by Liza Blake
JUMP TO A SPECIFIC SECTION OF THIS INTRODUCTION:
I. The Interlinked Structure of Poems and Fancies
II. Reading Cavendish’s Poetic Forms
III. Getting Started: Suggested Poem Groupings and Poem Pairings
IV. Anthologizing Cavendish’s Poems
V. Further Reading
In the mid-seventeenth century, while in exile as a royalist during the English Civil War, Margaret Cavendish wrote a book of poems that she entitled Poems and Fancies (along with a slightly later companion volume called Philosophical Fancies). Poems and Fancies, printed in London in 1653 while she was back in England advocating for her exiled husband, covered topics as various as the atomic makeup of the world; ethics and empathy with the non-human world; the cognitive possibilities of poetic and allegorical modes; the importance of making mental room for the supernatural; and the ravages of war on a nation and on individual minds. A second, much-revised edition was printed in 1664, and this revised edition was reprinted again in 1668, five years before her death. This digital scholarly edition, produced by Liza Blake with thirteen undergraduate editorial collaborators, makes this remarkable collection of poems freely available online, fully collated, edited, and modernized.
This edition has two central aims. First, it makes the poetry of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, freely available online in a scholarly edition for all to use, in teaching or for research. More importantly, it contains full textual notes noting all textual variants across the three editions. As is explained in more detail in the Textual and Editorial Introduction, Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies has a complicated textual history; between the first and second editions of the book in 1653 and 1664, respectively, she made numerous textual changes, including fixes to meter and rhyme, rewrites of lines and couplets, and in some cases, significant rearrangements of materials. This edition, based on a thorough textual and bibliographical study of her poems, offers the first fully collated edition of her poems, allowing readers to track and study those numerous changes, and to close read with those changes in mind.
One major premise of this edition, therefore, is that Cavendish’s poetry deserves more close readings, detailed attention to her poems not as historical curiosities, but as crafted poetic objects demanding (and rewarding) close formalist attention.1 Anyone who plans to do such close readings, however, may be hampered by a lack of textual scholarship on Cavendish’s poetry, the lack of any detailed attention to how her language makes it into print, and what is at stake in her numerous and major revisions. This edition redresses this major scholarly lack. Though the prefatory materials of Poems and Fancies give the impression of a collection of poems quickly written and sent out without a backward glance (see, e.g., “The Poetress’s Hasty Resolution,” where her Reason implores her to reconsider her desire to send her poems to the press “all in haste”), the number and detail of her textual changes across editions demonstrates the care with which she applied herself to her poems, and her commitment to fixing the smallest possible errors therein. The Errata, or printed list of errors, at the back of the second edition of 1664 is so specific as to ask readers to fix punctuation marks.2 It is difficult to completely understand her poems, this edition argues, without understanding their rich and complicated textual history—and so this edition makes that textual history available for all to explore.
This introduction falls into the following parts:
I. a description of the carefully balanced structure of the volume, including an overview of what poems are to be found where in the book, and a discussion of her “Clasp” sections;
II. an argument about the unique poetics of Cavendish, with suggestions on how to read her poetry;
III. recommended poems for those teaching or reading Cavendish’s poetry for the first time, as well as “suggested pairings” with some of her other works (or the works of others);
IV. a list of all previous selections of her poems, with an analysis of what poems interested what centuries, and why certain poems tend to get selected over others; and
V. suggestions for further reading.
In addition, the separate Textual and Editorial Introduction gives the textual history of these poems, including their complicated printing histories, the histories of corrections made to different copies, and what we know about their circulation. The Textual and Editorial Introduction also discusses the ways we drew on that textual history while editing, and describes our editorial practices as well as the rationales behind our editorial decisions. For those looking to skip lengthy introductions and dive right into the poems themselves, the landing page, “About this Website, and How to Use It,” offers tips on how to navigate the site.
Discerning readers of this introduction to her poems may notice a seeming gap in the sections above: at no point in the introduction do I offer an overview of Margaret Cavendish’s life. This is partly because the arguments I have to contribute here have to do with the internal logics of this collection and how to read it as a collection, as well as how to read individual poems. But the omission of biographical information is also strategic: I am hoping the arguments in this introduction can give us a way of reading her poetry, of grappling with this collection, other than biographically. There is not a huge amount of scholarship that addresses her poetry, but many of those readings that do exist are biographical (see, e.g., the readings of her work in Douglas Grant’s Margaret the First, or Henry Ten Eyck Perry’s The First Duchess of Newcastle and her Husband as Figures in Literary History).3 For those yearning for biographical knowledge or readings, see the “Further Reading” section of this Introduction;4 for more on the structure of Poems and Fancies, suggestions on how to read it, and suggested “starter” poems, read on.
I. The Interlinked Structure of Poems and Fancies
What kind of book, exactly are you about to read? Poems and Fancies is both an internally diverse and highly structured poetic collection: after the prefatory materials, it falls into five discrete Parts, each of which has its own logic and goals and operates according to its own poetic forms. It also, uniquely, has four “connecting” sections, which she calls “Clasps,” and each Clasp partakes of the sections before and after it. So, for instance, Part I contains poems on natural philosophy, and Part II is the section designed for moral philosophers. The Clasp between Parts I and II offers moralized mathematical philosophy, poetically reimagining the mathematical theory of squaring the circle as a moral problem (how do you square the circle of honesty? What is the arithmetic of passions?)—or, perhaps, imagining moral questions as difficult mathematical ones.5
This section of the introduction describes this interlinking structure, something like a chain, both to allow readers to find their way through the book more easily (and to more easily locate poems that might interest them), and also to gesture to the larger structure of the volume, as well as to its internal connections. When Cavendish’s poems have started to be included in more anthologies in recent decades, they are frequently excerpted and strung together into a hodge-podge mixture of poems that seem incoherent as a collection (for instance, most anthologies that include any of her poems will give a few random atom poems, a poem about hunting a hare, a poem about fairies, and maybe a poem about her brother killed in the wars).6 However, as I will argue below, each Part—each major section of the book—operates according to its own internal logic, and so stringing poems from different parts together while ignoring their context in the volume as a whole does harm to our understanding of how any individual poem is functioning. Cavendish, for the most part, did not write individual poems to be read in isolation; her book has a clear structure, and understanding any individual poem requires at least a basic understanding of that structure.
Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies is organized as follows:
Part I — Clasp I–II — Part II — Clasp II–III — Part III — Clasp III–IV — Part IV — Clasp IV–V — Part V
My short summary representation of each section is as follows:7
Atoms, Natural Philosophy, Worlds within Worlds
Mathematizing Moral Philosophy
Dialogues, Moral discourses, Philosophies of Beasts and Trees
Poetically Figuring Empathy with Beasts (and Land)
Nature-the-Housewife Poems, “Similizings,” Poems for Poets
A Masque of “Phantasm” (Fancy, Fantasy)
Poems for Women and Skeptics, Faeries, Witches
Faeries of the Brain in Peace and War
Poems for Soldiers, Real and Allegorical Wars, Poems of Mourning
In the prefatory letter “To Natural Philosophers,” she refers to these different Parts as major units of the book that offer different options for the picky or discerning reader: “I desire all those that are not quick in apprehending, or will not trouble themselves with such small things as atoms, to skip this part of my book and view the other …. Perchance the other may please better; if not the second, the third; if not the third, the fourth; if not the fourth, the fifth. And if they cannot please for lack of wit, they may please in variety, for most palates are greedy after change.” The variety within (and among) the various parts of the book is the central subject of this section of the introduction.
We know the internal logics and audiences of each major Part because Cavendish herself specifies them in her work. Cavendish very much believed in the power of prefatory materials, and often multiplies them: Poems and Fancies has eleven prefatory materials (letters and poems) at the start of the book; her Philosophical Fancies of 1653 likewise has eleven; World’s Olio (1655) has seven; and Nature’s Pictures (1656) has nine to twelve, depending on the copy.8 People often read this explosion of prefatory matter as defensive self-protection, a reading she partly authorizes in the final prefatory poem in Poems and Fancies, “An Excuse for Writing So Much upon my Verses,” where she frankly admits, “Thus write I much to hinder all disgrace” (l. 10).
However, the prefatory materials of Poems and Fancies also identify and strategically target different possible audiences for her poems, suggesting different reading strategies for each. In the Epistle Dedicatory to her brother-in-law she casts the collection as a tribute to him; in the Epistle to her maid Elizabeth Toppe, the book serves “to give an account to my friends how I spend the idle time of my life, and how I busy my thoughts when I think upon the objects of the world.” In the letter “To All Noble and Worthy Ladies,” which starts meekly enough, she ends by soliciting other women to be generous readers towards her productions, asking them to get into formation and defend a woman’s right to write: “I know women’s tongues are as sharp as two-edged swords … [so] in this battle may your wit be quick and your speech ready, and your arguments so strong as to beat them [men who say women shouldn’t write] out of the field of dispute.” The readers she imagines for this volume, then, are other women as well as natural philosophers, her closest friends and well as the generic “Reader” whose criticisms she can only attempt to anticipate—and the prefatory materials show her imagining her poems when viewed by these very different groups of people in turn.
In addition to this agreeable onslaught of prefatory materials to the volume as a whole, each Part of the book also has its own separate prefatory material(s) as well. The letter at the start of the volume addressed to Natural Philosophers discusses only her atom poems, that is, the poems that make up Part I. Part I, targeted to natural philosophers, consists of poems that explore the possibility that the world might be made up of atoms, or tiny particles of matter; near the end of the section, she moves on to questions of sensation, epistemology (how we know what we know), and finally the possibility that there might be worlds within worlds. This section is targeted, she tells us, at the well educated, and other readers who do not feel intellectually capable of her atom poems are invited to skip this section: “Pray do not censure all you do not know, / But let my atoms to the learnèd go.”
