Emblem 34 is a stellar example both of Pulter’s love for antithesis, and of her innovative approach toward emblems. The poem is structurally divided into two parts: the first twelve lines elaborating upon a “thankless” hog as an emblem of worldliness, and the concluding ten lines interpreting a “Chaste and constant Turtle Dove” as an emblem of people rightly focused on “Celestial Joys.” This contrapuntal structure—unusual, though not unknown, for emblem poems—would seem to suggest a relatively even-handed depiction of two contrasting spiritual perspectives. But lines 19-20, asking the reader to choose between “base Hogs or Turtle Doves” (emphasis added), are representative of the poem as the whole in clearly indicating the doves’ superiority (even if that means contradicting Pulter’s likely source).
In so presenting the contrast between these two animals, Emblem 34 is the structural opposite of Emblem 36101, which begins lauding constant turtledoves, and ends castigating the “swine” who profane God’s temple. The poems are best read in conjunction, and together demonstrate competing, yet equally valid attitudes toward earthly chaos. By its conclusion, Emblem 36 becomes mired in political diatribe—as stuck in the mire of the civil wars, one could say, as pigs in a mudpit. Emblem 34, however, avoids explicit political commentary. It exhibits precisely the transcendence of earthly concerns represented by the turtledove, focusing on future promises that obviate earthly pain and suffering.
Hogs are an appropriate antithesis to this faithful turtledove, for they have a long biblical and polemical association with immoral behavior in emblem and non-emblem literature.1 George Wither’s Collection of Emblems (1635), for instance, implicitly references Matthew 7:6’s famous injunction not to cast pearls before swine. Wither emphasizes the socioeconomic implications of this injunction, depicting a hog with a pearl ring balanced on its nose in order to critique those who misuse the privileges given to them by fortune (224).
If hogs are commonplace in emblem literature, though, Pulter’s choice of the turtledove itself is not. Constancy, a notoriously multifaceted concept, is typically an immobile virtue.2 Often defined as remaining faithful to a person or idea despite inducements to the contrary (see OED, n.1, n.2), constancy is usually depicted in emblems as a person or animal actively refusing to move. For example, Geoffrey Whitney in A Choice of Emblemes (1586) explains that Aesculapius’ “sittinge, shewes he must be setled still / With constant minde” (212).3 Indeed, where constancy is immobile, it is inconstancy which moves, as demonstrated by Henry Peacham’s emblem of “Inconstancia” in Minerva Britanna (1612): “never at a stay,” like the zodiac Cancer, who “Forward, and backward,…keepes his pace” (147).
Pulter’s depiction of “the Chaste and constant Turtle Dove” is then exceedingly unusual in emblem literature, although widespread in her own poetry (The Lark46, Why must I be forever thus confined57, Emblem 2085, Emblem 36).4 Pulter’s depictions often highlight the bird’s mobility, despite it being anathema to typical representations of constancy. In “Why must I be forever thus confined,” for instance, Pulter writes, “Though she resolves to have no second mate / Yet she her flight about the air doth take,” contrasting the dove’s “freedom [to] freely both enjoy and love” to the poet’s own confinement (67-8, 76-9). This avian transcendence is precisely the picture of constancy we see in Emblem 34. Just as the dove flies upward in Pulter’s lyric, the emblem’s turtledoves “turn their thoughts to true celestial joys,” thereby transcending the evils of this world. This transcendent mobility once again contrasts with the hogs, who are so stubbornly rooted to the earth that they cannot get their snouts out of the muck.
This transcendence is muted, though, by the poem’s acknowledgement of pain and suffering. The poem’s final lines, which repeat Pulter’s nearly unprecedented tendency to end her emblem poems focusing on herself, underscore the possibility of martyrdom (another situation commonly associated with constancy in emblem books).5 True joy, Pulter suggests, is a party to suffering, and transcendence often comes by one’s own sacrifice. The return to the speaker personalizes this message, and suggests that she has already accepted suffering for her own life.
- I distinguish between “hogs,” domesticated animals like those Pulter depicts, and “boars,” which are almost always invoked so as to privilege their wildness (see the definitions and examples given in OED “hog,” n.1 vs. “boar,” n.). This association with wildness means that boars have their own complex biblical, moral, and polemical history, which is not examined here.
- Consider, for instance, the Son in Milton’s Paradise Regained: Satan describes his battle against the Son as “try[ing] / his constancy,” and the Son achieves victory simply by standing still (2.225-6). For more on constancy and its literary representations, see Rachel Zhang, “The Constant Paradox: Constancy, Genre, and Literary Tradition in the English Civil Wars” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 2018).
- Similarly, in another poem, Whitney presents fishermen who “constant stande[s], abyding sweete or sower, / Untill the Lord appoynte an happie hower” (Choice of Emblemes, 97).
- The turtledove also embodies constancy in Shakespeare’s “The Phoenix and the Turtle,” where the death of the birds also means the death of “Love and constancy” (22).
- For Pulter’s self-focused endings, see Rachel Dunn [Zhang], "Breaking a Tradition: Hester Pulter and the English Emblem Book," The Seventeenth Century 30 (2015): 55-73. For constancy’s association with martyrdom, see George Wither, A Collection of Emblems (1635), 81.