Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn, was evidently an important figure in Pulter’s poetry, and in this poem she comes to represent divine “Light,” which the speaker cannot properly see until she is in heaven (ll. 12-14). This poem is the second of three poems with the same title, “To Aurora” (the others are To Aurora 22 and To Aurora 34); Pulter also wrote two poems headed simply “Aurora” (Aurora 3 and Aurora 37). In this poem the speaker addresses her desolate self, requesting that she look up to see the beautiful morning while also noting that Cynthia (the moon) and all the other planets retreat in Aurora’s presence. Pulter explains that if she had lived in a pre-Christian era and worshipped pagan divinities, she might have chosen to celebrate a number of goddesses that she goes on to list (Juno, Bellona, Venus, Derceto, Cybele, Diana, Ceres, Doris, Leucothea, and Isis). Instead, she knows that she would have chosen to celebrate Aurora, to whom she would send up so many burnt offerings that the smoke would obscure the sky. It is noteworthy that she never entertains the notion of worshipping any male gods–she only mentions Jupiter, ruler of the gods, at the end of the poem in the context of imagining Aurora being sufficiently worshipped and so not needing to complain to him. Perhaps most noteworthy of all, in this and several poems that praise Aurora and other goddesses, Pulter does not explicitly refer to the male Judaeo-Christian God, or his son, Jesus Christ. For Pulter, the concept of divine light in this poem is not primarily derived from a biblical tradition which described Christ as “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9), but is instead mediated by a feminine force. Arguably, Pulter is not mocking the idol worship of classical tradition in her references to goddesses she might have revered had she lived in a different age; in this poem and elsewhere in her work, goddesses and feminized planets seem to function as a complement to traditional Christian religious iconography.
While the poet ends up equating Aurora with light itself (ll. 12 and 30)–arguably a divine quality, or a version of God himself, rather than just the dawn of the day in classical tradition–her characterization of pagan gods and goddesses can have an element of fun in them. In My Love is Fair59 the poet seems to mock the wooer of the poem who is convinced that his beloved surpasses a number of goddesses (for example, the speaker wonders if the cheeks of his beloved excel Aurora’s at l. 7). The speaker ends that poem by urging the lover to hop on a dolphin and woo his beloved if she is so sublime. In that poem Pulter uses Aurora to evoke the Petrarchan tradition of sensual female beauty, a discourse she also plays with in this poem in its moments of eroticism, as when she claims that Aurora’s beauty will enamour her own eyes (l. 6), and when she evokes the naked goddess Astraea, only to resolve that image into something divine (ll. 11-12).
Aurora was a character that several early modern women writers used in their poetry, depicting her appearance and significance in different ways. In her poem “The Dream,” from Mortality’s Memorandum, with a Dream Prefixed, Imaginary in Manner, Real in Matter (1621), Rachel Speght imagines her speaker sleeping at night, before “Aurora spread her glitt’ring beams / Or did with robes of light herself invest” (ll. 13-14; Women Writers in Renaissance England, edited by Randall Martin, Longman, 1997, p. 433). But when her miraculous dream vision in which she gains an education at the hands of mostly female allegorical figures is interrupted by Death killing her mother, she is jolted awake, without the gentle guidance of the dawning morning. Aemilia Lanyer also uses the image of Aurora in her dream vision poem, “The Authors Dreame to the Ladie Marie, the Countesse Dowager of Pembrooke,” one of her prefatory poems to women which precedes her poem on the Passion of Christ, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611). In this poem, the speaker sees Mary Sidney crowned and sitting in Honour’s chair in her mind’s eye. Bellona, goddess of war and wisdom, and Dictina or Pheobe, goddess of the moon, pay homage, but Aurora, “rising from her rosie bedde, / First blusht then wept, to see fair Phoebe grac’d” (ll. 61-62; The Poems of Aemilia Lanyer: Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, edited by Susanne Woods, Oxford UP, 1993, p. 24). Aurora tells Flora, goddess of the spring and flowers, that she will bring the sun to dull Phoebe’s beauty–“And I will give a greater light than she” (l. 70)–which Aurora achieves. Kari Boyd McBride has suggested that in this scene Lanyer is depicting a struggle for primacy between Queen Elizabeth I (Phoebe or Cynthia, a common identification for the Virgin Queen) and Queen Anne (Aurora). McBride sees Aurora’s summoning of the sun to dim Phoebe’s light as potentially a comment on James I’s power and thus by extension a suggestion that his consort’s own power is dependent on his (Kari Boyd McBride, “Sacred Celebration: The Patronage Poems,” Aemilia Lanyer: Gender, Genre, and the Canon, edited by Marshall Grossman, UP of Kentucky, 1998, pp. 60-82 [p. 82 note 33]). Another interesting use of Aurora occurs in a work by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Hispanic writer who lived 1648-1695 and was a cloistered nun in colonial Mexico. Her dream vision poem, Primero sueño [First Dream]–like Speght’s, a depiction of the soul’s quest for knowledge–also uses the figure of Aurora. Stephanie Merrim has suggested that, in this poem, the poet “gathers the daring, transgressive female (and male) characters [such as Phaethon] into Aurora,” and allows the goddess to stand as a “model and mask” for the poetic speaker (Early Modern Women’s Writing and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Vanderbilt UP, 1999, p. 209). I am grateful Regina Buccola for suggesting these women writers as parallels to Pulter in their use of Aurora.