As I plan to argue elsewhere, the “atom poems” of Part I never represent an actual held belief in atomism; in Philosophical Fancies, the natural philosophical companion volume to Poems and Fancies published immediately after her poems, she espouses not atomism but monism (the belief that all matter is essentially one substance), and in fact she quietly espouses monism in the atom poems themselves.9 Though these poems do not reveal to us her true vision of the universe, however, they are accomplishing many fascinating objectives, including allowing her to explore more fully her philosophical concept of the Figure (what in her later natural philosophy she will call the Creature), as well as allowing her to make important arguments about the question of what we can and can’t know, and how we may or may not be able to come to know it.10
It is no coincidence that Part I ends not with solidifying conclusions about the nature of the atomic universe, but with reflections on what it is possible and impossible to know. “Who doth know,” she asks in “Of Stars,” but that the stars we see in the sky are not “suns which to some other worlds give light”? The relationship between this kind of philosophical speculation (on the one hand) and empiricism or the belief only in things we can verify with our senses (on the other) is what is at stake in the final part of Part I: if there were “A World in an Earring,” it would be so small that we could never empirically verify it by touching it, seeing it, hearing it, etc. Part I, as a whole, asks not what the world is made of, but how we are allowed to think about it. We are trained to mock and denigrate tales and speculations about things beyond the realm of empirical observation and verification; because “we are apt to laugh at tales so told, / Thus senses gross do back our reason hold.”11
Part II, however, radically shifts gears from Part I, both in form and content. Part II, we know from its own separate prefatory material, is not about natural philosophy but “Moral Philosophy and Moralists,” and instead of short declarative poems about atomic matter, Part II is made up of much longer “moral” poems. The first half of Part II consists of poetic “Dialogues,” as different natural and supernatural entities (Man and Nature; Body and Mind; Earth and Cold; Elements and Sun) debate their rights and opinions. The second half of Part II, called “Moral Discourses,” gives poetic opinions on different abstract virtues and vices (Love, Pride, Ambition) as well as imaginative empathetic and rational projections into non-human beings (including ants, corn, beasts, fishes, and birds).
Part II is not moral in the sense of condemning sinfulness, but rather is what we might today call ethical. It opens up questions of right and wrong, focusing not on what is “right” but on the fact that right and wrong depend on perspective, and can change based on who is making an argument. In the famous poem “A Dialogue between an Oak and a Man Cutting Him Down” a man enthuses about all of the “exciting” futures for the soon-to-be-chopped oak—it will sail the seas as a ship, house a great family as a roof beam—while the oak points out that those futures involve cutting, rot, and smoke, and that it would prefer its own version of the good, which is to keep growing in the forest. The form of Cavendish’s dialogue poems opens up “morality” for debate, in the process differentiating moral philosophy (which her poems are enacting) from moral pronouncements. In the second half of Part II, labeled “Moral Discourses,” that debate seems to be shut down (these poems have only one speaker), but this section operates differently again, not by debate but by imagining different subject (and object) positions and speaking on their behalf.
Part III pivots again: Part III is dedicated, according to its prefatory materials, “To Poets.” While Parts I and II are made up of poems, Part III, according to the label before the first poem, is made up of the “Fancies” promised in the collection’s title Poems and Fancies. Though this is the first section not dedicated to philosophers, she suggests in the Part III prefatory letter “To the Reader” that this Part actually requires the most attention: “I desire all those which read this part of my book to consider that it is thick of fancies, and therefore requires the more study,” and again, “At last I must entreat you to read this part of my book very slowly, and to observe very strictly every word you read, because in most of these poems, every word is a fancy.” The “fancy” at stake in this part seems to mean the poetic conceit, the idea of a poem, as opposed to its external “dressings”; Cavendish frequently contrasts a more essential “fancy” to the less essential “phrase” or “dressing” that covers it.12
Part III requires the most attention, perhaps, because it once again shifts not only in subject matter but also in style, from moral dialogues and “discourses” to a mode closer to something like static allegory. George Puttenham, poetic theorist of the late sixteenth century, described allegory as a “a long and perpetuall Metaphore,”13 and such continued metaphors, which she refers to as “Allegories” in her 1655 publication World’s Olio, make up Part III of Poems and Fancies.14 There are two kinds of poems in this section: what for ease of reference I will call “Nature’s X” poems, and “Simlizing” poems. The “Nature’s X” poems (“Nature’s Cabinet”; “Nature’s Dress”; “Nature’s Cook”; “Nature’s Oven”), imagine an allegorized Nature as a housewife busily bustling about kitchen and property about the business of making (and keeping up) the natural world. Similizing poems are elaborate and expanded similes: what would it look like to imagine clouds as horses? the mind as a merchant? fancy or imagination as a gnat? The point of these poems is to experiment with the process of a poetic conceit: if you take a metaphor as a premise (e.g., the brain is like a cabinet, or a garden, or an oven), and elaborate all the consequences of that premise, what happens when you push a comparison—when you similize—to its logical limit?
While in other Parts Cavendish distinguishes among different types of poems very clearly (providing subheadings distinguishing between Dialogues and Moral Discourses in Part II, for example), in Part III the line between its two kinds of poems (Nature’s X poems and Similizing poems) can be blurred quite easily, not least because Cavendish herself seemed to view them as continuous or at least interchangeable. The textual notes for Part III will allow the reader to track how frequently Cavendish altered titles in this section; in the 1664 and 1668 editions, she vastly expanded the empire of Nature and shrunk that of similizing. So, for instance, the poem “Comparing the Head to a Barrel of Wine” becomes in the 1664 edition “Nature’s Cellar”; “Comparing of Wits to Wines” becomes “Nature’s Wines.”15
When choosing between titles in this Part while editing, we generally retained the 1653 titles, confining the “Nature’s X” title to those where Nature appeared as a character, but the apparent fungibility between the two types of poems is worth noting. Every “fancy” in Part III plays the same kind of game, working not to establish absolute comparisons or to make truth claims (to prove that the head is like a barrel of wine, or a garden), but to imaginatively explore the process of conceit-making: how does our understanding of the mind change if we imagine thought as fermentation as opposed to baking, or as the natural growth of plants? What difference(s) do these comparisons make?
Interestingly, Part III is the only part of the book that Cavendish labels as “Fancies”; in Parts IV and V she returns to poems. Part IV, unusually, begins with two prefatory letters addressing two seemingly different audiences: “To All Writing Ladies” and to those scoffing at the belief in fairies and other supernatural entities. The two letters have different arguments: the letter to ladies reminds them to seek fame through multiple means, including writing, acting, politics, philosophy, and poetry; the letter on the supernatural returns to the themes of the end of Part I, wondering why people believe in witches and not fairies, and again critiquing empiricism: “We may as well think there is no air, because we do not see it.” Though Part IV is not divided into two separate parts by paratextual titles, there are two kinds of poems in this Part, roughly corresponding to each of those two letters: ones that read like Part III fancies and that address questions of honor, shame, and fame; and ones that describe the kingdom and pastimes of the fairy queen. In the second part of Part IV, she moves from those depictions of the fairy queen (the most popular poems from this collection in the nineteenth century, among her few readers) to speculations on natural and supernatural causes of meteorological and other events—I discuss all of these in more detail below, in my discussion of how the structure of the book may help us modify the way we read her.
It is also, perhaps, worth noting that Part IV is bracketed by poems about love poetry, neither of which seem to obviously or necessarily pertain to either of its two framing prefatory letters. The first poem, “Upon the Theme of Love,” is seemingly the only poem in the volume that offers a reason behind a notable absence in a book of secular poetry from the seventeenth century—namely, the absence of a single love poem in the book. “O love, how thou art tired out with rhyme! / Thou art a tree whereon all poets climb,” the poem begins (ll. 1–2); the tree of love is, this poem declares, utterly bare, with no more “plum[s]” to be gathered (l. 6). The final poem in Part IV, “A Man to his Mistress,” inverts a common trope of early modern love poetry, in which a male poet promises his female beloved that his love poetry will make her immortal. Rather, the message that the man gives his mistress is that her love will make him immortal: “your pure love doth me eternalize” (l. 6). How do these poems about love poetry serve as bookends to the poems within, and why does she use them to enclose this section?
Part V, addressed to soldiers, draws on the poetic modes developed especially in Parts II and III, mixing visceral descriptions of “real” battles (as in “A Description of the Battle in Fight”) with allegorical moral battles (as in “A Battle between Courage and Prudence”) and supernatural battles (as in “A Battle between King Oberon and the Pygmies”). All poetic roads seem to end in battles in this book of poems, written in the midst of the English Civil War; and then they further end in the last section of the last Part, “A Register of Mournful Verses.” This section merges impersonal allegorical reflections on sorrow with personal laments, including two poems lamenting the death of “my Dear Brother, Killed in these Unhappy Wars.” The pairing of martial allegory with sometimes bitter lament, in this final Part, may be more than coincidence: the first section of Part V seems to deliberately refuse the celebration of martial prowess and violence that one might expect to find in, e.g., an epic or even mock-epic poem.
All five Parts having concluded, the volume finishes with two additional materials tacked on: the long “Animal Parliament,” which depicts not a Parliament of non-human animals, but an allegory of the human body as an “animal kingdom”; in it, different “parts” of the body (including memory, reason, the senses, etc.) debate how best to rule and control the body. As with other political allegories of the body—very popular during this time, as Royalists and Parliamentarians debated whether a “body politic” or kingdom could and should be run without a King to serve as “head”—Cavendish’s “Animal Parliament” is just as much about politics as it is about the human body.16 Following the “Animal Parliament” are short additional texts that reflect on (her) poetic process, think about the fate of books in the world, and advertise the forthcoming Philosophical Fancies (published shortly after her Poems and Fancies in 1653).
The four Clasps link each of the five Parts, as in a chain.17 Clasp I–II, between natural philosophy and moral philosophy, mathematizes the virtues of the mind (as is discussed above). Clasp II–III, arguably the most famous of the Clasps (and the most frequently anthologized), begins with an untitled poem arguing for the “wildness” of poetry, which “runs wild about, it cares not where” and that “shows more courage than it doth of fear,” preparing readers for the poems for poets of Part III.18 But that poem on process is then followed by two poems in which she empathetically projects herself into hunted animals, a hare and a stag respectively, continuing the moral discourses of Part II. This juxtaposition of poems (from the importance of poetic courage rather than fear, in the first poem, to two immediately following poems inhabiting the mind of animals forced into a position of fear by hunters) is a fascinating one. By putting the poems next to one another, she valorizes the freedom of poetry while also raising a larger question: Who is allowed to feel the courage and freedom required for poetry—and who is denied that courage, that freedom, for reasons beyond their control? Though these hunting poems are obviously linked to the ethical arguments of Part II, they can also, I would argue, be read as a commentary on poetic process, and therefore as gesturing forward to Part III as well.19
Clasp III–IV, between the static allegories of Part III and the poems targeted to “writing ladies” and fans of the fantastic in Part IV, stages “Phantasm’s Masque.” A masque was a short, often allegorical theatrical performance with performers embodying allegorical characters (in “Phantasm’s Masque,” for example, we meet Love, Valor, Honour, Youth, etc.). This Clasp is most often read biographically, with “The Voyage of the Ship, under which the Fortune of a Young Lady is Expressed” being understood as a representation of young Margaret Lucas’s escape to Europe during the English Civil War as lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria, for example. But the fact that all these potentially biographical speeches begin with “Fancy Prologue’s to Judgment” raises fascinating questions about how this masque is meant to be read; how and why is Judgment at stake in this supposedly disguised autobiography?
