Made When I Was Not Well

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Made When I Was Not Well

Poem 51

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
Title note

 Physical note

The date is written in a different hand from the main scribe.

 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 8

 Physical note

possible comma after
Line number 11

 Physical note

possible erasure of former end of word, replaced with “re”
Line number 13

 Physical note

“d” appears crowded between surrounding words
Line number 17

 Physical note

first “s” written over other letter
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
CATCHWORD
Made when I was not well.
Physical Note
The date is written in a different hand from the main scribe.
April 20. 1655.
Physical Note
Following the title, in a different hand from that of the main scribe and from the hand we identify as probably Pulter’s: “April 20. 1655”
Made When I Was Not Well
Critical Note
The title seems to locate the poem in a particular moment. When the speaker was unwell, this is how she saw herself; perhaps her perspective changed when she recovered. The date April 20, 1655 has been added in the manuscript next to the poem’s title, linking the poem to a particular moment of illness when Pulter was fifty.
Made When I Was Not Well
In these transcriptions we preserve as many details of the original material, textual, and graphic properties of Hester Pulter’s manuscript verse as we have found practical. Whenever possible, for instance, original spelling, punctuation, capitalization, lineation, insertions, deletions, alterations, spacing between words and lines, and indentation are all maintained; abbreviations and brevigraphs are not expanded; and superscript and subscript representations are retained. See full conventions for the transcriptions here.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
The aim of the elemental edition to make the poems accessible to the largest variety of readers, which involves modernizing spelling and punctuation as well as adding basic glosses. Spelling and punctuation reflect current standard American usage; punctuation highlights syntax which might otherwise be obscure. Outmoded but still familiar word forms (“thou,” “‘tis,” “hold’st”) are not modernized, and we do not modernize grammar when the sense remains legible. After a brief headnote aimed at offering a “way in” to the poem’s unique qualities and connections with other verse by Pulter or her contemporaries, the edition features a minimum of notes and interpretative framing to allow more immediate engagement with the poem. Glosses clarify synonyms or showcase various possible meanings in Pulter’s time. Other notes identify named people and places or clarify obscure material. We rely (without citation) primarily on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the Oxford Reference database, and the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. When we rely on Alice Eardley’s edition of Pulter’s work, we cite her text generally (“Eardley”); other sources are cited in full. The result is an edition we consider a springboard for further work on Pulter’s poetry. See full conventions for this edition here.

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

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
Today we talk about medically-assisted death. Here, the speaker imagines a poetically—or rhetorically—assisted death, as she urges the departure of her soul from her body. In her sickness, she asks why her soul won’t just go and let her die. This poem suggests the soul’s attachment to the body’s “prison” is itself unholy; and as though to quicken the dissolution and decay that she desires, the speaker dissects her body and mind. Her self-blazon, however, swerves between aversion and nostalgia, “mourning” her lost youth in many of the same terms as Pulter uses in grieving her daughter Jane in Poem 11. In a striking revision of one of the most common poetic conventions of love poetry, the speaker inventories her body parts—hair, lips, skin, breasts—and overlays a realistic aging body over the usual idealized comparisons. The poem’s repeated oscillation between glimpses of a beautiful golden age and the ruined present seem almost like a series of practice swings, pendulously building momentum for the soul’s anticipated onward movement, “away.”

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
The title of this poem suggests that it will be a reflection on mortality prompted by illness, similar to those by poets including Donne and Herbert (see “Curations”). To a certain extent it is. But Pulter’s poem differs from other reflections from the sickroom in two ways: 1) the speaker’s gaze dwells on her own body, past and present, struggling to shift the focus to the future, to the death and resurrection that she is supposed to desire and that animate other Pulter poems (such as The Desire [Poem 18]); and 2) the speaker never directly addresses God. The poem is self-contained, a conversation between speaker and soul about the body. What Pulter produces here is a diptych self-portrait, braiding together a blazon of her beauties when young with an anti-blazon frankly assessing her body now, ravaged by illness, age, and grief. (On the blazon, see "Hester Pulter and the Blazon in Early Modern England" in “Explorations”). The two pictures are not simply set side by side. Throughout, the speaker tempers the assertion that this body is a ruined prison she should be eager to abandon with puzzled ruminations on her attachment to it regardless. What’s curious here is that the poem suggests that it is the soul, so often depicted as imprisoned in the body and released by death, that mourns over the ruined body and wants to stay in it. The speaker keeps urging the soul to look at this body and thereby get over being attached to it; the tone verges on hectoring: “see’st thou these eyes?” (line 3). The poem begins and ends with questions to the soul: why does it mourn the decaying flesh? Why does it want to stay in the world? The sharp observation driving the poem suggests one reason: an attachment to the specifics of the body, now as well as then.
Particular hostility focused on women’s aging bodies in the early modern period. An old woman often appeared in allegories of vanity, looking into or out of a mirror (see “Curations”). John Gaule warns that “every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a gobber [buck] tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice, or a scolding tongue … is not only suspected, but pronounced for a witch” (John Gaule, Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft [London, 1646], 5). While today it is often said that aging women are culturally invisible, Pulter insists on seeing the aging female body and pointing out its features to the soul—and to the reader. The speaker regrets what she sees, but never looks away.


— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
1
My Soul why do’st thou Such a mourning make
My soul, why dost thou such a mourning make,
My soul, why dost thou such a mourning make
2
This Loathsom ruind Prison to forsake
This loathsome ruined prison to forsake?
This loathsome ruined
Critical Note
It was conventional to describe the body as the soul’s prison, usually so as to promote death as a release. Richard Allestree, for example, reminds readers that the friends they mourn for are no longer “confined to this prison of the body, but gone to dwell in the region of spirits; they are no longer exposed to these stormy seas, but are gladly arrived at their safe harbor” (The Whole Duty of Mourning and the Great Concern of Preparing Ourselves for Death [London, 1695], p. 154). Pulter knows this logic, repeats it often in her poetry, and struggles to reconcile it with her attachment to lost persons and, here, to her own flesh and the memory of its lost youth. If it is the soul that is imprisoned in the body, then it is particularly interesting that the speaker has to work to detach the soul from the body, interrogating the soul as to why it loves and clings to its prison. In the poem, “I” and “me” (lines 23, 26) reside with the decaying flesh and not the soul.
prison to forsake
?
3
See’st thou these eyes (’tis thou that givest them Sight
Seest thou these eyes? (’Tis thou that gives them sight,
See’st thou these eyes? ’Tis thou that givest them sight,
4
Or they would quickly Set in endles Night)
Or they would quickly set in endless night.)
Or they would quickly set in endless night.
5
What Splendent Spritelynes in youth they had
What
Gloss Note
brightly shining
splendent
sprightliness in youth they had!
What
Gloss Note
shining
splendent
sprightliness in youth they had!
6
Now weeping makes them Dim and Dull & Sad
Now weeping makes them dim and dull and sad.
Now weeping makes them dim, and dull, and sad.
7
These Locks did Curle and were a Golden brown
These locks did curl, and were a golden brown;
These locks did curl and were a golden brown;
8
Now thin and
Physical Note
possible comma after
Lank
like Silver Threads hang down
Now thin and lank like silver threads hang down.
Now thin and lank, like silver threads, hang down.
9
My lovly count’nance had a pleasing grace
My lovely
Gloss Note
face
count’nance
had a pleasing grace;
My lovely
Gloss Note
face, facial expression
count’nance
had a pleasing grace;
10
Now Erra Paters or A Sibbils fface
Now,
Critical Note
This is the assumed name for the author of a popular handbook of prognostication; Francis Beaumont refers to “a face as olde as Erra Pater” in The scornful ladie (London, 1616), sig. G4v.
Erra Pater’s
or a
Gloss Note
classical prophetess
sibyl’s
face.
Now
Critical Note
Popular books of prognostication and almanacs were attributed to Erra Pater, “a Jew, born in Jewry,” throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These texts were so ubiquitous and popular that the name came to describe the books themselves; an almanac might be called an “erra pater” or, since these predictions were considered unreliable or erring, an “errans pater.” Erra Pater was often described as old, as in the broadside “Erra Pater’s Prophesy or Frost Fair 1683,” or depicted with a lined face (see “Curations”). In Beaumont and Fletcher’s popular play The Scornful Lady (1616), Elder Loveless describes the aged servant, Abigail, as “Thou with a face as old as Erra Pater, such a prognosticating nose: thou thing that ten years since has left to be a woman, outworn the expectation of a bawd, and thy dry bones can reach at nothing now, but gords or ninepins [dice]” (4.1).
Erra Pater’s
or a
Critical Note
Sibyls were female prophets in ancient Greece and Rome. Although they were mortals, they were often depicted as preternaturally old. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Phoebus, trying to gain the Cumaean sibyl’s virginity, offered her extended life, but when she refused him, he did not include lasting youth in the bargain. When the sibyl encounters Aeneas in Ovid’s tale, she is 700 years old and decrepit; she imagines that her body will gradually wither until nothing is left but her prophetic voice (see “Curations”). Pulter chooses prophets as her images of the aged face, perhaps linking age and wisdom, but she also chooses prophets whose ability to foresee the future many of her contemporaries held in doubt.
sibyl’s
face.
11
My lips were Cherryes Rosey
Physical Note
possible erasure of former end of word, replaced with “re”
were
my Cheeks
My lips were cherries, rosy were my cheeks;
My lips were cherries, rosy were my cheeks,
12
But those that now for Blood or Bevty Seek
But those that now for blood or beauty seek
But
Critical Note
That is, those who seek color in her lips and cheeks. In lines 15 and 18, the speaker emphasizes that she associates her youthful beauty with the whiteness of her skin.
those that now for blood or beauty seek
13
Will find them Spoyled by time
Physical Note
“d” appears crowded between surrounding words
and
adverss fate
Will find them spoiled by Time and adverse Fate,
Will find them spoiled by time and adverse fate,
14
Whose cruelty doth give to all A date
Whose cruelty doth give to all a
Gloss Note
bring to an end
date
.
Whose cruelty doth give to all a
Gloss Note
limit
date
.
15
My Skin was once as white as new fallen Snow
My skin was once as white as new fallen snow;
My skin was once as white as new-fallen snow,
16
Through Azure veins vimillion Blood did flow
Through
Gloss Note
blue
azure
veins
Gloss Note
bright red
vermillion
blood did flow.
Through
Gloss Note
bright blue
azure
veins,
Gloss Note
scarlet
vermilion
blood did flow.
17
Then were my Swelling
Physical Note
first “s” written over other letter
Breasts
ye Bed of Love
Then were my swelling breasts the bed of love,
Critical Note
A skeletal timeline of Pulter’s life would focus on what we might call reproductive events: she married at age 13 and gave birth to at least 15 children between the ages of 19 and 48 (the last two years before this poem). Yet this striking evocation of her body as a source of pleasure is unusual in the poetry. The description of her breasts does not specify for whom they served as the bed of love. Pulter may refer to a husband or lover; Pulter’s husband Arthur is almost invisible in these poems, especially compared to her children. She might also remember nursing her children here.
Then were my swelling breasts the bed of love
,
18
As Smoth as Soft as White as Swan or Dove
As smooth, as soft, as white as swan or dove;
As smooth, as soft, as white, as swan or dove.
19
As Lillyes ffadeing Shrink to Shun the Light
As lilies fading shrink to shun the light,
As lilies fading shrink to shun the light,
20
So Are my withred Brests Shut out of Sight
So are my withered breasts shut out of sight;
So are my withered breasts shut out of sight;
21
Times tiranny they ffeel and Sorrows Spite
Time’s tyranny they feel, and Sorrow’s spite.
Time’s tyranny they feel and sorrow’s spite.

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder

Facsimile Image Placeholder
22
My Sportive wit and Mirth is now laid by
My
Gloss Note
light, lively
sportive
wit and mirth is now laid by;
My
Gloss Note
playful
sportive
wit and mirth is now laid by;
23
None is more mopeing now and dul then I
None is more moping now, and dull, than I.
None is more moping now, and dull, than I.
24
My joyes to Heaven with my Dear Pen did ffly
My joys to heaven with my dear
Critical Note
Pulter’s daughter, Penelope, died in 1655, age 22 (Eardley).
Pen
did fly.
My joys to heaven with my dear
Critical Note
Pulter’s daughter Penelope died in 1655 at age 22 (Eardley). Pulter may have suffered her own illness and written this poem that same year. One might hear the homonym between the nickname “Pen” and the pen as a writing implement, linking Pulter’s procreative and creative activities.
Pen
did fly.
25
Then why my soul? art thou Soe fond to Stay
Then why, my soul, art thou so fond to stay,
Then why, my soul, art thou so fond to stay,
26
Seeing all thats Lovly in mee doth decay
Seeing all that’s lovely in me doth decay?
Seeing all that’s lovely in me doth decay?
27
ffor Shame pack up thy vertues and a way.
For shame! Pack up thy virtues, and away.
For shame pack up thy virtues and away.
X (Close panel)Notes: Elemental Edition
Title note

 Physical note

Following the title, in a different hand from that of the main scribe and from the hand we identify as probably Pulter’s: “April 20. 1655”

 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

Today we talk about medically-assisted death. Here, the speaker imagines a poetically—or rhetorically—assisted death, as she urges the departure of her soul from her body. In her sickness, she asks why her soul won’t just go and let her die. This poem suggests the soul’s attachment to the body’s “prison” is itself unholy; and as though to quicken the dissolution and decay that she desires, the speaker dissects her body and mind. Her self-blazon, however, swerves between aversion and nostalgia, “mourning” her lost youth in many of the same terms as Pulter uses in grieving her daughter Jane in Poem 11. In a striking revision of one of the most common poetic conventions of love poetry, the speaker inventories her body parts—hair, lips, skin, breasts—and overlays a realistic aging body over the usual idealized comparisons. The poem’s repeated oscillation between glimpses of a beautiful golden age and the ruined present seem almost like a series of practice swings, pendulously building momentum for the soul’s anticipated onward movement, “away.”
Line number 5

