the antagonists in death. With the shift in line 17 from the natural world (however fancifully imagined) to the Old Testament, from animals to humans, death becomes a way not only of turning enmity to sympathy, as antagonists join in death, but also of achieving victory over one’s own sins and sorrows. The imagery also moves from the catablepe’s poisonous gaze to Samson’s blindness.
Line number 1

 Gloss note

treacherous
Line number 1

 Critical note

One of the earliest descriptions of the catablepe (whose name is variously spelled) appears in the writings of the first-century Roman writer Pliny. Descriptions of this creature (see “Curations”) seem to evoke the gnu (a large antelope or wildebeast) even as they also assign the catablepe qualities (such as its poisonous gaze) that link it to mythical serpents. Its Greek name means “to look downwards.” The catablepe’s downward gaze is both a design-flaw and a providential shield protecting others from her poisonous sight.
Line number 5

 Gloss note

aversion
Line number 6

 Critical note

Addressing the basilisk, another mythical beast with poisonous sight, after he describes the catablepe, Pliny claims that the weasel can kill the basilisk with its stench but that it, too, dies in the combat (see “Curations”). Pulter seems to conflate the catablepe and the basilisk here. This conflation prepares the way for the later references to serpents in the poem.
Line number 7

 Gloss note

opposing poisons
Line number 10

 Critical note

Antipathy and sympathy are linked terms to describe the natural aversions or affinities between creatures. Death turns antipathy to sympathy when the catablepe and weasel die together.
Line number 11

 Critical note

This wriggling dragon is one of several serpents in the poem. For Pliny, the basilisk and the catablepe are serpents. The adder in line 19 links Samson to his ancestor, Dan, who is described as “an adder in the path, that bites the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward” (Genesis 49:17). God warns the serpent, after the fall, that he will punish him by creating the kind of antipathy Pulter discusses here: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
Line number 16

 Critical note

The dragon brings the elephant down but as he falls the elephant crushes the dragon. As with the catablepe and the weasel, the small defeats the great, but is also killed in the process. See Pliny’s account of the elephant and the weasel in “Curations.”
Line number 18

 Critical note

It is hard to determine what or who the adjective “victorious” describes in this sentence. It seems most likely to be the Israelites, victorious in their willingness to sacrifice some of their number to appease God. “Victorious” echoes “triumphant” just a line above. The dragon triumphs over his foe as he kills and dies. This applies to Samson, discussed below, as well.
Line number 20

 Critical note

“So . . . feel.” These four lines draw together two Old Testament stories of retribution against idol worshippers, linked by the body count of three thousand. In Moses’s absence, the Israelites make a golden calf to worship, offer it burnt sacrifices, “and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6). One seventeenth-century commentator specifies that this means that they rose up “namely to dance, to leap, and be merry, rejoicing in their new God” (Gervase Babington, The Works . . . Containing Comfortable Notes upon the Five Books of Moses [London, 1615], p. 403). Moses talks Jehovah out of killing all of the Israelites but then loses his temper when he hears the Israelites singing and sees them dancing. Moses then orders the “children of Levi” to kill the idol worshippers, including their own sons and brothers, “and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men” (Exodus 32:28). In this context, emphasis seems to fall on the self-sacrificing nature of their victory. When the blinded prisoner Samson pulls down the temple where Philistines are offering a sacrifice to their god, Dagon, he too kills three thousand people, getting his revenge but also killing himself so that he is simultaneously victorious and dead (Judges 16:27). One commentator struggles to explain that Samson was not suicidal: “His primary and direct intention was not such as is theirs that make away themselves, but his direct aim was to destroy the Philistines; only he was content to lose his life in an action so advantageous to the people of God, and whereby he should give such a deadly blow to their enemies” (Arthur Jackson, Annotations upon the Remaining Historical Part of the Old Testament [Cambridge, 1646], sig. M2r). It’s hard to be sure where the story of Moses ends and that of Samson begins in these four lines in the poem. Samson’s story of antipathy turning into a kind of sympathy as he and his antagonists die at once best suits the argument Pulter seems to be making here. As the Messenger puts it in Milton’s Samson Agonistes (London, 1671): “Samson with these inmixed, inevitably / Pulled down the same destruction on himself” (1657-8). Pulter’s poem may suggest that the slaughter of the Israelites was a kind of self-sacrifice the Levites were willing to make to appease God, or that the antagonisms between Israelites and Levites, Samson and the Philistines result from a natural antipathy resolvable only in death, or that even enemies are ultimately united in death.
Line number 22