Clasp IV–V seems largely like a continuation of Part IV, describing the actions of fairies in the brain (another enormously popular poem of hers). However, it partakes equally of Parts IV and V; if Part IV is interested in the Fairy Queen, Clasp IV–V is interested in groups of fairies working together, or not: “When we have cross opinions [conflicting ideas] in the mind, / Then we may them [fairies] in schools disputing find” (“The Fairies in the Brain May Be the Causes of Many Thoughts,” ll. 13–14). This interest in the cooperation, or lack thereof, of different parts of, or agents in, our bodies continues in, e.g., “The War of the Animal Spirits,” and sets readers up for the war poems of Part V. Though the poems in this section are often held up as an example of her extravagance, or of her self-contradictions, I understand them as closer to the poems of Part III than any real declaration of cognitive theory: they are experiments in allegory, in similizing, in thinking about mind and body not as unitary, but as collections of potentially conflicting forces.
Reading by Parts
The whole of the volume, then, is carefully constructed, with each of the major Parts operating according to its own logic, and for different audiences, and with each of the Clasps linking those Parts in form and/or content. However, although I have strategically separated each of five Parts above to emphasize their different audiences, purposes, and modes, there are of course also frequently interconnections across the parts. Questions of epistemology run throughout, not only in the obvious place of Part I, but also in other parts as well. In Part II, the moral discourses “Of the Knowledge of Beasts,” “Of Fishes,” and “Of Birds” are epistemological in their focus (in that they reserve the right to speculate on the knowledge of these non-humans, even if we can’t access these alien thought processes directly), and as has been gestured to above, reserving the right to speculate is a major concern of Part IV. She experiments with allegory and different modes of poetics throughout the volume: particularly in Part III, but also running through Part IV and Clasp IV–V as well. More such cross-section groupings are listed in the third section of this introduction, below. But I would still like to suggest that, despite these various through-lines, understanding this collection relies on an understanding of each of the different parts and their operations.
What does this highly structured volume, and the quasi-independence of each of the major sections, mean for reading her poetry? Though I discuss her poetics and what it means to read her in more detail in the next section of this introduction, let me give a few examples, or a few reminders of arguments already gestured to above, of what it might mean to read a poem not just on its own, but in the context of its Part (or Clasp).20
One of her more famous poems, or pairs of poems, is “The Hunting of the Hare” and “The Hunting of the Stag,” two poems in which she empathetically imagines the plight(s) of animals as they run from vicious dogs and hunters; she also elaborates what we might name today as a posthuman ethics in many poems of Part II.21 However, she then seems to contradict herself in the poem entitled “Pride” in 1653: “What creature’s in the world, besides mankind, / That can such arts and new inventions find?” the poem begins, and it ends, “There’s none like man, for like the gods is he. / Then let the world his slave and vassal be.” (ll. 1–2, 29–30). This poem on Pride seems, to some of Cavendish’s readers, to contradict those earlier ethical poems, and to bring Cavendish much more into line with the discourses of her day, which asserted the superiority of humankind over the natural world.22 However, reading this poem (which in 1664 and 1668 is entitled “A Discourse of Man’s Pride, or Seeming Prerogative”—emphasis added) in the context of its section helps make sense of and resolve this seeming contradiction. “A Discourse of Man’s Pride, or Seeming Prerogative” is in the “Moral Discourses” section of Part II, and the poems in this section frequently embody the voice of the vice she is analyzing: the line “Ten thousand pounds a year will make me live” is spoken by “Foolish Ambition” (l. 1) just as it is “Poverty” itself which declares “My dwelling is a low thatched house” (l. 1). The poem on Pride, then, is spoken not so that Cavendish can assert her personal beliefs in the dominance of Man over Nature, but so that she can imaginatively inhabit that vice to exhibit the workings of a prideful mind (and that the most egregious pride she can imagine is for humans to try to separate themselves from Nature is fascinating).
Likewise, as has already been gestured to several times above, understanding the project of Part III (a radical experiment in similizing, not only making comparisons within fancies but also across fancies—because, remember, she labels all the poems of Part III as “fancies,” not poems) helps us moderate readings that take those poems as truth claims. Part III especially takes great pleasure in similizing the mind, or cognition: see, just to name a few, “Nature’s Oven”; “Similizing the Brain to a Garden”; “Similizing the Mind”; “Similizing Thoughts”; and “The Actions of the Mind Similized.” The “conclusions” of these poems seldom align: in “Nature’s Oven” the brain is an oven that bakes “all sorts of fancies” (l. 2) as its primary output, while in the (similized) garden of the mind fancies are not the output but the matter on which the mind works, the flowers from which butterflies of wit and other allegorized operations of mind “suck out the sweet” (l. 21). These two fancies alone present very different ideas of what the mind is, how it operates, and even what “fancy” is. Taken as a group, especially with so many other versions of what the mind might be, the point seems to be not to resolve one absolute and authoritative vision of the mind, but to multiply them, to allow readers to similize the fancies to one another, think about what different effects are generated by imagining the mind as organic as opposed to imagining it as a manmade object. None of them, I am arguing, present her “true” vision of how the mind works; indeed, offering so many conflicting versions seems to demand that readers take none of them as true.
I would also extend this argument—that we need to see her “fancies” not as assertions of truth but as playful, fanciful poetic experiments—to the fairy poems and other supernatural poems of Part IV and Clasp IV–V as well. These poems are sometimes read as if they are describing her actual vision of the universe, as if she is truly arguing that brain-fairies cause thoughts, and witches collect and sell wind to mariners.23 However, I would argue that in the context of the collection, these poems are functioning more like the “fancies” of Part III, or even the world-within-world poems of Part I: what is at stake is not a truth claim about the causes of winds or thoughts, but the right to speculate on such supernatural causes. Further, the fact that, for example, the poem about witch-winds is immediately preceded by a poem arguing that winds are giants seems to suggest that neither is a “real” natural philosophical or magical assertion; instead, she piles up different guesses and approaches, just as in Part III she offers many often conflicting “similizings” to think about cognition and poetic practice.
I could offer many more examples; for example, when the poem “Untitled [Give me a free and noble style …]” that begins Clasp II–III is read in context (as was argued above), it plays a potentially vital role in thinking not just about poetics in some “pure” way (as an assertion that she just wants to be free), but about the intersection of poetics and ethics, or even poetics and a sociological analysis of who has the ability and right to live (and write) “freely.” I invite readers of this online edition to tease out more such readings, and to remember, even as they excerpt individual poems for teaching or analysis, that Cavendish wrote a coherent and deliberately structured collection, whose poems are meant to interact, comment on one another, and pull on one another with a force that is not quite gravitation, but is something like it.
II. Reading Cavendish’s Poetic Forms
While, as I have suggested above, the highly deliberate structure of the volume can (and should) change the way we read individual poems within, it is also perhaps worth giving some space to Cavendish’s poetics, which may feel quite alien to those accustomed to reading other seventeenth-century poetry. Each section of the volume, as was described in more detail above, has its own agendas and audiences, but her poetics—her forms, the genres on which she draws, her poetic techniques—also shift across the volume. This section will speak of some of the unique aspects of Cavendish’s poetics, and what these different features mean for reading, and close reading, her poetry.
In Cavendish’s 1664 Sociable Letters, Letter 146, she responds to a friend’s request that she share her opinion of Virgil and Ovid by describing instead her own poetic practice. The letter is illuminating, and I so include a long quote from it below.24
You were pleased in your last letter to request me to send you my opinion of Virgil and Ovid, as which I thought was the better poet; truly, Madam, my reason, skill, or understanding in poetry and poets is not sufficient to give a judgment of two such famous poets, and their poetry, for though I am a poetess, yet I am put a poetastress, or a petty poetess, but howsoever, I am a legitimate poetical child of Nature, and though my poems, which are the body of the poetical soul, are not so beautiful and pleasing as the rest of her poetical children’s bodies are, yet I am nevertheless her child, although but a brownet. But you may say, you asked my opinion of two famous poets, and I talk of myself; truly, Madam, I am forced to do so …
The letter, most prominently, raises fascinating questions about the questions of influence; though she often obscures her readings of and relationships to other poets, it is interesting that she nevertheless stages an encounter in her letters in which she is consulted as an authority on ancient authors. Lara Dodds’ book The Literary Invention of Margaret Cavendish explores the question of Cavendish’s reading and influences in more detail, reflecting in the process on the way women’s literary history is often obscured.25 Though we may sometimes choose to believe Cavendish’s claim in her prefatory letter “To Natural Philosophers”—“I never read, nor heard of any English book to instruct me”—scholars like Dodds have challenged what she calls “the logic of singularity” which isolates women into islands: unique, uninfluenced, and not influencing.26
Though I will discuss in this section some of the unique aspects of Cavendish’s poetic modes and techniques, let me start, therefore, by reflecting on the ways she explicitly responds and reacts to the major poetic genres of her day. For all the coherent structure of Poems and Fancies, as described above, it is also a collection that plays with genre in fascinating ways, blending different generic forms and expectations together. Poems and Fancies is experimental in many ways, but many of its experiments are generic.
For example, though the book is a volume of poetry that is emphatically not about love poetry, there are some interesting commentaries on the tropes and forms of love poetry in it. Part IV, the part addressed to those interested in the supernatural and also “To All Writing Ladies,” is bracketed by meta-commentaries on love: the first, “Upon the Theme of Love,” begins “O love, how thou art tired out with rhyme! / Thou art a tree whereon all poets climb” (ll. 1–2) and concludes by arguing that that particular tree is plucked bare; the last poem, as was argued above, inverts the typical claim of love poetry that women will be eternalized by poetic form, insisting that the (male) poet depends on the (female) beloved: “in your love you me eternalize” (“A Man to his Mistress,” l. 6). Otherwise, the topic of love, so deeply and thoroughly explored by the contemporary poets of her day, is almost entirely absent in her own verse.
Despite the fact that she does not regularly treat of love in this volume, however, she is interested, in many poems, in playing with the conventions of love poetry. The Part III fancy “A Tart” plays with the blazon conventions to describe an edible lady, made by Nature and baked in “a heart, which [Nature] straight hot did make.”27 The bonus poem on this site “Of Sense and Reason Exercised in their Different Shapes” takes on the conventions of the blazon in lines 45–80, and I have discussed elsewhere this poem’s use of blazon tropes and its critiques of gynacomorphism: women are not just like, but are transformed into, alabaster, ivory, and crystal, and these transformations warp their abilities and open them up to misogynistic reading (e.g., their crystal bodies show their false hearts, allowing “all their falsehoods to the world [to] be known”; see l. 52).28
However, it is not only the blazon and love poetry that she explores in Poems and Fancies; the volume also includes (or comments on) embedded dream or other imaginative “visions,”29 dialogues and other quasi-dramatic forms,30 elegy,31 and pastoral,32 to name only a few. Part V of the book arguably takes a swipe at the genre of epic, though if the war poems of this part are indeed meant as a commentary on epic then they are very subtle: the often violent poems of Part V are like an epic that has been stripped of all its glorifying conventions. The gory brutality of, for example, “A Description of the Battle in Fight” starts in medias res, describing the blows of a battle, and seems to revel in the extremity of its own violence:
Some with sharp swords—to tell, O most accursed!—
Were above half into their bodies thrust,
From whence fresh streams of blood run all along
Unto the hilts, and there lay clodded on.