 Gloss note

brightly shining
Line number 9

 Gloss note

face
Line number 10

 Critical note

This is the assumed name for the author of a popular handbook of prognostication; Francis Beaumont refers to “a face as olde as Erra Pater” in The scornful ladie (London, 1616), sig. G4v.
Line number 10

 Gloss note

classical prophetess
Line number 14

 Gloss note

bring to an end
Line number 16

 Gloss note

blue
Line number 16

 Gloss note

bright red
Line number 22

 Gloss note

light, lively
Line number 24

 Critical note

Pulter’s daughter, Penelope, died in 1655, age 22 (Eardley).
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
CATCHWORD
Made when I was not well.
Physical Note
The date is written in a different hand from the main scribe.
April 20. 1655.
Physical Note
Following the title, in a different hand from that of the main scribe and from the hand we identify as probably Pulter’s: “April 20. 1655”
Made When I Was Not Well
Critical Note
The title seems to locate the poem in a particular moment. When the speaker was unwell, this is how she saw herself; perhaps her perspective changed when she recovered. The date April 20, 1655 has been added in the manuscript next to the poem’s title, linking the poem to a particular moment of illness when Pulter was fifty.
Made When I Was Not Well
In these transcriptions we preserve as many details of the original material, textual, and graphic properties of Hester Pulter’s manuscript verse as we have found practical. Whenever possible, for instance, original spelling, punctuation, capitalization, lineation, insertions, deletions, alterations, spacing between words and lines, and indentation are all maintained; abbreviations and brevigraphs are not expanded; and superscript and subscript representations are retained. See full conventions for the transcriptions here.

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
The aim of the elemental edition to make the poems accessible to the largest variety of readers, which involves modernizing spelling and punctuation as well as adding basic glosses. Spelling and punctuation reflect current standard American usage; punctuation highlights syntax which might otherwise be obscure. Outmoded but still familiar word forms (“thou,” “‘tis,” “hold’st”) are not modernized, and we do not modernize grammar when the sense remains legible. After a brief headnote aimed at offering a “way in” to the poem’s unique qualities and connections with other verse by Pulter or her contemporaries, the edition features a minimum of notes and interpretative framing to allow more immediate engagement with the poem. Glosses clarify synonyms or showcase various possible meanings in Pulter’s time. Other notes identify named people and places or clarify obscure material. We rely (without citation) primarily on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the Oxford Reference database, and the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. When we rely on Alice Eardley’s edition of Pulter’s work, we cite her text generally (“Eardley”); other sources are cited in full. The result is an edition we consider a springboard for further work on Pulter’s poetry. See full conventions for this edition here.

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

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
Today we talk about medically-assisted death. Here, the speaker imagines a poetically—or rhetorically—assisted death, as she urges the departure of her soul from her body. In her sickness, she asks why her soul won’t just go and let her die. This poem suggests the soul’s attachment to the body’s “prison” is itself unholy; and as though to quicken the dissolution and decay that she desires, the speaker dissects her body and mind. Her self-blazon, however, swerves between aversion and nostalgia, “mourning” her lost youth in many of the same terms as Pulter uses in grieving her daughter Jane in Poem 11. In a striking revision of one of the most common poetic conventions of love poetry, the speaker inventories her body parts—hair, lips, skin, breasts—and overlays a realistic aging body over the usual idealized comparisons. The poem’s repeated oscillation between glimpses of a beautiful golden age and the ruined present seem almost like a series of practice swings, pendulously building momentum for the soul’s anticipated onward movement, “away.”

— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
The title of this poem suggests that it will be a reflection on mortality prompted by illness, similar to those by poets including Donne and Herbert (see “Curations”). To a certain extent it is. But Pulter’s poem differs from other reflections from the sickroom in two ways: 1) the speaker’s gaze dwells on her own body, past and present, struggling to shift the focus to the future, to the death and resurrection that she is supposed to desire and that animate other Pulter poems (such as The Desire [Poem 18]); and 2) the speaker never directly addresses God. The poem is self-contained, a conversation between speaker and soul about the body. What Pulter produces here is a diptych self-portrait, braiding together a blazon of her beauties when young with an anti-blazon frankly assessing her body now, ravaged by illness, age, and grief. (On the blazon, see "Hester Pulter and the Blazon in Early Modern England" in “Explorations”). The two pictures are not simply set side by side. Throughout, the speaker tempers the assertion that this body is a ruined prison she should be eager to abandon with puzzled ruminations on her attachment to it regardless. What’s curious here is that the poem suggests that it is the soul, so often depicted as imprisoned in the body and released by death, that mourns over the ruined body and wants to stay in it. The speaker keeps urging the soul to look at this body and thereby get over being attached to it; the tone verges on hectoring: “see’st thou these eyes?” (line 3). The poem begins and ends with questions to the soul: why does it mourn the decaying flesh? Why does it want to stay in the world? The sharp observation driving the poem suggests one reason: an attachment to the specifics of the body, now as well as then.
Particular hostility focused on women’s aging bodies in the early modern period. An old woman often appeared in allegories of vanity, looking into or out of a mirror (see “Curations”). John Gaule warns that “every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a gobber [buck] tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice, or a scolding tongue … is not only suspected, but pronounced for a witch” (John Gaule, Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft [London, 1646], 5). While today it is often said that aging women are culturally invisible, Pulter insists on seeing the aging female body and pointing out its features to the soul—and to the reader. The speaker regrets what she sees, but never looks away.