 Critical note

The parenthetical “(surely)” might be seen as a key word in the poem. Is this an assertion of certainty or a desperate plea? As the accounts of the catablepe in “Curations” demonstrate, the creature is often associated with what Walter Charleton calls “that itch of fiction,” its existence and qualities debated. How then can it ground the reassurance that we should not fear death?
Line number 26

 Critical note

The relationship here between the “they” who err in fearing death and the “I” who will now greet it as a friend is a bit unclear. How have these tales of mutually assured destruction rendered death less terrifying? These lines attempt to close down some of the poem’s ambiguity by asserting that the enmity between the speaker and death as foe will, paradoxically, be resolved in death as foe becomes friend.
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X (Close panel)Amplified Edition
Amplified Edition

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[Emblem 33]
This Fell Catablepe
(Emblem 33)
Emblem 33
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 marginal glosses. Then I use the notes and the materials I gather for the “curations” section to 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
Drawing on natural history and the Bible primarily, this emblem portrays various exemplars, animal and human, of mutually assured destruction, where, in seeking to bring about another’s death, a figure brings about its own. These examples are meant to forestall the fear of death, since it ends all enmity; the speaker personally predicts she will befriend death for ending her sorrows. Unusual in calling attention to its own function and form (as an emblem), the poem links to many others in the collection that describe death as the welcomed decomposition to original dust.

— Frances E. Dolan
The poem addresses one of Pulter’s favorite topics, the antagonism between humans and their own mortality. Organized around a series of deadly conflicts, it moves from mortal antipathy between creatures to religious conflicts between Levites and idol-worshipping Israelites, Samson and the Philistines. Each confrontation between foes is, at some level, self-defeating, even as it also resolves enmity by uniting the antagonists in death. With the shift in line 17 from the natural world (however fancifully imagined) to the Old Testament, from animals to humans, death becomes a way not only of turning enmity to sympathy, as antagonists join in death, but also of achieving victory over one’s own sins and sorrows. The imagery also moves from the catablepe’s poisonous gaze to Samson’s blindness.