Some, their legs dangling by the nervous strings,
And shoulders cut, hung loose like flying wings.
Heads here were cleft in pieces, brains lay mashed,
And all their faces into slices hashed. (ll. 1–8)
Despite the pathos of the middle section of this poem, as parents call out for children, lovers for their mistresses (ll. 73–106), and despite the promises that this brutal war may earn people, at least, some fame (“Some in a careless garb lay on the ground, / As life despised, since honor’s in death found”; ll. 71–72), the poem undercuts any final value to the violence it describes in such excruciating detail. Any fantasy of being immortalized for valor, like that of Achilles in the Trojan War (to name just one such epic character), is punctured by the ending of the poem: “Men strive to die, to make their names to live, / When gods no certainty to fame will give” (ll. 167–68). This poem is an excellent example of the way genre works in this collection: while the poem is certainly not, itself, an epic, it does seem to take aim at, and comment on, martial epics more generally.
Poems and Fancies also sits in a fascinating relation to the didactic poem, particularly the natural philosophical poems of authors like Hesiod or Lucretius. While her prefatory letter “To Natural Philosophers” somewhat defensively notes that the her atom poems are but “light,” as far as we can tell Cavendish thought seriously and carefully about the relationship between the poet and the philosopher. In her World’s Olio she writes, “A natural philosopher may judge well the motions of the elements,” but the poet, “having an universal knowledge, joined to his natural wit, makes him the best general judge.”33 The poet likewise partakes of judgment, but is the best judge because she also “[is] quick of invention, easy to conceive, ready in executing, and flies over all the world.”34 In the Sociable Letters she also lumps together poets and philosophers—“I am of your opinion,” she tells the addressee of Letter 14, “that philosophers and poets certainly should be the wisest men, for they having so deep an insight, as to pierce even into the secrets of Nature, it should be easy for them to have an insight into the designs, counsels, and actions of men, and to foresee the effects of things …”35 And of course the natural philosophical treatise that followed shortly after Poems and Fancies, her Philosophical Fancies, is made up of both poetic and prose chapters.36 Part I of Poems and Fancies, with its several short poems about atoms, demands the reader think poetry and natural philosophy together, in ways that have still yet to be entirely explored.
Interestingly, despite the huge number of poems in the volume and the wide variety of poems therein, it is difficult to discern whether any of them qualify precisely as “lyric” poems. In Cavendish’s prefatory materials she can sometimes present as a self-obsessed meglomaniac; even in the excerpt from Sociable Letter 146, quoted above, she calls attention to the way she is maneuvering the question of the famous classical authors Ovid and Virgil to questions of her own poetics: “you asked my opinion of two famous poets, and I talk of myself.” But despite the huge amount of persona-building that happens in the prefatory materials, the poems of Poems and Fancies themselves are remarkable for their almost studied avoidance of the first-person singular pronoun. When reading Margaret Cavendish’s poetry, that is, the Is do not have it.
The poems of poets like John Donne and George Herbert, two possible forbears of Cavendish, often feel intensely personal; Donne explores his love of a woman, or Donne and Herbert explore their relationships with God. Cavendish’s poetry, by contrast, often feels intensely and intentionally impersonal: the atom poems are short and to the point, describing facts about the shapes and motions of atoms, and other poems narrate but without ever building or establishing a strong narratorial voice. The few first-person singular pronouns in the collection are all generically created: the “I” is introduced as the recipient of a vision, but offers no additional commentary,37 or the “I” is the speaking voice of a character delivering a kind of monologue, as in a play.38 There is also the first-person singular pronoun in the elegies to her brother in Part V, one of which is not in her voice, but in the voice of the dead.39 The only other Is that appear in Part I are clarifying, as in “The Bigness of Atoms”: “When I say atoms small as small can be, / I mean quantity, quality, and weight agree” (ll. 1–2).
On the other hand, the atom poems in particular frequently use the first-person plural pronoun, as if to build consensus, or appeal to common sense: sharp fire atoms pierce us, “which we call ‘burn,’” or “Although we at a distance stand, if great / A fire be, the body through will heat”, or “The Earth, we find, is very cold and dry.”40 What is at stake for her in writing a collection of (mostly) short poems that so thoroughly eschew the personal voice, that refuse to explore herself—especially given that, as is mentioned above, her prefatory materials are almost exactly the opposite? I hope that future readers of this collection will grapple with this deliberate change of mode and voice between prefatory matter and poem, something this edition tries to make more visible by separating out what she signals as prefatory from the poems themselves even within each Part. I would also like to suggest that anthologizers who combine prefatory poems about herself with poems from within the volume should do a better job of signaling the way they are conflating categories she keeps rigorously separate.
While the refusal of the first-person pronoun in these short poems is perhaps the most striking formal feature of her poems, there are other unique aspects to her poetics as well, including the way that “different” poems often seem to rely on one another, to speak to and build on the poems around them. In “The Four Principle Figured Atoms…” we learn that the atoms of air are long; the following poem, “Of Airy Atoms,” is a continuation of that fact, as is signaled by the definite article that starts the poem in 1653: “The atoms long, which streaming air makes …”41 The atom poems build on one another into large sweeping arguments about the natural world, but other poems in Poems and Fancies also connect, sometimes grammatically. Consider the following sentence from Part IV: “But leaving her, let’s go and see the sport / That’s acted in the Queen of Fairy’s court, / Where this Queen Mab, and all her fairy fry / Are dancing on a pleasant molehill high.” That sentence cuts across two “separate” poems in the volume, the last two lines of “The Fairy Queen’s Kingdom” and the first two lines of “The Pastime and Recreation of the Queen of Fairies in Fairyland, the Center of the Earth.” The refusal to respect the boundaries of a poem challenges our typical modern practice of reading one poem at a time: her poems are meant to be read in combination, as part of a collection.
This connective aspect of her poetry, even when not signaled grammatically by the continuation of a sentence across poems, may be the cause of another unique aspect of much of her poetry: a deliberate refusal of a volta, the unexpected turn of thought most commonly found in sonnets, but characteristic of many other poems from this period as well. Cavendish’s poems can sometimes feel like they are trailing off, or ending abruptly, particularly in the short atom poems of Part I. Take, for example, the poem “Of the Beams of the Sun”:
Those splendent beams which forth the sun doth spread
Are loose sharp atoms, rangèd long like thread.
If streaming they on porous bodies fall
They pierce into, which touch we “heat” do call.
These four lines are the poem in its entirety, and in terms of its form it is not unusual compared to other poems from Part I. It is in rhymed iambic pentameter couplets, and is straightforwardly declarative: we learn that sunbeams are made of sharp atoms that pierce bodies, and then, having established that fact, the poem terminates. There is no move to a surprising comparison of the sun’s piercing beams to a beloved’s piercing eyes, as we might find in any number of seventeenth-century love poems; there is no theological lesson thinking about God “piercing” the speaker of the poem as in George Herbert’s “Artillery.” There is no volta, no unexpected change of ideas, no final quip, no lesson to be learned; the point of the poem seems to be—only and in its entirety—to explain that “heat” is the penetration of sharp atoms into porous bodies.
As I plan to argue elsewhere, these and other particularities of Cavendish’s poetics or formal strategies—including the way she invokes different genres without precisely writing within them, her near-total refusal of the first-person singular pronoun, her total refusal of the lyric subject, and her comparatively abrupt endings—are not a sign that her poetry is in some way inadequate. Rather, these formal features are strategic choices: the refusal of love poetry is a major break with a huge swatch of seventeenth-century poetry; the refusal of a speaker is an experiment with impersonality in poetry. The discipline of literary studies, from the mid-twentieth century and earlier, built itself up around the study of authors like Donne, but learning to read close-read Donne in many ways fails to prepare us to close-read Cavendish.42 An average Cavendish poem is not what Cleanth Brooks would call a “well-wrought urn,”43 not because her poems are not well wrought, but because they are not intended to be standalone objects. One poem does not have a volta or turn within it because one poem is meant to be another poem’s volta—the poems speak to one another, comment on one another, and are not meant to be plucked from their contexts and read in isolation. I invite readers, as they read, to ask themselves the following questions: what would formalism look like—what would literary studies look like—if, instead of reading poets like Donne, Cleanth Brooks and his peers had been reading poets like Margaret Cavendish? To what other forms would we be attentive? How would it change our reading strategies? What would we be able to notice and find in her poems?
In this introduction so far I have offered advice and analysis for reading not any individual poem as a discrete object, but for reading Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies, that is, 1) reading the volume as a whole, and reading poems in the context of the whole book, and 2) reading her in light of her broader poetic practices. I would like to end by gesturing to another aspect that I think requires (close) reading and careful attention: namely, the textual history of the volume and the enormous number of changes made across the two editions. The Textual and Editorial Introduction gives far more detail about the nature of these changes, which include both large-scale rearrangements (all of Part I is radically shuffled, but other poems get moved around across the volume, including some of the meta-poetic poems), and a massive number of changes to the text of the poems themselves.44
I end this section, then, by inviting readers to read Cavendish’s poetry not only in the context of this highly structured volume, and not only with an eye to new and unusual poetic techniques, but also—especially—with care and attention to the other major and notable aspect of her poems volume: the systematic revisions made between the first and second editions. Each change calls out for interpretation: for example, careful readers of textual notes might ask, why is Motion regendered across editions in “Motion Makes Atoms a Bawd for Figure”? Even minor changes are potentially meaningful for the keen interpreter. Is man much above beasts (1664 and 1668), or as much “above a beast as want of perfect knowledge makes him less than God” (1653)—is this claim in the Part II prefatory essay “Of Moral Philosophy and Moralists” a precise calculation of the ratios of the great chain of being, or a generic generalization? Or for one more example: the prefatory letter “To All Noble and Worthy Ladies” (as the title is given in 1664 and 1668, and in this edition) was given in the 1653 edition as, “To all Noble, Worthy Ladies” (title, note, 1653 variant). This seemingly minor change (the addition of an “and”) is potentially major: in the first edition, the phrase “Noble, Worthy Ladies” uses appositive redefinition to imply that (only) those who are noble are worthy, while the second and third editions open things up to those ladies who are noble, and also, potentially, to those who are worthy, even if they are not noble.
Beyond making Cavendish’s poetry more freely and readily accessible, making possible such readings of variants is the central reason for this edition’s existence. The numerous changes show a detailed and meticulous correcting mind that, in its systematic revisions, opens up new ways of interpreting her poems.