— Leah Knight and Wendy Wall
1
My Soul why do’st thou Such a mourning make
My soul, why dost thou such a mourning make,
My soul, why dost thou such a mourning make
2
This Loathsom ruind Prison to forsake
This loathsome ruined prison to forsake?
This loathsome ruined
Critical Note
It was conventional to describe the body as the soul’s prison, usually so as to promote death as a release. Richard Allestree, for example, reminds readers that the friends they mourn for are no longer “confined to this prison of the body, but gone to dwell in the region of spirits; they are no longer exposed to these stormy seas, but are gladly arrived at their safe harbor” (The Whole Duty of Mourning and the Great Concern of Preparing Ourselves for Death [London, 1695], p. 154). Pulter knows this logic, repeats it often in her poetry, and struggles to reconcile it with her attachment to lost persons and, here, to her own flesh and the memory of its lost youth. If it is the soul that is imprisoned in the body, then it is particularly interesting that the speaker has to work to detach the soul from the body, interrogating the soul as to why it loves and clings to its prison. In the poem, “I” and “me” (lines 23, 26) reside with the decaying flesh and not the soul.
prison to forsake
?
3
See’st thou these eyes (’tis thou that givest them Sight
Seest thou these eyes? (’Tis thou that gives them sight,
See’st thou these eyes? ’Tis thou that givest them sight,
4
Or they would quickly Set in endles Night)
Or they would quickly set in endless night.)
Or they would quickly set in endless night.
5
What Splendent Spritelynes in youth they had
What
Gloss Note
brightly shining
splendent
sprightliness in youth they had!
What
Gloss Note
shining
splendent
sprightliness in youth they had!
6
Now weeping makes them Dim and Dull & Sad
Now weeping makes them dim and dull and sad.
Now weeping makes them dim, and dull, and sad.
7
These Locks did Curle and were a Golden brown
These locks did curl, and were a golden brown;
These locks did curl and were a golden brown;
8
Now thin and
Physical Note
possible comma after
Lank
like Silver Threads hang down
Now thin and lank like silver threads hang down.
Now thin and lank, like silver threads, hang down.
9
My lovly count’nance had a pleasing grace
My lovely
Gloss Note
face
count’nance
had a pleasing grace;
My lovely
Gloss Note
face, facial expression
count’nance
had a pleasing grace;
10
Now Erra Paters or A Sibbils fface
Now,
Critical Note
This is the assumed name for the author of a popular handbook of prognostication; Francis Beaumont refers to “a face as olde as Erra Pater” in The scornful ladie (London, 1616), sig. G4v.
Erra Pater’s
or a
Gloss Note
classical prophetess
sibyl’s
face.
Now
Critical Note
Popular books of prognostication and almanacs were attributed to Erra Pater, “a Jew, born in Jewry,” throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These texts were so ubiquitous and popular that the name came to describe the books themselves; an almanac might be called an “erra pater” or, since these predictions were considered unreliable or erring, an “errans pater.” Erra Pater was often described as old, as in the broadside “Erra Pater’s Prophesy or Frost Fair 1683,” or depicted with a lined face (see “Curations”). In Beaumont and Fletcher’s popular play The Scornful Lady (1616), Elder Loveless describes the aged servant, Abigail, as “Thou with a face as old as Erra Pater, such a prognosticating nose: thou thing that ten years since has left to be a woman, outworn the expectation of a bawd, and thy dry bones can reach at nothing now, but gords or ninepins [dice]” (4.1).
Erra Pater’s
or a
Critical Note
Sibyls were female prophets in ancient Greece and Rome. Although they were mortals, they were often depicted as preternaturally old. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Phoebus, trying to gain the Cumaean sibyl’s virginity, offered her extended life, but when she refused him, he did not include lasting youth in the bargain. When the sibyl encounters Aeneas in Ovid’s tale, she is 700 years old and decrepit; she imagines that her body will gradually wither until nothing is left but her prophetic voice (see “Curations”). Pulter chooses prophets as her images of the aged face, perhaps linking age and wisdom, but she also chooses prophets whose ability to foresee the future many of her contemporaries held in doubt.
sibyl’s
face.
11
My lips were Cherryes Rosey
Physical Note
possible erasure of former end of word, replaced with “re”
were
my Cheeks
My lips were cherries, rosy were my cheeks;
My lips were cherries, rosy were my cheeks,
12
But those that now for Blood or Bevty Seek
But those that now for blood or beauty seek
But
Critical Note
That is, those who seek color in her lips and cheeks. In lines 15 and 18, the speaker emphasizes that she associates her youthful beauty with the whiteness of her skin.
those that now for blood or beauty seek
13
Will find them Spoyled by time
Physical Note
“d” appears crowded between surrounding words
and
adverss fate
Will find them spoiled by Time and adverse Fate,
Will find them spoiled by time and adverse fate,
14
Whose cruelty doth give to all A date
Whose cruelty doth give to all a
Gloss Note
bring to an end
date
.
Whose cruelty doth give to all a
Gloss Note
limit
date
.
15
My Skin was once as white as new fallen Snow
My skin was once as white as new fallen snow;
My skin was once as white as new-fallen snow,
16
Through Azure veins vimillion Blood did flow
Through
Gloss Note
blue
azure
veins
Gloss Note
bright red
vermillion
blood did flow.
Through
Gloss Note
bright blue
azure
veins,
Gloss Note
scarlet
vermilion
blood did flow.
17
Then were my Swelling
Physical Note
first “s” written over other letter
Breasts
ye Bed of Love
Then were my swelling breasts the bed of love,
Critical Note
A skeletal timeline of Pulter’s life would focus on what we might call reproductive events: she married at age 13 and gave birth to at least 15 children between the ages of 19 and 48 (the last two years before this poem). Yet this striking evocation of her body as a source of pleasure is unusual in the poetry. The description of her breasts does not specify for whom they served as the bed of love. Pulter may refer to a husband or lover; Pulter’s husband Arthur is almost invisible in these poems, especially compared to her children. She might also remember nursing her children here.
Then were my swelling breasts the bed of love
,
18
As Smoth as Soft as White as Swan or Dove
As smooth, as soft, as white as swan or dove;
As smooth, as soft, as white, as swan or dove.
19
As Lillyes ffadeing Shrink to Shun the Light
As lilies fading shrink to shun the light,
As lilies fading shrink to shun the light,
20
So Are my withred Brests Shut out of Sight
So are my withered breasts shut out of sight;
So are my withered breasts shut out of sight;
21
Times tiranny they ffeel and Sorrows Spite
Time’s tyranny they feel, and Sorrow’s spite.
Time’s tyranny they feel and sorrow’s spite.

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22
My Sportive wit and Mirth is now laid by
My
Gloss Note
light, lively
sportive
wit and mirth is now laid by;
My
Gloss Note
playful
sportive
wit and mirth is now laid by;
23
None is more mopeing now and dul then I
None is more moping now, and dull, than I.
None is more moping now, and dull, than I.
24
My joyes to Heaven with my Dear Pen did ffly
My joys to heaven with my dear
Critical Note
Pulter’s daughter, Penelope, died in 1655, age 22 (Eardley).
Pen
did fly.
My joys to heaven with my dear
Critical Note
Pulter’s daughter Penelope died in 1655 at age 22 (Eardley). Pulter may have suffered her own illness and written this poem that same year. One might hear the homonym between the nickname “Pen” and the pen as a writing implement, linking Pulter’s procreative and creative activities.
Pen
did fly.
25
Then why my soul? art thou Soe fond to Stay
Then why, my soul, art thou so fond to stay,
Then why, my soul, art thou so fond to stay,
26
Seeing all thats Lovly in mee doth decay
Seeing all that’s lovely in me doth decay?
Seeing all that’s lovely in me doth decay?
27
ffor Shame pack up thy vertues and a way.
For shame! Pack up thy virtues, and away.
For shame pack up thy virtues and away.
X (Close panel)Notes: Amplified Edition
Title note

 Critical note

The title seems to locate the poem in a particular moment. When the speaker was unwell, this is how she saw herself; perhaps her perspective changed when she recovered. The date April 20, 1655 has been added in the manuscript next to the poem’s title, linking the poem to a particular moment of illness when Pulter was fifty.