— Frances E. Dolan
1
33 Could this ffell
Physical Note
“b” written over imperfectly erased “p”
Catablepe
lift up her head
Could this
Gloss Note
deadly, shrewd
fell
Critical Note
According to Pliny, the catoblepas is a mythological creature who looks down because unable to lift its big head; anyone in its direct line of sight would die; see The History of the World, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1601), 206; and Samuel Purchas, Purchas His Pilgrimage (London, 1613), 467.
catablepe
lift up her head,
Could this
Gloss Note
treacherous
fell
Critical Note
One of the earliest descriptions of the catablepe (whose name is variously spelled) appears in the writings of the first-century Roman writer Pliny. Descriptions of this creature (see “Curations”) seem to evoke the gnu (a large antelope or wildebeast) even as they also assign the catablepe qualities (such as its poisonous gaze) that link it to mythical serpents. Its Greek name means “to look downwards.” The catablepe’s downward gaze is both a design-flaw and a providential shield protecting others from her poisonous sight.
catablepe
lift up her head
2
Her poyſonous Eyes would look all Creatures dead
Her poisonous eyes would look all creatures dead.
Her poisonous eyes would look all creatures dead.
3
She Scorcheth up the fflowers as Shee doth goe
She scorcheth up the flowers as she doth go,
She scorcheth up the flowers as she doth go,
4
Yet the Small Weaſell dares to bee her ffoe
Yet the small weasel dares to be her foe.
Yet the small weasel dares to be her foe.
5
Their Strang Antipathy doth all Excell
Their strange antipathy doth all excel:
Their strange
Gloss Note
aversion
antipathy
doth all excel:
6
One Kils by Sight the other by his Swell
One kills by sight, the other by his
Physical Note
“swell” in manuscript
smell
.
Critical Note
Addressing the basilisk, another mythical beast with poisonous sight, after he describes the catablepe, Pliny claims that the weasel can kill the basilisk with its stench but that it, too, dies in the combat (see “Curations”). Pulter seems to conflate the catablepe and the basilisk here. This conflation prepares the way for the later references to serpents in the poem.
One kills by sight, the other by his smell
.
7
Thus with their Counterpoyſons when they meet
Thus with their counter-poisons, when they meet,
Thus with their
Gloss Note
opposing poisons
counterpoisons
when they meet
8
They Conquerd
Physical Note
“e” appears written over imperfectly erased letter with long descender
lie
at one anothers ffeet
They conquered lie at one another’s feet.
They conquered lie at one another’s feet.
9
Thus though there bee the greatest Antipathy
Thus though there be the greatest antipathy,
Thus, though there be the greatest antipathy,
10
Yet death doth turn it To A Sympathy
Yet death doth turn it to a
Gloss Note
affinity
sympathy
.
Yet death doth turn it to a
Critical Note
Antipathy and sympathy are linked terms to describe the natural aversions or affinities between creatures. Death turns antipathy to sympathy when the catablepe and weasel die together.
sympathy
.
11
Soe the Slie Dragon, wrigling winds
Physical Note
written above two imperfectly erased illegible words, the first of three letters (likely “her”) and the next either “Tayl” or “Tayls”
about
So the sly dragon, wriggling, winds about
So the sly
Critical Note
This wriggling dragon is one of several serpents in the poem. For Pliny, the basilisk and the catablepe are serpents. The adder in line 19 links Samson to his ancestor, Dan, who is described as “an adder in the path, that bites the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward” (Genesis 49:17). God warns the serpent, after the fall, that he will punish him by creating the kind of antipathy Pulter discusses here: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
dragon
, wriggling, winds about
12
The Eliphant, till in his Tender Snout
The elephant, till in his tender snout
The elephant, ’til in his tender snout
13
Shee thrusts her Head Stopping his vitall breath
She thrusts her head, stopping his vital breath,
She thrusts her head, stopping his vital breath,
14
Or Sucks his blood then when this lump of Earth
Or sucks his blood; then when this
Gloss Note
the elephant
lump of earth
,
Or sucks his blood. Then when this lump of earth
15
for want of Blood and Spirits gins to fall
For want of blood and spirits,
Gloss Note
begins
’gins
to fall,
For want of blood and spirits ’gins to fall,
16
hee most Triumphant kils his foe and all
Critical Note
Pliny describes the ongoing combat between the dragon and elephant, which interlock in mortal combat until both are dead; the dragon strangles the elephant, who kills the dragon when it falls (Pliny, Natural History. Trans. Rackham. Harvard University Press, 1967; 8:33).
He most triumphant kills his foe and all
.
Critical Note
The dragon brings the elephant down but as he falls the elephant crushes the dragon. As with the catablepe and the weasel, the small defeats the great, but is also killed in the process. See Pliny’s account of the elephant and the weasel in “Curations.”
He most triumphant kills his foe and all
.
17
Soe did thoſe Israelts who Roſe up to play
So did those
Gloss Note
Israelites
Israels
who rose up to play,
So did those Israelites who rose up to play
18
With their own lives victorious end the fray
With their own lives,
Gloss Note
victoriously
victorious
Critical Note
When the biblical Moses went up the mount to convene with God, the Israelites “rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6) in committing idolatry and acting sinfully; Moses and the sons of Levi then killed three thousand of the idolators by commandment of God (Exodus 32:28); they sacrificed their lives to “end the fray.”
end the fray
.
With their own lives
Critical Note