III. Getting Started: Suggested Poem Groupings and Poem Pairings
Poems and Fancies is a large and varied collection, and has something for everyone! This section includes some suggested starter-packs for those looking to dive into Cavendish for the first time. At the bottom of this section I also include suggested pairings: Cavendish, like a fine wine, can complement and enrich many different kinds of arguments and lesson plans.
It may come as no surprise that there is no better introduction to Cavendish’s poetry and her project than to read all of her prefatory materials. Any individual prefatory material is interesting in itself (“To All Noble and Worthy Ladies” in particular has many fascinating claims, and swings quickly from demure feminine caveats to a call to action for all females to defend the right to write for women), but the collection of all the prefatory materials together offers a fascinating lesson in rhetoric, framing, and even what we might once have called “self-fashioning.” These materials model the very different audiences to whom she pitches the collection, and give a sense of the range of poems you are about to encounter. Only one caveat: the prefatory materials contain a great deal of the first-person singular pronoun, something you will encounter only rarely in the poems themselves (see the second section of this introduction, above)—in this respect, the prefatory materials build an expectation that will be thwarted once one reads the poems themselves.
After the prefatory materials, though, what next? That depends on your interest(s).
Interested in questions of poetics, lyric, and form? You may want to explore her meta-poetic poems in the Conclusion and at the start of Part III, or think about the short, abrupt poems of Part I as a modified kind of lyric (see above). You might also track the use of the word “Figure” in Part I as that may or may not relate to poetic ideas of form (this is particularly interesting, I think, in the first part of Part I, beginning with “A World Made by Atoms” and running through “Change Is Made by Several Figured Atoms and Motion”).
Interested in the long histories of allegory (in its various forms) and similizing? You may enjoy all of Part III, and you may even use the reading techniques you learned in Part III to read Clasp IV–V as well. If “all of Part III” is a little large as a starter pack, I recommend from Part III the loveably grotesque “Nature’s Cook,” the disturbing “A Tart,” or perhaps several allegories or “similizings” of the mind alongside one another, to see the effects of similizing on the shape of thought itself: “Nature’s Oven”; “Similizing the Brain to a Garden”; “Similizing the Mind”; “Similizing Thoughts”; and “The Actions of the Mind Similized”; consider pairing those with Clasp IV–V’s “The Fairies in the Brain May Be the Causes of Many Thoughts.”
Interested in questions of genre? The previous section of the introduction, near the beginning, lists several different generic forms (or refusals of generic forms) at play in the collection: love poetry, blazons, allegorical visions, dialogues and dramatic forms, elegy, pastoral, epic. Use the notes in that section to see different collections of suggested poems by genre; maybe also explore the insistence across Prefatory Materials of her originality as a way of thinking about Cavendish’s use of, and commentary on, generic forms.
Interested in questions of gender? You have definitely come to the right place! The whole volume will be of interest, but you might start with the Prefatory Materials “To all Noble and Worthy Ladies” (at the front of the collection) and “To All Writing Ladies” (in Part IV); also very popular for thinking about the way she calls attention to her gender in the collection is the “Excuse for Writing So Much upon my Verses,” which refers to her book as her child and herself as the careful, fretting mother (and which also has an interesting alteration of gender in the textual notes)45. But for B-side recommendations, think about the gender swap visible in the textual notes of “Motion Makes Atoms a Bawd for Figure,” or what it means that she imagines a world within world in the earring of a lady, or the role of gender in her fantastic (in many senses) “Of Sense and Reason Exercised in their Different Shapes,” or the series of poems in Part III depicting Nature as a housewife (and note that many of the poem titles beginning “Similizing” in this edition were changed to “Nature’s X” in the 1664 and 1668 editions; see more on this in the description of Part III in the first section of this introduction above).
Interested in animal studies? You will obviously want to check out the enormously popular poems from Clasp II–III, “The Hunting of the Hare” and “The Hunting of the Stag,” as well as Part II poems like “A Dialogue of Birds”; in all three poems, as Mihoko Suzuki has shown, she creates sympathy for the mistreated animals.46 I also suggest, however, those Part II poems where she thinks not just about animals as potential objects of human sympathy, but also those poems where she imagines them as possessing their own non-human forms of rationality: “Of the Knowledge of Beasts,” “Of Fishes,” “Of Birds.”
Interested in posthumanism and ecocriticism? In addition the animal poems referenced directly above, consider her expansive posthumanity with trees (“A Dialogue between a Oak and a Man Cutting Him Down”), plants (“A Moral Discourse of Corn”), buildings (“A Dialogue between a Bountiful Knight and a Castle Ruined in War”), and so on. I also strongly recommend the bonus poem “Of Sense and Reason Exercised in its Different Shapes”—which offers an attempt to exhibit the rationality and feeling inherent in all kinds of matter—and you might read back from that poem to some of the atoms (especially those that dance and act as bawds) in Part I.47
Interested in ethics? For Cavendish, I would argue, her ethics is intimately bound up with her posthumanism. However, all of Part II, starting especially with its prefatory letter discussing moral philosophy, is relevant; see also my reading of Part II in the first section of this introduction for the way that both the dialogues and the moral discourses, in different ways, move her from the realm of morality to ethics. Fascinating for students and others is the way that “A Discourse of Man’s Pride and Seeming Prerogative” recasts the moral sin of pride into an ethical misunderstanding of humankind’s superiority over nature.
Interested in politics and war? Margaret Cavendish was writing during (and revising after) the English Civil War, and the consequences of that war on her own life and also the life of the nation reverberate throughout the collection. All of Part V, as is mentioned above, is shot through with reflections on the brutality of war, but on the personal level, the two poems on her “Brother, Killed in these Unhappy Wars” offer the rare explicitly personal poems (plus one personal poem written from the perspective of a corpse). At the level of the nation, see “Of an Island” and “The Ruin of this Island” from Clasp II–III. The prose “Animal Parliament” shows different parts of the body coming together as a (bickering) political organization to decide what is best for the body, and for which parts.
Interested in literature and science? All of Part I may intrigue you, but in particular I suggest reading those poems where she thinks about epistemology, or how we know what we know. “Of Stars” is one such poem, but see also the world-within-worlds sequence, “It is Hard to Believe There Are Other Worlds in this World,” “Of Many Worlds in this World,” “A World in an Earring,” and “Several Worlds in Several Circles.” You may also want to check out her prefatory letter “To Natural Philosophers.” In all of them she attempts to carve out a space, in the rise of empirical science, for thought, reason, and speculation.
Interested in theories of cognition? Looking to topple the anachronistic moniker “Mad Madge” by examining her own theories of how the mind works? In addition to the mind-similizing rife in Part III (“Nature’s Oven”; “Similizing the Brain to a Garden”; “Similizing the Mind”; “Similizing Thoughts”; and “The Actions of the Mind Similized”) and in Clasp IV–V (“The Fairies in the Brain May Be the Causes of Many Thoughts”), you might also want to look at the poems on sensation (see directly below) and epistemology (see directly above).
Interested in the history of the senses? A whole section of Part I addresses questions of sensation, from “What Makes Echo Rebound” through “According as the Notes in Music Agree with the Motions of the Thought or Brain Such Passions Are Produced Thereby.” It is no accident that this section transitions into one about epistemology: how we sense feeds into how we know. You may also want to read the critiques of empiricism mentioned above (for those interested in literature and science).
Interested in materiality, objects, and/or thing theory? You must not miss the bonus poem “Of Sense and Reason Exercised in their Different Shapes,” which represents Aristotelian hylomorphism pushed to its logical limit, and exhibits her belief that all forms of matter have both life and a degree of rationality. This poem also thinks in fascinating ways about anthropomorphism (and the complications of gender), something I have written about elsewhere.49 You may also enjoy sussing out her quiet monism buried in the atom poems of Part I, as well as the argument that unfolds slowly throughout Part I about the composite and cooperative nature of all creatures and forms (human and nonhuman).
Interested in embodiment? The most explicit discussion thereof is the long prose narrative “The Animal Parliament” (located after Part V), where different parts of the body discuss the politics of bodily organization. For an expansive idea of embodiment beyond that of the human body, see the bonus poem “Of Sense and Reason Exercised in their Different Shapes” (also recommended directly above—it’s great).
Interested in the history of philosophy and/or metaphysical poetry? Let’s all enact guerilla warfare on the canon of metaphysical poetry, which has in every major anthology excluded Margaret Cavendish, despite the philosophical content of her thought, because she refuses some of the stylistic tendencies of authors like Donne and Herbert. But given that the first two books are explicitly targeted to natural philosophical and moral philosophers, respectively, it might be worth reading those parts to think about the extent to which these poems are not just talking about, but doing philosophy. For those looking for something that “feels” more like metaphysical poetry, start with Part I’s “The Motion of Thoughts.”
Interested in theology and/or religion? Cavendish is notoriously cagey on matters of the soul, though you may be interested in Part I’s quasi-dream-vision “The Motion of Thoughts,” which also seems to have an oblique reference to St. Paul, or the poem from her natural philosophical treatises “Untitled [Great God, from thee all infinites do flow].” Also fascinating, though not always linked to her writing about theology, is her “It is Hard to Believe There Are Other Worlds in this World,” which compares the “belief” in worlds within worlds to faith.
Interested in using her poems to reflect on Margaret Cavendish’s biography and self-fashioning (despite all the efforts of this introduction)? Poems that have been read biographically in the past include the various Prefatory Materials (of the whole volume but also of each section) and the reflections on her own poetic style that make up the conclusion, as well as the allegorized “Phantasm’s Masque” that makes up Clasp III–IV and the elegies on the death of her brother of Part V.
Some suggested pairings:
- If you are reading (or teaching) the Blazing World, consider including poems from the literature and science section above for some expansions of the scientific satire of that work.
- If you are reading (or teaching) John Donne or other seventeenth-century (metaphysical) poets, consider reading from the poetics section above, to think about the radically different poetics between the two authors. I often invite my students to speculate: what would “close reading” look like if Cleanth Brooks et al. had developed close reading / practical criticism by reading poets like Cavendish rather than poets like Donne? What is at stake in her refusal of the first-person lyric “I”? What is at stake in her refusal of the volta?
- If you are reading (or teaching) a lower-level introduction to poetry (or a class on varieties of poetic forms and styles), consider including her small, disjointed atom poems as a radical departure from the norm of her day. I have been told that her poetic experimentations with form pair well with modernist poets like Gertrude Stein.
- If you are reading (or teaching) other women writers, consider reading (or teaching) all of the volume! The section on gender above might be of most immediate interest, but consider including other kinds of poems as well: I think we do her (and other women writers) a disservice by only allowing them to speak about gender and not (e.g.) about atoms, philosophy, war, allegory, etc.
In short: Consider reading Margaret Cavendish’s poetry.