 Editorial note

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

 Headnote

The title of this poem suggests that it will be a reflection on mortality prompted by illness, similar to those by poets including Donne and Herbert (see “Curations”). To a certain extent it is. But Pulter’s poem differs from other reflections from the sickroom in two ways: 1) the speaker’s gaze dwells on her own body, past and present, struggling to shift the focus to the future, to the death and resurrection that she is supposed to desire and that animate other Pulter poems (such as The Desire [Poem 18]); and 2) the speaker never directly addresses God. The poem is self-contained, a conversation between speaker and soul about the body. What Pulter produces here is a diptych self-portrait, braiding together a blazon of her beauties when young with an anti-blazon frankly assessing her body now, ravaged by illness, age, and grief. (On the blazon, see "Hester Pulter and the Blazon in Early Modern England" in “Explorations”). The two pictures are not simply set side by side. Throughout, the speaker tempers the assertion that this body is a ruined prison she should be eager to abandon with puzzled ruminations on her attachment to it regardless. What’s curious here is that the poem suggests that it is the soul, so often depicted as imprisoned in the body and released by death, that mourns over the ruined body and wants to stay in it. The speaker keeps urging the soul to look at this body and thereby get over being attached to it; the tone verges on hectoring: “see’st thou these eyes?” (line 3). The poem begins and ends with questions to the soul: why does it mourn the decaying flesh? Why does it want to stay in the world? The sharp observation driving the poem suggests one reason: an attachment to the specifics of the body, now as well as then.
Particular hostility focused on women’s aging bodies in the early modern period. An old woman often appeared in allegories of vanity, looking into or out of a mirror (see “Curations”). John Gaule warns that “every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a gobber [buck] tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice, or a scolding tongue … is not only suspected, but pronounced for a witch” (John Gaule, Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft [London, 1646], 5). While today it is often said that aging women are culturally invisible, Pulter insists on seeing the aging female body and pointing out its features to the soul—and to the reader. The speaker regrets what she sees, but never looks away.
Line number 2

 Critical note

It was conventional to describe the body as the soul’s prison, usually so as to promote death as a release. Richard Allestree, for example, reminds readers that the friends they mourn for are no longer “confined to this prison of the body, but gone to dwell in the region of spirits; they are no longer exposed to these stormy seas, but are gladly arrived at their safe harbor” (The Whole Duty of Mourning and the Great Concern of Preparing Ourselves for Death [London, 1695], p. 154). Pulter knows this logic, repeats it often in her poetry, and struggles to reconcile it with her attachment to lost persons and, here, to her own flesh and the memory of its lost youth. If it is the soul that is imprisoned in the body, then it is particularly interesting that the speaker has to work to detach the soul from the body, interrogating the soul as to why it loves and clings to its prison. In the poem, “I” and “me” (lines 23, 26) reside with the decaying flesh and not the soul.
Line number 5

 Gloss note

shining
Line number 9

 Gloss note

face, facial expression
Line number 10

 Critical note

Popular books of prognostication and almanacs were attributed to Erra Pater, “a Jew, born in Jewry,” throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These texts were so ubiquitous and popular that the name came to describe the books themselves; an almanac might be called an “erra pater” or, since these predictions were considered unreliable or erring, an “errans pater.” Erra Pater was often described as old, as in the broadside “Erra Pater’s Prophesy or Frost Fair 1683,” or depicted with a lined face (see “Curations”). In Beaumont and Fletcher’s popular play The Scornful Lady (1616), Elder Loveless describes the aged servant, Abigail, as “Thou with a face as old as Erra Pater, such a prognosticating nose: thou thing that ten years since has left to be a woman, outworn the expectation of a bawd, and thy dry bones can reach at nothing now, but gords or ninepins [dice]” (4.1).
Line number 10

 Critical note

Sibyls were female prophets in ancient Greece and Rome. Although they were mortals, they were often depicted as preternaturally old. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Phoebus, trying to gain the Cumaean sibyl’s virginity, offered her extended life, but when she refused him, he did not include lasting youth in the bargain. When the sibyl encounters Aeneas in Ovid’s tale, she is 700 years old and decrepit; she imagines that her body will gradually wither until nothing is left but her prophetic voice (see “Curations”). Pulter chooses prophets as her images of the aged face, perhaps linking age and wisdom, but she also chooses prophets whose ability to foresee the future many of her contemporaries held in doubt.
Line number 12

 Critical note

That is, those who seek color in her lips and cheeks. In lines 15 and 18, the speaker emphasizes that she associates her youthful beauty with the whiteness of her skin.
Line number 14

 Gloss note

limit
Line number 16

 Gloss note

bright blue
Line number 16

 Gloss note

scarlet
Line number 17

 Critical note

A skeletal timeline of Pulter’s life would focus on what we might call reproductive events: she married at age 13 and gave birth to at least 15 children between the ages of 19 and 48 (the last two years before this poem). Yet this striking evocation of her body as a source of pleasure is unusual in the poetry. The description of her breasts does not specify for whom they served as the bed of love. Pulter may refer to a husband or lover; Pulter’s husband Arthur is almost invisible in these poems, especially compared to her children. She might also remember nursing her children here.
Line number 22

 Gloss note

playful
Line number 24

 Critical note

Pulter’s daughter Penelope died in 1655 at age 22 (Eardley). Pulter may have suffered her own illness and written this poem that same year. One might hear the homonym between the nickname “Pen” and the pen as a writing implement, linking Pulter’s procreative and creative activities.
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X (Close panel)Amplified Edition
Amplified Edition

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CATCHWORD
Made when I was not well.
Physical Note
The date is written in a different hand from the main scribe.
April 20. 1655.
Physical Note
Following the title, in a different hand from that of the main scribe and from the hand we identify as probably Pulter’s: “April 20. 1655”
Made When I Was Not Well
Critical Note
The title seems to locate the poem in a particular moment. When the speaker was unwell, this is how she saw herself; perhaps her perspective changed when she recovered. The date April 20, 1655 has been added in the manuscript next to the poem’s title, linking the poem to a particular moment of illness when Pulter was fifty.
Made When I Was Not Well
In these transcriptions we preserve as many details of the original material, textual, and graphic properties of Hester Pulter’s manuscript verse as we have found practical. Whenever possible, for instance, original spelling, punctuation, capitalization, lineation, insertions, deletions, alterations, spacing between words and lines, and indentation are all maintained; abbreviations and brevigraphs are not expanded; and superscript and subscript representations are retained. See full conventions for the transcriptions here.