It is hard to determine what or who the adjective “victorious” describes in this sentence. It seems most likely to be the Israelites, victorious in their willingness to sacrifice some of their number to appease God. “Victorious” echoes “triumphant” just a line above. The dragon triumphs over his foe as he kills and dies. This applies to Samson, discussed below, as well.
victorious
end the fray.
19
Even Soe the Adder bit the Horſes Heel
Even so,
Critical Note
In the Bible, Jacob prophesied to his sons that descendants of his son Dan would “be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward” (Genesis 49:17); the prophecy came true when Samson, a descendant of Dan and someone known for his strength, slew three thousand Philistines in an act of self-destruction (see Judges 16:27-30).
the adder bit the horse’s heel
;
Even so the adder bit the horse’s heel;
20
Three Thouſand at last Gasp his Strength did feel
Three thousand, at last gasp, his strength did feel.
Critical Note
“So . . . feel.” These four lines draw together two Old Testament stories of retribution against idol worshippers, linked by the body count of three thousand. In Moses’s absence, the Israelites make a golden calf to worship, offer it burnt sacrifices, “and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6). One seventeenth-century commentator specifies that this means that they rose up “namely to dance, to leap, and be merry, rejoicing in their new God” (Gervase Babington, The Works . . . Containing Comfortable Notes upon the Five Books of Moses [London, 1615], p. 403). Moses talks Jehovah out of killing all of the Israelites but then loses his temper when he hears the Israelites singing and sees them dancing. Moses then orders the “children of Levi” to kill the idol worshippers, including their own sons and brothers, “and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men” (Exodus 32:28). In this context, emphasis seems to fall on the self-sacrificing nature of their victory. When the blinded prisoner Samson pulls down the temple where Philistines are offering a sacrifice to their god, Dagon, he too kills three thousand people, getting his revenge but also killing himself so that he is simultaneously victorious and dead (Judges 16:27). One commentator struggles to explain that Samson was not suicidal: “His primary and direct intention was not such as is theirs that make away themselves, but his direct aim was to destroy the Philistines; only he was content to lose his life in an action so advantageous to the people of God, and whereby he should give such a deadly blow to their enemies” (Arthur Jackson, Annotations upon the Remaining Historical Part of the Old Testament [Cambridge, 1646], sig. M2r). It’s hard to be sure where the story of Moses ends and that of Samson begins in these four lines in the poem. Samson’s story of antipathy turning into a kind of sympathy as he and his antagonists die at once best suits the argument Pulter seems to be making here. As the Messenger puts it in Milton’s Samson Agonistes (London, 1671): “Samson with these inmixed, inevitably / Pulled down the same destruction on himself” (1657-8). Pulter’s poem may suggest that the slaughter of the Israelites was a kind of self-sacrifice the Levites were willing to make to appease God, or that the antagonisms between Israelites and Levites, Samson and the Philistines result from a natural antipathy resolvable only in death, or that even enemies are ultimately united in death.
Three thousand at last gasp his strength did feel
.
21
Physical Note
last part of “u” and “s” appear added after in darker ink and different hand from main scribe
Thus
Death doth make all emnity to ceas
Thus death doth make all
Gloss Note
strife
enmity
to cease;
Thus death doth make all enmity to cease.
22
When all is dust (Surely) there will bee peace
When all is
Critical Note
the material from which life derives to and to which it will return; see Genesis 3:19: “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
dust
, surely there will be peace.
When all is dust
Critical Note
The parenthetical “(surely)” might be seen as a key word in the poem. Is this an assertion of certainty or a desperate plea? As the accounts of the catablepe in “Curations” demonstrate, the creature is often associated with what Walter Charleton calls “that itch of fiction,” its existence and qualities debated. How then can it ground the reassurance that we should not fear death?
(surely) there will be peace
.
23
Then let none think of Death with Soe much Terrour
Then let none think of death with so much terror,
Then let none think of death with so much terror,
24
ffor by this Emblem they may see their Errour
For by this
Gloss Note
moral fable or allegory; here, this poem
emblem
they may see their error.
For by this emblem they may see their error.
25
Then will I meet it as my last best ffriend
Then will I meet
Gloss Note
death
it
as my last best friend;
Then will I meet it as my last best friend,
26
ffor it my Sins and Sorrows all will End.
For it my sins and sorrows all will end.
For it
Critical Note
The relationship here between the “they” who err in fearing death and the “I” who will now greet it as a friend is a bit unclear. How have these tales of mutually assured destruction rendered death less terrifying? These lines attempt to close down some of the poem’s ambiguity by asserting that the enmity between the speaker and death as foe will, paradoxically, be resolved in death as foe becomes friend.
my sins and sorrows all will end
.
curled line
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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 marginal glosses. Then I use the notes and the materials I gather for the “curations” section to 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

