This poem is organized around questions and its title raises one for the reader: whose love is fair? The whole poem is in the second person, in which the speaker interrogates an interlocutor about “thy” love and then, finally satisfied that she is so wondrous that she exceeds every precedent, urges him to woo her. Here the speaker acts as a kind of wing man to the lover, playing something like the role Diana O’Hara identifies as the “go-between.” These go-betweens served as “movers,” “suitors,” “speakers,” and “brokers” of marriage in Tudor courtships as depicted on the stage and in church court depositions (Diana O’Hara, Courtship and Constraint: Rethinking the Making of Marriage in Tudor England [Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2000], pp. 99-121). The blazon tradition always installs a third party, the addressee to whom the speaker “blazons” or trumpets the virtues of his beloved, both announcing possession of her and seeming to advertise her (Nancy J. Vickers, “‘The blazon of sweet beauty’s best’: Shakespeare’s Lucrece,” in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, ed. Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Harman [Methuen, 1985], pp. 95-115). Pulter’s speaker here is that third party, pointing out the beloved’s virtues to the apparently reluctant suitor. This dynamic is unusual in poetry. We can easily find triangulation in love poetry: in many poems, male speakers address their rivals or warn other men against women in general or in particular; in Aphra Behn’s “Invitation,” the female speaker steps between one Damon and a “cruel shepherdess,” in the hopes of taking her place as his beloved. Shakespeare writes sonnets urging the young man to procreate, but they focus on the beauty of the young man, which should leave a record, and on the offspring, rather than the prospective wife. While these are all triangles (and you can see some of them under “Triangulation and the Second Person” in the “Curations” for this poem) they all work differently than does Pulter’s triangle in this poem, in which a speaker advises the addressee to pursue a woman pronto. We find something like this dynamic more often in the drama, as Beatrice and Benedick’s friends push them together in Much Ado About Nothing, or Cesario urges Orsino not to flag in his pursuit of Olivia in Twelfth Night. The poem also treats the temporal urgency central to seduction poems in a novel way. In most carpe diem seduction poems, male speakers threaten women with time’s ravages, urging them to surrender to wooing posthaste; here the speaker works to motivate an apparently hesitant lover, arguing that the beloved’s fairness warrants urgent pursuit.
The speaker’s close attention to another’s beloved blurs the distinction between mine and thine. Pulter’s dialogic poems can often be read as dialogues within the self. Might the two parties here also be sides of the same person? The speaker’s careful inventory of female beauty links this poem—which seems in many ways impersonal—to Pulter’s blazons of her dead daughter (Poem 11) and of her own body (Poem 51). When Pulter describes a human body in detail, she focuses on the female body. Whereas the blazon has often been understood as a “divide and conquer” strategy, by which a male speaker dissects and masters a female beloved, Pulter suggests the blazon’s possibilities for turning the female gaze on the female body. She uses the blazon’s conventions to capture her memory of her daughter, her memory of her own young flesh, her frank appraisal of her aging body, and even, in this highly stylized poem, her appreciation of what wondrous fairness in a woman might look, smell, and sound like as well as the ridiculous standards women have to meet before men feel motivated to woo. The dense tissue of allusion should not distract from the keen observation it accompanies. Read in relation to Pulter’s other poetry, the absence of religion is striking here, as are its consequences for the poem’s teleology. The insistent interrogation builds toward persuading the lover to ride off a-wooing—giddyup!—not, as so often in Pulter, to die and rise again. Within its secular arc, the poem ends with a beginning, wooing rather than marriage.