— Frances E. Dolan
The aim of the elemental edition to make the poems accessible to the largest variety of readers, which involves modernizing spelling and punctuation as well as adding basic glosses. Spelling and punctuation reflect current standard American usage; punctuation highlights syntax which might otherwise be obscure. Outmoded but still familiar word forms (“thou,” “‘tis,” “hold’st”) are not modernized, and we do not modernize grammar when the sense remains legible. After a brief headnote aimed at offering a “way in” to the poem’s unique qualities and connections with other verse by Pulter or her contemporaries, the edition features a minimum of notes and interpretative framing to allow more immediate engagement with the poem. Glosses clarify synonyms or showcase various possible meanings in Pulter’s time. Other notes identify named people and places or clarify obscure material. We rely (without citation) primarily on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the Oxford Reference database, and the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. When we rely on Alice Eardley’s edition of Pulter’s work, we cite her text generally (“Eardley”); other sources are cited in full. The result is an edition we consider a springboard for further work on Pulter’s poetry. See full conventions for this edition here.

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

— Frances E. Dolan
Today we talk about medically-assisted death. Here, the speaker imagines a poetically—or rhetorically—assisted death, as she urges the departure of her soul from her body. In her sickness, she asks why her soul won’t just go and let her die. This poem suggests the soul’s attachment to the body’s “prison” is itself unholy; and as though to quicken the dissolution and decay that she desires, the speaker dissects her body and mind. Her self-blazon, however, swerves between aversion and nostalgia, “mourning” her lost youth in many of the same terms as Pulter uses in grieving her daughter Jane in Poem 11. In a striking revision of one of the most common poetic conventions of love poetry, the speaker inventories her body parts—hair, lips, skin, breasts—and overlays a realistic aging body over the usual idealized comparisons. The poem’s repeated oscillation between glimpses of a beautiful golden age and the ruined present seem almost like a series of practice swings, pendulously building momentum for the soul’s anticipated onward movement, “away.”

— Frances E. Dolan
The title of this poem suggests that it will be a reflection on mortality prompted by illness, similar to those by poets including Donne and Herbert (see “Curations”). To a certain extent it is. But Pulter’s poem differs from other reflections from the sickroom in two ways: 1) the speaker’s gaze dwells on her own body, past and present, struggling to shift the focus to the future, to the death and resurrection that she is supposed to desire and that animate other Pulter poems (such as The Desire [Poem 18]); and 2) the speaker never directly addresses God. The poem is self-contained, a conversation between speaker and soul about the body. What Pulter produces here is a diptych self-portrait, braiding together a blazon of her beauties when young with an anti-blazon frankly assessing her body now, ravaged by illness, age, and grief. (On the blazon, see "Hester Pulter and the Blazon in Early Modern England" in “Explorations”). The two pictures are not simply set side by side. Throughout, the speaker tempers the assertion that this body is a ruined prison she should be eager to abandon with puzzled ruminations on her attachment to it regardless. What’s curious here is that the poem suggests that it is the soul, so often depicted as imprisoned in the body and released by death, that mourns over the ruined body and wants to stay in it. The speaker keeps urging the soul to look at this body and thereby get over being attached to it; the tone verges on hectoring: “see’st thou these eyes?” (line 3). The poem begins and ends with questions to the soul: why does it mourn the decaying flesh? Why does it want to stay in the world? The sharp observation driving the poem suggests one reason: an attachment to the specifics of the body, now as well as then.
Particular hostility focused on women’s aging bodies in the early modern period. An old woman often appeared in allegories of vanity, looking into or out of a mirror (see “Curations”). John Gaule warns that “every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a gobber [buck] tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice, or a scolding tongue … is not only suspected, but pronounced for a witch” (John Gaule, Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft [London, 1646], 5). While today it is often said that aging women are culturally invisible, Pulter insists on seeing the aging female body and pointing out its features to the soul—and to the reader. The speaker regrets what she sees, but never looks away.


— Frances E. Dolan
1
My Soul why do’st thou Such a mourning make
My soul, why dost thou such a mourning make,
My soul, why dost thou such a mourning make
2
This Loathsom ruind Prison to forsake
This loathsome ruined prison to forsake?
This loathsome ruined
Critical Note
It was conventional to describe the body as the soul’s prison, usually so as to promote death as a release. Richard Allestree, for example, reminds readers that the friends they mourn for are no longer “confined to this prison of the body, but gone to dwell in the region of spirits; they are no longer exposed to these stormy seas, but are gladly arrived at their safe harbor” (The Whole Duty of Mourning and the Great Concern of Preparing Ourselves for Death [London, 1695], p. 154). Pulter knows this logic, repeats it often in her poetry, and struggles to reconcile it with her attachment to lost persons and, here, to her own flesh and the memory of its lost youth. If it is the soul that is imprisoned in the body, then it is particularly interesting that the speaker has to work to detach the soul from the body, interrogating the soul as to why it loves and clings to its prison. In the poem, “I” and “me” (lines 23, 26) reside with the decaying flesh and not the soul.
prison to forsake
?
3
See’st thou these eyes (’tis thou that givest them Sight
Seest thou these eyes? (’Tis thou that gives them sight,
See’st thou these eyes? ’Tis thou that givest them sight,
4
Or they would quickly Set in endles Night)
Or they would quickly set in endless night.)
Or they would quickly set in endless night.
5
What Splendent Spritelynes in youth they had
What
Gloss Note
brightly shining
splendent
sprightliness in youth they had!
What
Gloss Note
shining
splendent
sprightliness in youth they had!
6
Now weeping makes them Dim and Dull & Sad
Now weeping makes them dim and dull and sad.
Now weeping makes them dim, and dull, and sad.
7
These Locks did Curle and were a Golden brown
These locks did curl, and were a golden brown;
These locks did curl and were a golden brown;
8
Now thin and
Physical Note
possible comma after
Lank
like Silver Threads hang down
Now thin and lank like silver threads hang down.
Now thin and lank, like silver threads, hang down.
9
My lovly count’nance had a pleasing grace
My lovely
Gloss Note
face
count’nance
had a pleasing grace;
My lovely
Gloss Note
face, facial expression
count’nance
had a pleasing grace;
10
Now Erra Paters or A Sibbils fface
Now,
Critical Note
This is the assumed name for the author of a popular handbook of prognostication; Francis Beaumont refers to “a face as olde as Erra Pater” in The scornful ladie (London, 1616), sig. G4v.
Erra Pater’s
or a
Gloss Note
classical prophetess
sibyl’s
face.
Now
Critical Note
Popular books of prognostication and almanacs were attributed to Erra Pater, “a Jew, born in Jewry,” throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These texts were so ubiquitous and popular that the name came to describe the books themselves; an almanac might be called an “erra pater” or, since these predictions were considered unreliable or erring, an “errans pater.” Erra Pater was often described as old, as in the broadside “Erra Pater’s Prophesy or Frost Fair 1683,” or depicted with a lined face (see “Curations”). In Beaumont and Fletcher’s popular play The Scornful Lady (1616), Elder Loveless describes the aged servant, Abigail, as “Thou with a face as old as Erra Pater, such a prognosticating nose: thou thing that ten years since has left to be a woman, outworn the expectation of a bawd, and thy dry bones can reach at nothing now, but gords or ninepins [dice]” (4.1).
Erra Pater’s
or a
Critical Note
Sibyls were female prophets in ancient Greece and Rome. Although they were mortals, they were often depicted as preternaturally old. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Phoebus, trying to gain the Cumaean sibyl’s virginity, offered her extended life, but when she refused him, he did not include lasting youth in the bargain. When the sibyl encounters Aeneas in Ovid’s tale, she is 700 years old and decrepit; she imagines that her body will gradually wither until nothing is left but her prophetic voice (see “Curations”). Pulter chooses prophets as her images of the aged face, perhaps linking age and wisdom, but she also chooses prophets whose ability to foresee the future many of her contemporaries held in doubt.
sibyl’s
face.
11
My lips were Cherryes Rosey
Physical Note
possible erasure of former end of word, replaced with “re”
were
my Cheeks
My lips were cherries, rosy were my cheeks;
My lips were cherries, rosy were my cheeks,
12
But those that now for Blood or Bevty Seek
But those that now for blood or beauty seek
But
Critical Note
That is, those who seek color in her lips and cheeks. In lines 15 and 18, the speaker emphasizes that she associates her youthful beauty with the whiteness of her skin.
those that now for blood or beauty seek
13
Will find them Spoyled by time
Physical Note
“d” appears crowded between surrounding words
and
adverss fate
Will find them spoiled by Time and adverse Fate,
Will find them spoiled by time and adverse fate,
14
Whose cruelty doth give to all A date
Whose cruelty doth give to all a
Gloss Note
bring to an end
date
.
Whose cruelty doth give to all a
Gloss Note
limit
date
.
15
My Skin was once as white as new fallen Snow
My skin was once as white as new fallen snow;
My skin was once as white as new-fallen snow,
16
Through Azure veins vimillion Blood did flow
Through
Gloss Note
blue
azure
veins
Gloss Note
bright red
vermillion
blood did flow.
Through
Gloss Note
bright blue
azure
veins,
Gloss Note
scarlet
vermilion
blood did flow.
17
Then were my Swelling
Physical Note
first “s” written over other letter
Breasts
ye Bed of Love
Then were my swelling breasts the bed of love,
Critical Note
A skeletal timeline of Pulter’s life would focus on what we might call reproductive events: she married at age 13 and gave birth to at least 15 children between the ages of 19 and 48 (the last two years before this poem). Yet this striking evocation of her body as a source of pleasure is unusual in the poetry. The description of her breasts does not specify for whom they served as the bed of love. Pulter may refer to a husband or lover; Pulter’s husband Arthur is almost invisible in these poems, especially compared to her children. She might also remember nursing her children here.
Then were my swelling breasts the bed of love
,
18
As Smoth as Soft as White as Swan or Dove
As smooth, as soft, as white as swan or dove;
As smooth, as soft, as white, as swan or dove.
19
As Lillyes ffadeing Shrink to Shun the Light
As lilies fading shrink to shun the light,
As lilies fading shrink to shun the light,
20
So Are my withred Brests Shut out of Sight
So are my withered breasts shut out of sight;
So are my withered breasts shut out of sight;
21
Times tiranny they ffeel and Sorrows Spite
Time’s tyranny they feel, and Sorrow’s spite.
Time’s tyranny they feel and sorrow’s spite.