Drawing on natural history and the Bible primarily, this emblem portrays various exemplars, animal and human, of mutually assured destruction, where, in seeking to bring about another’s death, a figure brings about its own. These examples are meant to forestall the fear of death, since it ends all enmity; the speaker personally predicts she will befriend death for ending her sorrows. Unusual in calling attention to its own function and form (as an emblem), the poem links to many others in the collection that describe death as the welcomed decomposition to original dust.
Amplified Edition

 Headnote

The poem addresses one of Pulter’s favorite topics, the antagonism between humans and their own mortality. Organized around a series of deadly conflicts, it moves from mortal antipathy between creatures to religious conflicts between Levites and idol-worshipping Israelites, Samson and the Philistines. Each confrontation between foes is, at some level, self-defeating, even as it also resolves enmity by uniting the antagonists in death. With the shift in line 17 from the natural world (however fancifully imagined) to the Old Testament, from animals to humans, death becomes a way not only of turning enmity to sympathy, as antagonists join in death, but also of achieving victory over one’s own sins and sorrows. The imagery also moves from the catablepe’s poisonous gaze to Samson’s blindness.
Transcription
Line number 1

 Physical note

“b” written over imperfectly erased “p”
Elemental Edition
Line number 1

 Gloss note

deadly, shrewd
Elemental Edition
Line number 1

 Critical note

According to Pliny, the catoblepas is a mythological creature who looks down because unable to lift its big head; anyone in its direct line of sight would die; see The History of the World, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1601), 206; and Samuel Purchas, Purchas His Pilgrimage (London, 1613), 467.
Amplified Edition
Line number 1

 Gloss note

treacherous
Amplified Edition
Line number 1

 Critical note

One of the earliest descriptions of the catablepe (whose name is variously spelled) appears in the writings of the first-century Roman writer Pliny. Descriptions of this creature (see “Curations”) seem to evoke the gnu (a large antelope or wildebeast) even as they also assign the catablepe qualities (such as its poisonous gaze) that link it to mythical serpents. Its Greek name means “to look downwards.” The catablepe’s downward gaze is both a design-flaw and a providential shield protecting others from her poisonous sight.
Amplified Edition
Line number 5

 Gloss note

aversion
Elemental Edition
Line number 6

 Physical note

“swell” in manuscript
Amplified Edition
Line number 6

 Critical note

Addressing the basilisk, another mythical beast with poisonous sight, after he describes the catablepe, Pliny claims that the weasel can kill the basilisk with its stench but that it, too, dies in the combat (see “Curations”). Pulter seems to conflate the catablepe and the basilisk here. This conflation prepares the way for the later references to serpents in the poem.
Amplified Edition
Line number 7

 Gloss note

opposing poisons
Transcription
Line number 8

 Physical note

“e” appears written over imperfectly erased letter with long descender
Elemental Edition
Line number 10

 Gloss note

affinity
Amplified Edition
Line number 10

 Critical note

Antipathy and sympathy are linked terms to describe the natural aversions or affinities between creatures. Death turns antipathy to sympathy when the catablepe and weasel die together.
Transcription
Line number 11

 Physical note

written above two imperfectly erased illegible words, the first of three letters (likely “her”) and the next either “Tayl” or “Tayls”
Amplified Edition
Line number 11

 Critical note

This wriggling dragon is one of several serpents in the poem. For Pliny, the basilisk and the catablepe are serpents. The adder in line 19 links Samson to his ancestor, Dan, who is described as “an adder in the path, that bites the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward” (Genesis 49:17). God warns the serpent, after the fall, that he will punish him by creating the kind of antipathy Pulter discusses here: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
Elemental Edition
Line number 14

 Gloss note

the elephant
Elemental Edition
Line number 15

 Gloss note

begins
Elemental Edition
Line number 16

 Critical note

Pliny describes the ongoing combat between the dragon and elephant, which interlock in mortal combat until both are dead; the dragon strangles the elephant, who kills the dragon when it falls (Pliny, Natural History. Trans. Rackham. Harvard University Press, 1967; 8:33).
Amplified Edition
Line number 16

 Critical note

The dragon brings the elephant down but as he falls the elephant crushes the dragon. As with the catablepe and the weasel, the small defeats the great, but is also killed in the process. See Pliny’s account of the elephant and the weasel in “Curations.”
Elemental Edition
Line number 17