IV. Anthologizing Cavendish’s Poems
Although so much of this introduction discusses the benefit of reading Cavendish’s poetry in the volume as a whole, this section provides a history, as complete as I could make it, of the anthologizing of Cavendish’s poetry, of reading not the whole book, but poems in isolation or excerpted. Below is a great deal of data: I list every instance I could find where Cavendish’s poetry is selected or anthologized, either in the context of a selected edition of Cavendish, or in the context of a larger anthology. This list may be partial, and I would welcome contributions if anyone notices a major absence! For each entry below, I provide in square brackets the date of an anthology of selection, and the editor and title of the work (with a fuller citation provided in notes). I then list which poems are included in the anthology, and, for ease of reference, from what section of Poems and Fancies the poem(s) are taken. I have regularized poem titles to conform to this edition, so that readers may more easily track poems across editions; this means I have changed titles in those moments where the anthologizer did not include a title, or altered the title, or used a variant title different from the one chosen for this edition (on variant titles, see section IV of the Textual and Editorial Introduction).
Where possible, I also provide information about which edition(s) served as the basis of the anthologized version: the history below shows some pretty major disagreements about which one original version should serve as the basis of an edition. While some editors below intervene pretty seriously into Cavendish’s poetry and modify her texts, this digital edition is the first one to systematically compare and/or combine editions, and the first to provide textual notes noting variants across editions.
Though readers can scan through the data collected below to draw their own conclusions, I will note a few major trends that emerge when comparing the different selections below. First, one may notice large gaps in later versions of her poems: after their initial publication they would wait almost 100 years before appearing in the print anthology Poems by Eminent Ladies. There is a brief crop of nineteenth-century editions, perhaps because Charles Lamb endorsed her, but then another major lull for most of the twentieth century until the explosion of anthologies coming out of the “canon wars” in the 1990s and later.50 The anthologizing context is almost always, as in the first anthology of Eminent Ladies, other women writers, although we sometimes also see selections in books about her in relation to her husband.
The list below also allows readers to track several changes in what poems interest different people, and different centuries. One of Cavendish’s first readers was thrilled by her atom poems—her friend and correspondent Constantijn Huygens wrote to Utricia Swann, after “the late lecture of her wonderfull booke” (i.e., after recently reading Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies), that Cavendish’s “extravagant atomes kept me from sleeping a great part of last night in this my little solitude.”51 However, despite this early enthusiasm for Cavendish’s “extravagant atoms” (the letter is dated September 1653), Part I was entirely neglected until 1996, when Leigh Tillman Partington published an online edition of only the atom poems.52 Since the 1990s, however, the atom poems have become some of the most popular for modern and contemporary readers.
While the atom poems were largely neglected for the history of her reception, some of her poems are enduringly popular across the centuries, including her two hunting poems, “The Hunting of the Hare” and “The Hunting of the Stag”—one or both of these empathetic poems occurs in nearly every anthology. Mildmay Fane, Earl of Westmoreland, her contemporary and the author of a commendatory poem inscribed on his personal copy of Poems and Fancies (see the Textual and Editorial Introduction, section I), is famous for having told his friends that “he would have given all his own poems to be the author of” “The Hunting of the Stag”—though he also qualified this high praise later by claiming it was only to save her from disgrace.53
Another enduringly popular poem is, curiously, “A Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth,” though it becomes increasingly altered and trimmed across editions (with the opening first-person description of her own thoughts either removed entirely, or greatly reduced). Another general trend across centuries is to work slightly against that tendency of Cavendish’s volume to eliminate the first-person, and render her poetry much more personal: anthologizers love to select those poems in which she talks about herself, including poems at the end of the prefatory materials, her poems on her poetic process from the conclusion and elsewhere, and those few poems where she does use the first-person singular pronoun (see above).
There is a general desire, then, in many of these anthologies, to re-insert the first-person pronoun, or to disproportionately choose first-person poems, and with it to maintain the impression that Cavendish is, almost exclusively, a self-promoting meglomaniac who can do nothing but talk about herself. The impetus behind that desire may be different for different anthologizers (perhaps they wish to fuel biographical readings, or to recover the female voice); very few give any rationale for their selections. Many apparently feel drawn to biographical poems, or poems that can be read biographically, with one exception: interestingly, though Cavendish includes two poems in Part V about her brother killed in the wars, each of which could equally, if differently, anchor a biographical reading, most people choose to anthologize “An Elegy on my Brother, Killed in these Unhappy Wars,” which takes the form of an elegiac letter to her dead brother, rather than “Upon the Funeral of my Dear Brother, Killed in these Unhappy Wars,” which is apparently written from the perspective of the corpse of her brother.
The nineteenth century, which cherished Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, also loved the fairy poems of Part IV, though many contemporary readers are drawn instead to the fairy poems of Clasp IV–V (on the difference between these two kinds of fairy poems see section I of this introduction). The most interesting afterlife of these poems is perhaps the 1926 song, in which six lines of “The Pastime and Recreation of the Queen of Fairies in Fairyland, the Center of the Earth” are put to music, under the title “The Elf Queen’s Delight.” The somewhat grotesque “Nature’s Cook” also appears as a standalone, as a “curiosity,” in 1835, and is reprinted in some later editions.
I hope you enjoy exploring the long and varied history of collecting and anthologizing her poems that appears below.
The eighteenth-century collection Poems by Eminent Ladies54 includes, by Cavendish: (from Part II) “A Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth”; “A Dialogue betwixt Peace and War”; (from Part III) “Wherein Poetry Chiefly Consists”; “Nature’s Cook”; “The Conclusion of this Part”; (Part IV) “The Pastime and Recreation of the Queen of Fairies in Fairyland, the Center of the Earth”; and “The Pastime of the Queen of Fairies, when She Comes upon the Earth out of the Center.”
The source of the selections is either the 1664 or 1668 edition (the text is modernized, so it is difficult to tell which, as they differ only in accidentals), and some of the poems have been lightly edited: “A Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth” has the non-dialogic opening lines (beginning “As I sat musing by myself alone”) removed, and the poem called in this edition “The Conclusion of this Part” is re-titled “Wit.” The editor includes a note after “Nature’s Cook” that reads: “This piece is taken from that part of this lady’s poems which is entitled Fancies, and is somewhat extravagant. The next poem called Wit, concludes that division of her works, and may serve to shew us her opinion of such performances.”55 From the very first anthology, then, “Nature’s Cook” was singled out for special attention as “extravagant”—but this editor also recognized that the poems from the same part could and should be read in relation to one another.
Sir Egerton Brydges’ Select Poems of Margaret Cavendish,56 printed in a small run on a private press, is also based on either the 1664 or 1668 edition (the text is modernized, so it is difficult to tell which, as they differ only in accidentals). The collection, like the one printed nearly 60 years earlier, includes the “Melancholy and Mirth” poem and a fairy poem, as well as meta-commentary on the nature of poetry; it is also the first to include poems that would be commonly anthologized in later versions: the hunting poems, and the political elegy on her brother. The small pamphlet also includes a short introduction that says that she had little pathos in her writing, but much invention. The poems included are out of order with respect to Cavendish’s own collection: the pamphlet includes (from Part II) “A Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth”; (from Part IV) “The Pastime and Recreation of the Queen of Fairies in Fairyland, the Center of the Earth”; (from Part III) “Wherein Poetry Chiefly Consists”; (from Part V) “Of Sorrow’s Tears”; “The Funeral of Calamity”; “An Elegy on my Brother, Killed in these Unhappy Wars”; (from Part IV) “Of an Oak in a Grove”; “A Man to his Mistress”; (from Clasp II–III) “The Hunting of the Hare.” It also includes two selections from Cavendish’s 1668 play The Convent of Pleasure: as he titles them, “Song of the Princess, in the Character of a Shepherd: answered by the Lady Happy”; and “Song of the Lady Happy.”
Alexander Dyce’s Specimens of British Poetesses57 includes several female authors; by Cavendish, he prints (from Part IV) “Of the Theme of Love”; “The Pastime and Recreation of the Queen of Fairies”; (from Part V) “The Funeral of Calamity”; (from Part II) “A Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth” (broken out into three smaller poems). Dyce appears to have consulted multiple editions: he explicitly says that the poem of the Fairy Queen is drawn from the 1653 edition, but other poems (such as the “Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth”) draw on variants from the 1664 and/or 1668 editions. The poems have been modernized, and in some cases edited: for example, Dyce includes from the prologue to “Melancholy and Mirth” only lines 1–2 and 33–36, skipping the long catalog of actions that her thoughts have been taking (allegorically).
In approximately 1835, according to the British Library catalog, “Nature’s Cook” was printed as a “literary curiosity.”58 As the extended title indicates (see full citation in the note), the selection is based on the 1668 edition.
Edward Jenkins’ Cavalier and His Lady includes selections from multiple works by husband and wife, with Newcastle’s poems heavily edited in many cases, and with the titles regularly changed.59 The poems included (with titles changed to match the titles from this edition) are (from the Conclusion) “[Untitled] A poet I am neither born nor bred”; “Of the Style of this Book”; (from Part IV) “The Pastime and Recreation of the Queen of Fairies in Fairyland, the Center of the Earth” (he includes with this poem a note saying, “My corrections and alterations of this poem have been rather numerous. Parts of it are exceedingly clumsy and feeble.”60); (from Clasp IV–V) “A Compliment Sent to the Fairy Queen”; (from Part V) “On a Furious Sorrow”; “Sorrow’s Tears”; (from Part IV) “A Man to his Mistress”; (from Part II) “A Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth”; “A Dialogue between Earth and Darkness”; (from Clasp III–IV) “A Lady Dressed by Youth”; “A Woman Dressed by Age”; (from Part V) “The Funeral of Calamity”; “The Death and Burial of Truth”; (from Part III) “Of Poets and their Theft”; “Wherein Poetry Chiefly Consists”; (from Part V) “elegy”; (from Part II) “A Discourse of the Power of Devils”; “Of the Shortness of Man’s Life, and his Foolish Ambition.”
After this first chunk, he also includes excerpts from more poems under the heading “Miscellaneous Poems,” which includes (from Part IV) “Upon the Theme of Love”; (from Part III) “The Conclusion of this Part”; “The Soul’s Garment”; “Nature’s Dress”; (from Part II) “Of a Fool”; “A Dialogue betwixt Man and Nature.” There is also a quatrain from her “Assaulted and Pursued Chastity” (from Nature’s Pictures), and two more poems whose source I cannot trace.