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22
My Sportive wit and Mirth is now laid by
My
Gloss Note
light, lively
sportive
wit and mirth is now laid by;
My
Gloss Note
playful
sportive
wit and mirth is now laid by;
23
None is more mopeing now and dul then I
None is more moping now, and dull, than I.
None is more moping now, and dull, than I.
24
My joyes to Heaven with my Dear Pen did ffly
My joys to heaven with my dear
Critical Note
Pulter’s daughter, Penelope, died in 1655, age 22 (Eardley).
Pen
did fly.
My joys to heaven with my dear
Critical Note
Pulter’s daughter Penelope died in 1655 at age 22 (Eardley). Pulter may have suffered her own illness and written this poem that same year. One might hear the homonym between the nickname “Pen” and the pen as a writing implement, linking Pulter’s procreative and creative activities.
Pen
did fly.
25
Then why my soul? art thou Soe fond to Stay
Then why, my soul, art thou so fond to stay,
Then why, my soul, art thou so fond to stay,
26
Seeing all thats Lovly in mee doth decay
Seeing all that’s lovely in me doth decay?
Seeing all that’s lovely in me doth decay?
27
ffor Shame pack up thy vertues and a way.
For shame! Pack up thy virtues, and away.
For shame pack up thy virtues and away.
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Transcription
Title note

 Physical note

The date is written in a different hand from the main scribe.
Elemental Edition
Title note

 Physical note

Following the title, in a different hand from that of the main scribe and from the hand we identify as probably Pulter’s: “April 20. 1655”
Amplified Edition
Title note

 Critical note

The title seems to locate the poem in a particular moment. When the speaker was unwell, this is how she saw herself; perhaps her perspective changed when she recovered. The date April 20, 1655 has been added in the manuscript next to the poem’s title, linking the poem to a particular moment of illness when Pulter was fifty.
Transcription

 Editorial note

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

 Editorial note

The aim of the elemental edition to make the poems accessible to the largest variety of readers, which involves modernizing spelling and punctuation as well as adding basic glosses. Spelling and punctuation reflect current standard American usage; punctuation highlights syntax which might otherwise be obscure. Outmoded but still familiar word forms (“thou,” “‘tis,” “hold’st”) are not modernized, and we do not modernize grammar when the sense remains legible. After a brief headnote aimed at offering a “way in” to the poem’s unique qualities and connections with other verse by Pulter or her contemporaries, the edition features a minimum of notes and interpretative framing to allow more immediate engagement with the poem. Glosses clarify synonyms or showcase various possible meanings in Pulter’s time. Other notes identify named people and places or clarify obscure material. We rely (without citation) primarily on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the Oxford Reference database, and the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. When we rely on Alice Eardley’s edition of Pulter’s work, we cite her text generally (“Eardley”); other sources are cited in full. The result is an edition we consider a springboard for further work on Pulter’s poetry. See full conventions for this edition here.
Amplified Edition

 Editorial note

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

 Headnote

Today we talk about medically-assisted death. Here, the speaker imagines a poetically—or rhetorically—assisted death, as she urges the departure of her soul from her body. In her sickness, she asks why her soul won’t just go and let her die. This poem suggests the soul’s attachment to the body’s “prison” is itself unholy; and as though to quicken the dissolution and decay that she desires, the speaker dissects her body and mind. Her self-blazon, however, swerves between aversion and nostalgia, “mourning” her lost youth in many of the same terms as Pulter uses in grieving her daughter Jane in Poem 11. In a striking revision of one of the most common poetic conventions of love poetry, the speaker inventories her body parts—hair, lips, skin, breasts—and overlays a realistic aging body over the usual idealized comparisons. The poem’s repeated oscillation between glimpses of a beautiful golden age and the ruined present seem almost like a series of practice swings, pendulously building momentum for the soul’s anticipated onward movement, “away.”
Amplified Edition