 Gloss note

Israelites
Elemental Edition
Line number 18

 Gloss note

victoriously
Elemental Edition
Line number 18

 Critical note

When the biblical Moses went up the mount to convene with God, the Israelites “rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6) in committing idolatry and acting sinfully; Moses and the sons of Levi then killed three thousand of the idolators by commandment of God (Exodus 32:28); they sacrificed their lives to “end the fray.”
Amplified Edition
Line number 18

 Critical note

It is hard to determine what or who the adjective “victorious” describes in this sentence. It seems most likely to be the Israelites, victorious in their willingness to sacrifice some of their number to appease God. “Victorious” echoes “triumphant” just a line above. The dragon triumphs over his foe as he kills and dies. This applies to Samson, discussed below, as well.
Elemental Edition
Line number 19

 Critical note

In the Bible, Jacob prophesied to his sons that descendants of his son Dan would “be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward” (Genesis 49:17); the prophecy came true when Samson, a descendant of Dan and someone known for his strength, slew three thousand Philistines in an act of self-destruction (see Judges 16:27-30).
Amplified Edition
Line number 20

 Critical note

“So . . . feel.” These four lines draw together two Old Testament stories of retribution against idol worshippers, linked by the body count of three thousand. In Moses’s absence, the Israelites make a golden calf to worship, offer it burnt sacrifices, “and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6). One seventeenth-century commentator specifies that this means that they rose up “namely to dance, to leap, and be merry, rejoicing in their new God” (Gervase Babington, The Works . . . Containing Comfortable Notes upon the Five Books of Moses [London, 1615], p. 403). Moses talks Jehovah out of killing all of the Israelites but then loses his temper when he hears the Israelites singing and sees them dancing. Moses then orders the “children of Levi” to kill the idol worshippers, including their own sons and brothers, “and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men” (Exodus 32:28). In this context, emphasis seems to fall on the self-sacrificing nature of their victory. When the blinded prisoner Samson pulls down the temple where Philistines are offering a sacrifice to their god, Dagon, he too kills three thousand people, getting his revenge but also killing himself so that he is simultaneously victorious and dead (Judges 16:27). One commentator struggles to explain that Samson was not suicidal: “His primary and direct intention was not such as is theirs that make away themselves, but his direct aim was to destroy the Philistines; only he was content to lose his life in an action so advantageous to the people of God, and whereby he should give such a deadly blow to their enemies” (Arthur Jackson, Annotations upon the Remaining Historical Part of the Old Testament [Cambridge, 1646], sig. M2r). It’s hard to be sure where the story of Moses ends and that of Samson begins in these four lines in the poem. Samson’s story of antipathy turning into a kind of sympathy as he and his antagonists die at once best suits the argument Pulter seems to be making here. As the Messenger puts it in Milton’s Samson Agonistes (London, 1671): “Samson with these inmixed, inevitably / Pulled down the same destruction on himself” (1657-8). Pulter’s poem may suggest that the slaughter of the Israelites was a kind of self-sacrifice the Levites were willing to make to appease God, or that the antagonisms between Israelites and Levites, Samson and the Philistines result from a natural antipathy resolvable only in death, or that even enemies are ultimately united in death.
Transcription
Line number 21

 Physical note

last part of “u” and “s” appear added after in darker ink and different hand from main scribe
Elemental Edition
Line number 21

 Gloss note

strife
Elemental Edition
Line number 22

 Critical note

the material from which life derives to and to which it will return; see Genesis 3:19: “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
Amplified Edition
Line number 22

 Critical note

The parenthetical “(surely)” might be seen as a key word in the poem. Is this an assertion of certainty or a desperate plea? As the accounts of the catablepe in “Curations” demonstrate, the creature is often associated with what Walter Charleton calls “that itch of fiction,” its existence and qualities debated. How then can it ground the reassurance that we should not fear death?
Elemental Edition
Line number 24

 Gloss note

moral fable or allegory; here, this poem
Elemental Edition
Line number 25

 Gloss note

death
Amplified Edition
Line number 26

 Critical note

The relationship here between the “they” who err in fearing death and the “I” who will now greet it as a friend is a bit unclear. How have these tales of mutually assured destruction rendered death less terrifying? These lines attempt to close down some of the poem’s ambiguity by asserting that the enmity between the speaker and death as foe will, paradoxically, be resolved in death as foe becomes friend.
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