Like Dyce in his edition of 1827, Jenkins removes lines 3–32 from the preface of “A Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth.” He also includes other items, including a bonus poem on this site, “Untitled [“Great God, from Thee all infinites do flow”],” as well as selections from other works by Cavendish, including excerpts from Convent of Pleasure, from the 1668 Plays Never before Printed. J.R. Tutin, who publishes a later anthology in 1908, says of this edition, “Mr. Jenkins has made up a compound text: it is Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle-cum-Edward Jenkins, and we know not whom we are reading unless we compare his version with the original text—something impossible for most readers to do.”61
The early-twentieth-century anthology Four Early English Poetesses62 includes six poems by Margaret Cavendish: (from Part II) “A Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth”; (from Part III) an excerpt from “Of Poets and their Theft” (ll. 13–27); (from Part III) “The Soul’s Garment”; “A Posset for Nature’s Breakfast”; “Comparing the Tongue to a Wheel”; (from Part IV) six lines (ll. 19–24) from “The Pastime and Recreation of the Queen of Fairies in Fairyland, the Center of the Earth,” titled in this edition “The Elf-Queen.”
This edition cites that of Edward Jenkins from 1872, and critiques him for intervening too heavily into the text: Edmund Jenkins, he writes, “has thrust himself so much before the reader where he should not,—I mean, of course, into the text of the poems,—that his version is absolutely worthless to readers who wish to know this “original-brained, generous Margaret Newcastle” (Charles Lamb) as she actually was in her own books.”63 However, despite his critiques of Edward Jenkins’ edition, he edits as well, and in some cases adopts the edits of Jenkins. For instance, “A Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth” has been trimmed in this edition, with the first 36 lines removed. Those poems I checked were based on the 1653 edition.
H.J Massingham’s Seventeenth Century English Verse64 includes one poem by Margaret Cavendish: “The Soul’s Garment” (called “The Soul’s Raiment” in this edition), based on the 1664 or 1668 edition.
This includes a musical setting for six lines of “The Pastime and Recreation of the Queen of Fairies in Fairyland, the Center of the Earth,” lines 19–24.65 The song is possibly based directly on the 1653 edition, but given that it covers only the six lines given in the 1908 Four Early English Poetesses, and that it uses the 1908 edition’s title of “Elf Queen,” it is likely based on Four Early English Poetesses.
In 1930, there was an anthology of “bad verse” published, which, sadly, includes poems by Margaret Cavendish.66 They include (from Clasp IV–V) “Similizing the Body to Many Countries”; (from Part I) “What is Liquid”; (from Part III) the first ten lines of “Nature’s Dessert”; and “A Posset for Nature’s Breakfast.”
Leigh Tillman Partington edits selections, with a focus on the atom poems, from Part I, posted online via the Emory Women Writers Resource Project.67 The focus is on the atomic poems, so it includes (from the Prefatory Materials) “To Natural Philosophers”; and most atom poems (but not poems not involving atoms) from Part I, as follows: the edition does not include the two allegorical opening poems (“Nature Calls a Counsel …” and “Death’s Endeavor to Hinder and Obstruct Nature”), does include the next 40 poems (“A World Made by Atoms” through “Motion is the Life of All Things”), does not include the next 27 poems (“Of Vacuum” through “The Agileness of Water”), does include the next six poems (“Of the Center” through “A World Made by Four Atoms”), and does not include the last 31 poems (“Of Elements” through the end, “Small Worlds in Several Circles”). The edition is based on the 1653 Poems and Fancies; the editorial introduction says this is because the 1653 text was entirely Cavendish’s own work.
Ron Cooley selects, transcribed, and annotates selections from the 1653 Poems and Fancies, and puts them online.68 His edition includes (from the Prefatory Materials) “An Excuse for So Much Writ upon my Verses”; (from Part I) “The Weight of Atoms”; “The Joining of Several Figured Atoms Make Other Figures”; “A World in an Earring”; (from Part II) “A Dialogue betwixt Wit and Beauty”; (from Clasp II–III) “The Hunting of the Stag”; (from Part III) “Of Poets and their Theft”; “Upon the Same Subject”; “Wherein Poetry Chiefly Consists”; “Nature’s Dress”; “Similizing Thoughts”; “Of the Spider”; (from Part IV) “Of the Sun and the Earth”; “A Man to his Mistress”; (from Part V) “An Epistle to Soldiers”; “On a Melting Beauty”; “An Elegy on my Brother, Killed in these Unhappy Wars”; (from the Conclusion) “Of the Style of this Book”; “Untitled [A poet I am neither born nor bred].”
Paul Salzman includes three poems in his collection Early Modern Women’s Writing:69 (from Part I) “A World Made by Atoms”; (from Part II) “Of the Ant”; (from Clasp II–III) “The Hunting of the Hare”; as well as selections from her dramatic and natural philosophical texts.
Sylvia Bowerbank and Sara Mendelson include in their Paper Bodies: A Margaret Cavendish Reader70 five poems: (from Part I) “Of Many Worlds in this World”; “A World in an Earring”; (from Clasp I–II) “The Squaring of the Circle”; (from Clasp II–II) “The Hunting of the Hare”; (from Part II) “A Dialogue between an Oak and a Man Cutting him Down.” Their text is based on the 1653 edition.
Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson include in their wide-ranging Early Modern Women Poets (1520–1700): An Anthology71 three poems: (from Part I) “Of Cold Winds”; (from Clasp II–III) “The Hunting of a Stag”; “The Ruine of this Island.”
The anthology Seventeenth-Century British Poetry, 1603–166072 uses the 1664 edition as their base text, and is the first (print) anthology to really commit to her atom poems. It includes: (from the Prefatory Materials) “The Poetress’s Hasty Resolution”; “The Poetress’s Petition”; “An Apology for Writing So Much upon This Book”; (from Part I) “A World Made by Atoms”; “What Atoms Make a Palsy, or Apoplexy”; “In All Other Diseases Atoms are Mixed, Taking Parts and Factions”; “All Things are Governed by Atoms”; “A War betwixt Atoms”; “Atoms and Motion Fall Out”; “An Agreement of Some Kind of Motion with Some Kind of Atoms”; “Motion Directs while Atoms Dance”; If Infinite Worlds, There Must Be Infinite Centers”; “Of Infinite Matter”; “Of the Motion of the Blood”; “Of Many Words in This World”; (from Clasp II–III) “The Hunting of the Hare”; “A Description of an Island”; “The Ruin of This Island”; and (from Part V) “Upon the Funeral of My Dear Brother, Killed in These Unhappy Wars.”
Despite some of her deeply philosophical poems, her poems are not included in Colin Burrow’s Metaphysical Poetry; including women in that anthology, he states in his introduction, “has not proved easy to do” (on the grounds that poems by women often lack erotic elements, and that women didn’t have formal rhetorical training).73
Sarah C.E. Ross and Elizabeth Scott-Baumann’s Women Poets of English Civil War74 bases their selections from Poems and Fancies on the 1664 edition, and includes (from Prefatory Materials) “The Poetress’s Hasty Resolution”; (from Part I) “A World Made by Atoms”; “Of the Subtlety of Motion”; Of Vacuum”; “Of Stars”; “A World in an Earring”; (from Part II) “The Purchase of Poets …”; “A Dialogue betwixt Man and Nature”; “A Dialogue between an Oak and a Man Cutting him Down”; “A Dialogue between a Bountiful Knight and a Castle Ruined in War”; (from Clasp II–III) “The Clasp” (i.e., “Untitled [Give me a free and noble style …]”); “The Hunting of the Hare”; “A Description of this Island”; “The Ruin of this Island”; (from Part III) “Wherein Poetry Chiefly Consists”; (from Part IV) A Description of a Shepherd’s and Shepherdess’s Life”; (from Clasp IV–V) “The Clasp: Of Fairies in the Brain” (i.e., “Of Fairies in the Brain”); (from Part V) “Upon the Funeral of my Dear Brother, Killed in these Unhappy Wars.” They also include three poems from her 1653 Philosophical Fancies, the companion volume to her Poems and Fancies: “Of Sense and Reason Exercised in their Different Shapes”; “A Dialogue between the Body and the Mind”; “An Elegy.”
The tenth edition of the Norton Anthology of English Literature75 uses the 1653 edition as their base text, with reference to the 1664 edition, and includes (from the Prefatory Materials) “The Poetess’s Hasty Resolution” and (from Clasp II–III) “The Hunting of the Hare.” The text is largely based on the 1653 edition, though “The Hunting of the Hare” has one substitution of a 1664 reading for a 1653 reading.
The new selection of poems by Michael Robbins, published with the New York Review of Books,76 is based on the 1653 edition, on the grounds that Cavendish may not have been responsible for the corrections (he, like Partington in 1996, cites Sara Mendelson on this). The introduction offers a short and impressionistic overview of her life and work. His mini-anthology, with modernized spelling but maintaining accidentals such as punctuation and italics, contains poems mainly from Parts I and II, with a few choice selections from later sections: (from the Prefatory Materials) “To All Noble and Worthy Ladies”; “To the Reader”; “The Poetress’s Hasty Resolution”; “The Poetress’s Petition”; “An Excuse for So Much Writ upon My Verses”; (from Part I) “Nature Calls a Council …”; “A World Made by Atoms”; “The Four Principal Figured Atoms …”; “Of Airy Atoms”; “Of Air”; “What Atoms Make a Palsy or Apoplexy”; “All Things Are Governed by Atoms”; “A War with Atoms”; “Atoms and Motion Fall Out”; “The Agreement of Some Kind of Motion with Some Kind of Atoms”; “Motion Directs while Atoms Dance”; “Of the Subtlety of Motion”; “Of Vacuum”; “If Infinite Worlds, Infinite Centers”; “The Infinites of Matter”; “The Motion of Thoughts”; “The Motion of Blood”; “Of Stars”; “What Makes Echo”; “Of Rebounds”; “Of Light”; “Of Light and Sight”; “Of Many Worlds in This World”; “A World in an Earring”; “Several Worlds in Several Circles”; (from Clasp I–II) “Untitled [When I did write this book I took great pains]”; “The Circle of the Brain Cannot be Squared; (from Part II) “The Purchase of Poets …”; “A Dialogue betwixt Man and Nature”; “A Dialogue betwixt the Body and the Mind”; “A Dialogue between an Oak and a Man Cutting Him Down”; “A Dialogue of Birds”; “A Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth” (including the prologue); “A Dialogue betwixt Riches and Poverty”; “A Dialogue between a Bountiful Knight and a Castle Ruined in War”; “Of the Shortness of Man’s Life and his Foolish Ambition”; “A Moral Discourse betwixt Man and Beast”; “Of the Ant”; “Of Fishes”; “A Discourse of the Power of Devils”; (from Clasp II–III) “Untitled [Give me a free and noble style …]”; “The Hunting of the Hare”; “The Hunting of the Stag”; “Of an Island”; “The Ruin of this Island”; (from Part III) “Nature’s Cook”; “Similizing the Brain to a Garden”; “Similizing Thoughts”; “Similizing Fancy to a Gnat”; (from Clasp III–IV) “A Woman Dressed by Age”; (from Part IV) “A Description of Shepherds and Shepherdesses”; “Her Descending Down”; “Witches of Lapland”; (from Part V) “An Elegy on My Brother, Killed in These Unhappy Wars.”