 Headnote

The title of this poem suggests that it will be a reflection on mortality prompted by illness, similar to those by poets including Donne and Herbert (see “Curations”). To a certain extent it is. But Pulter’s poem differs from other reflections from the sickroom in two ways: 1) the speaker’s gaze dwells on her own body, past and present, struggling to shift the focus to the future, to the death and resurrection that she is supposed to desire and that animate other Pulter poems (such as The Desire [Poem 18]); and 2) the speaker never directly addresses God. The poem is self-contained, a conversation between speaker and soul about the body. What Pulter produces here is a diptych self-portrait, braiding together a blazon of her beauties when young with an anti-blazon frankly assessing her body now, ravaged by illness, age, and grief. (On the blazon, see "Hester Pulter and the Blazon in Early Modern England" in “Explorations”). The two pictures are not simply set side by side. Throughout, the speaker tempers the assertion that this body is a ruined prison she should be eager to abandon with puzzled ruminations on her attachment to it regardless. What’s curious here is that the poem suggests that it is the soul, so often depicted as imprisoned in the body and released by death, that mourns over the ruined body and wants to stay in it. The speaker keeps urging the soul to look at this body and thereby get over being attached to it; the tone verges on hectoring: “see’st thou these eyes?” (line 3). The poem begins and ends with questions to the soul: why does it mourn the decaying flesh? Why does it want to stay in the world? The sharp observation driving the poem suggests one reason: an attachment to the specifics of the body, now as well as then.
Particular hostility focused on women’s aging bodies in the early modern period. An old woman often appeared in allegories of vanity, looking into or out of a mirror (see “Curations”). John Gaule warns that “every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a gobber [buck] tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice, or a scolding tongue … is not only suspected, but pronounced for a witch” (John Gaule, Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft [London, 1646], 5). While today it is often said that aging women are culturally invisible, Pulter insists on seeing the aging female body and pointing out its features to the soul—and to the reader. The speaker regrets what she sees, but never looks away.
Amplified Edition
Line number 2

 Critical note

It was conventional to describe the body as the soul’s prison, usually so as to promote death as a release. Richard Allestree, for example, reminds readers that the friends they mourn for are no longer “confined to this prison of the body, but gone to dwell in the region of spirits; they are no longer exposed to these stormy seas, but are gladly arrived at their safe harbor” (The Whole Duty of Mourning and the Great Concern of Preparing Ourselves for Death [London, 1695], p. 154). Pulter knows this logic, repeats it often in her poetry, and struggles to reconcile it with her attachment to lost persons and, here, to her own flesh and the memory of its lost youth. If it is the soul that is imprisoned in the body, then it is particularly interesting that the speaker has to work to detach the soul from the body, interrogating the soul as to why it loves and clings to its prison. In the poem, “I” and “me” (lines 23, 26) reside with the decaying flesh and not the soul.
Elemental Edition
Line number 5

 Gloss note

brightly shining
Amplified Edition
Line number 5

 Gloss note

shining
Transcription
Line number 8

 Physical note

possible comma after
Elemental Edition
Line number 9

 Gloss note

face
Amplified Edition
Line number 9

 Gloss note

face, facial expression
Elemental Edition
Line number 10

 Critical note

This is the assumed name for the author of a popular handbook of prognostication; Francis Beaumont refers to “a face as olde as Erra Pater” in The scornful ladie (London, 1616), sig. G4v.
Elemental Edition
Line number 10

 Gloss note

classical prophetess
Amplified Edition
Line number 10

 Critical note

Popular books of prognostication and almanacs were attributed to Erra Pater, “a Jew, born in Jewry,” throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These texts were so ubiquitous and popular that the name came to describe the books themselves; an almanac might be called an “erra pater” or, since these predictions were considered unreliable or erring, an “errans pater.” Erra Pater was often described as old, as in the broadside “Erra Pater’s Prophesy or Frost Fair 1683,” or depicted with a lined face (see “Curations”). In Beaumont and Fletcher’s popular play The Scornful Lady (1616), Elder Loveless describes the aged servant, Abigail, as “Thou with a face as old as Erra Pater, such a prognosticating nose: thou thing that ten years since has left to be a woman, outworn the expectation of a bawd, and thy dry bones can reach at nothing now, but gords or ninepins [dice]” (4.1).
Amplified Edition
Line number 10

 Critical note

Sibyls were female prophets in ancient Greece and Rome. Although they were mortals, they were often depicted as preternaturally old. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Phoebus, trying to gain the Cumaean sibyl’s virginity, offered her extended life, but when she refused him, he did not include lasting youth in the bargain. When the sibyl encounters Aeneas in Ovid’s tale, she is 700 years old and decrepit; she imagines that her body will gradually wither until nothing is left but her prophetic voice (see “Curations”). Pulter chooses prophets as her images of the aged face, perhaps linking age and wisdom, but she also chooses prophets whose ability to foresee the future many of her contemporaries held in doubt.
Transcription
Line number 11

 Physical note

possible erasure of former end of word, replaced with “re”
Amplified Edition
Line number 12

 Critical note

That is, those who seek color in her lips and cheeks. In lines 15 and 18, the speaker emphasizes that she associates her youthful beauty with the whiteness of her skin.
Transcription
Line number 13

 Physical note

“d” appears crowded between surrounding words
Elemental Edition
Line number 14

 Gloss note

bring to an end
Amplified Edition
Line number 14

 Gloss note

limit
Elemental Edition
Line number 16

 Gloss note

blue
Elemental Edition
Line number 16

 Gloss note

bright red
Amplified Edition
Line number 16

 Gloss note

bright blue
Amplified Edition
Line number 16

 Gloss note

scarlet
Transcription
Line number 17

 Physical note

first “s” written over other letter
Amplified Edition
Line number 17

 Critical note

A skeletal timeline of Pulter’s life would focus on what we might call reproductive events: she married at age 13 and gave birth to at least 15 children between the ages of 19 and 48 (the last two years before this poem). Yet this striking evocation of her body as a source of pleasure is unusual in the poetry. The description of her breasts does not specify for whom they served as the bed of love. Pulter may refer to a husband or lover; Pulter’s husband Arthur is almost invisible in these poems, especially compared to her children. She might also remember nursing her children here.
Elemental Edition
Line number 22

 Gloss note

light, lively
Amplified Edition
Line number 22

 Gloss note

playful
Elemental Edition
Line number 24

 Critical note

Pulter’s daughter, Penelope, died in 1655, age 22 (Eardley).
Amplified Edition
Line number 24

 Critical note

Pulter’s daughter Penelope died in 1655 at age 22 (Eardley). Pulter may have suffered her own illness and written this poem that same year. One might hear the homonym between the nickname “Pen” and the pen as a writing implement, linking Pulter’s procreative and creative activities.
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