Accounts of Hester Pulter's life often open with John Milton's poem to her sister, Margaret Ley. Yet the form in which he wrote—a sonnet—was not one Pulter chose to write in, and indeed relatively few seventeenth-century women did so. In her essay "Where had all the flowers gone?: The Missing Space of Female Sonneteers in Seventeenth-Century England," Diana Henderson suggests that we read as sonnets many poems by women that have some sonnet qualities. Pulter's short poems, including "The Circle [2]," "Immense Fount of Truth," and "The Hope," draw the reader into a dizzying landscape of circles, revolutions, centers, stairs, and urns. These material forms represent Pulter's deep and rebarbative interaction with the sonnet tradition. Reading Pulter's poems in this way challenges versions of literary history that suggest women did not write sonnets for a century after Mary Wroth. This essay will suggest that seeing Pulter's poems as critical sonnets also allows us to place her work in dialogue with the New Critics. While Cleanth Brooks, of course, never read Hester Pulter, her metaphors of form provide a proleptic criticism of the New Critics' own use of formal metaphors to write literary history.


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pp. 120-143
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