V. Further Reading
This section provides some recommendations for people interested in reading more about Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies. The list is divided into sections, starting with biographical resources, then corresponding to the major parts of Poems and Fancies (as sketched in this introduction, above), and finally ending with works that cut across different sections of Poems and Fancies, or that speak to broader questions of style, Cavendish’s writing, and other aspects. If an article or book was particularly relevant to multiple sections, I listed it multiple times. The list below is not exhaustive, but provides some resources for those looking to dive more deeply into scholarship on Margaret Cavendish.
All three of the biographies of Margaret Cavendish, below, address both her life and the volume Poems and Fancies; if you only read one, read Whitaker’s, as her scholarship is impeccably documented and her readings are insightful.
Grant, Douglas. Margaret the First: A Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, 1623–1673. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1957.
Perry, Henry Ten Eyck. The First Duchess of Newcastle and her Husband as Figures in Literary History. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1918; reprinted, New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1968.
Whitaker, Katie. Mad Madge: The Extraordinary Life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, the First Woman to Live by her Pen. New York: Basic Books, 2002.
Poems and Fancies: Prefatory Materials
Fung, Megan J. “Art, Authority, and Domesticity in Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies.” Early Modern Women 10 (2015): 27–47.
Geriguis, Lora Edmister. “Transplanting the Duchess: Margaret Cavendish and the ‘Chronic Dilemmas’ of Literary Anthology Construction.” English Studies 98 (2017): 897–916.
Battigelli, Anna. Margaret Cavendish and the Exiles of the Mind. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1998. (esp. Chapter 3)
Blake, Liza. “The Grounds of Literature and Science: Margaret Cavendish’s Creature Manifesto.” Palgrave Handbook of Early Modern Literature and Science. Ed. Howard Marchitello and Lyn Tribble. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. 3–26.
Clucas, Stephen. “The Atomism of the Cavendish Circle: A Reappraisal.” The Seventeenth Century 9 (1994): 247–73.
Dodds, Lara. “Bawds and Housewives: Margaret Cavendish and the Work of ‘Bad Writing.’” Early Modern Studies Journal 6 (2014).
Rees, Emma L.E. Margaret Cavendish: Gender, genre, exile. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003. (esp. Chapter 2)
Sadun, Hande. “Where Science Meets with Fancy: The Atomic Poems of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle.” Hacettepe Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Dergisi / Journal of the Faculty of Letters 22 (2005): 187–202.
Sokol, B.J. “Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies and Thomas Harriot’s Treatise on Infinity.” In A Princely Brave Woman: Essays on Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. Ed. Stephen Clucas. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003. 156–170.
Wilson, Catherine. “Two Opponents of Material Atomism.” In Leibniz and the English-Speaking World. Ed. Pauline Phemister and Stuart Brown. Dordrecht: Springer, 2007. 35–50.
Bertuol, Roberto. “The square circle of Margaret Cavendish: The 17th-century conceptualization of mind by means of mathematics.” Language and Literature, 10 (2001): 21–39.
Mihoko Suzuki. “Thinking Beings and Animate Matter: Margaret Cavendish’s Challenge to the Early Modern Order of Things.” In Challenging Women’s Agency and Activism in Early Modernity. Ed. Merry Wiesner-Hanks. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, forthcoming.
Landry, Donna. “Green Languages? Women Poets as Naturalists in 1653 and 1807.” Huntington Library Quarterly 63 (2004): 467–89.
Semler, L.E. “Nation, nature, and poetics: transitions and claspes in Denham’s ‘Cooper’s Hill’ and Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies.” In Home and Nation in British Literature from the English to the French Revolutions. Ed. A.D. Cousins and Geoffrey Payne. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 19–32.
Dodds, Lara. “Bawds and Housewives: Margaret Cavendish and the Work of ‘Bad Writing.’” Early Modern Studies Journal 6 (2014).
Fung, Megan J. “Art, Authority, and Domesticity in Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies.” Early Modern Women 10 (2015): 27–47.
Owens, Margaret E. “‘A Hodge-Podge of Diseases Tasteth Well’: Arcimboldesque Portraits in Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies (1653).” Word & Image 25 (2009): 154–65.
Scott-Baumann, Elizabeth. “‘Bake’d in the Oven of Applause’: The Blazon and the Body in Margaret Cavendish’s Fancies.” Women’s Writing 15 (2008): 86–106.
Low, Jennifer. “Surface and Interiority: Self-Creation in Margaret Cavendish’s ‘The Claspe’.” Philological Quarterly 77 (1998): 149–69.
Part IV and Clasp IV–V
Walters, Lisa. Margaret Cavendish: Gender, Science and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. (esp. Chapter 2)
Cavendish’s Style; Poems and Fancies in General; and Broader Themes
Bowerbank, Sylvia. “The Spider’s Delight: Margaret Cavendish and the ‘Female’ Imagination.” English Literary Renaissance 14 (1984): 392–408.
Calderón, María Isabel. “‘Angry I Was, and Reason Strook Away’: Margaret Cavendish and Her Lyrical Acts of Rebellion.” In Re-Shaping the Genres: Restoration Women Writers, edited by Luis-Martínez, Zenón, Figueroa-Dorrego, Jorge. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2003. 19–47.
Chalmers, Hero. “‘Flattering Division’: Margaret Cavendish’s Poetics of Variety.” In Authorial Conquests: Essays on Genre in the Writings of Margaret Cavendish. Ed. Line Cottegnies and Nancy Weitz. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003. 123–44.
Crawford, Julie. “Margaret Cavendish’s Books.” In Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain: Reading, Ownership, Circulation. Ed. Leah Knight, Micheline White, and Elizabeth Sauer. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018. 94–114.
Dodds, Lara. “Bawds and Housewives: Margaret Cavendish and the Work of ‘Bad Writing.’” Early Modern Studies Journal 6 (2014).
Dodds, Lara. The Literary Invention of Margaret Cavendish. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2103.
Geriguis, Lora Edmister. “Transplanting the Duchess: Margaret Cavendish and the ‘Chronic Dilemmas’ of Literary Anthology Construction.” English Studies 98 (2017): 897–916.
Rex, Michael. “The Nature of Epic: Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies and the Construction of a ‘New’ English Epic Ideology.” In Experiments in Genre in Eighteenth-Century Literature. Ed. Sandro Jung. Dartmouth: University Press of New England, 2011. 11–32.
Scott-Baumann, Elizabeth. Forms of Engagement: Women, Poetry, and Culture 1640–1680. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. (esp. Chapter 2)
Siegfried, Brandie. “Introduction.” In Poems and Fancies with The Animal Parliament. Ed. Brandie Siegfried. Toronto: Iter Press, 2018.
Skouen, Tina. “Margaret Cavendish and the Stigma of Haste.” Studies In Philology 111 (2014): 547–70.
Stark, Ryan John. “Margaret Cavendish and Composition Style.” Rhetoric Review 17 (1999): 264–81.
Stevenson, Jay. “Imagining the Mind: Cavendish’s Hobbesian Allegories.” In A Princely Brave Woman: Essays on Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. Ed. Stephen Clucas. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003. 143–55.
Stevenson, Jay. “The Mechanist-Vitalist Soul of Margaret Cavendish. Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 36 (1996): 527–43.
Walker, Elaine. “Longing for Ambrosia: Margaret Cavendish and the torment of the restless mind in Poems, and Fancies (1653).” Women’s Writing 4 (1997): 341–52.
- On the importance of returning to questions of form and formalism for women writers in particular, see Lara Dodds and Michelle M. Dowd, “The Case for a Feminist Return to Form,” Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal 13 (2018): 82–91.
- For more on the 1664 Errata, see the Textual and Editorial Introduction.
- Douglas Grant, Margaret the First: A Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, 1623–1673 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1957), esp. 111–30; Henry Ten Eyck Perry, The First Duchess of Newcastle and her Husband as Figures in Literary History (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1918; reprinted, New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1968), esp. 171–84. The few exceptions to this general rule are referenced below, and collected in the final “Further Reading” section of this introduction.
- I have also added some notes about biographical readings to some of the poems themselves.
- On the mathematics of Clasp I–II, see Roberto Bertuol, “The square circle of Margaret Cavendish: The 17th-century conceptualization of mind by means of mathematics,” Language and Literature, 10 (2001): 21–39; see also Brandie Siegfried, “Introduction,” in Poems and Fancies with The Animal Parliament, ed. Brandie Siegfried (Toronto: Iter Press, 2018), 22–32, where she addresses Clasp I–II alongside Part I. Generally speaking, Siegfried considers the five parts to be cumulative; each Part, according to her introduction, continues and builds on an aspect of the previous part.
- See the fourth section of this introduction for a full list of which poems have been excerpted in collections over the centuries.
- Hero Chalmers, who reads the organization of the volume as “embod[ying] the ‘variety’ on which [Cavendish] places a premium,” summarizes the dominant modes or subject matter(s) of the various parts as follows: “atomistic natural philosophy, dialogues, so-called moral verses, fairy poems, or mourning verses”; see Hero Chalmers, “‘Flattering Division’: Margaret Cavendish’s Poetics of Variety,” in Authorial Conquests: Essays on Genre in the Writings of Margaret Cavendish, ed. Line Cottegnies and Nancy Weitz (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003), 123–44.
- On the variable prefatory materials of Nature’s Pictures, see Rebecca Bullard, “Gatherings in Exile: Interpreting the Bibliographical Structure of Natures Pictures Drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Life (1656),” English Studies 92 (2011): 786–805.
- For an opposite reading of her atom poems, see Siegfried, who argues throughout her edition that Poems and Fancies, as a whole, is suffused with Lucretian atomism.
- On the concept of the Creature as a composite body in Cavendish’s late natural philosophy, and questions of epistemology, see Liza Blake, “The Grounds of Literature and Science: Margaret Cavendish’s Creature Manifesto,” in Palgrave Handbook of Early Modern Literature and Science, ed. Howard Marchitello and Lyn Tribble (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 3–26.
- Her most explicit critiques of empiricism come in her Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, with a Description of the New World, Called the Blazing World (London, 1666, reprinted 1668). However, Poems and Fancies shows that these critiques are central to her thought from the start. For a useful overview of her views on empiricism as they relate to her systematic critique of the Royal Society, see Anna Battigelli, Margaret Cavendish and the Exiles of the Mind (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998), 85–113.
- See, e.g., “Wherein Poetry Chiefly Consists,” one of the prefatory poems to Part III: “Most of our modern writers nowadays / Consider not the fancy but the phrase” (ll. 1–2); see also “Of the Style of this Book,” in the Conclusion: “I language want to dress my fancies in” (l. 1), where the fancies are the body and language mere removable clothing or dressing.
- George Puttenham, The arte of English poesie Contriued into three bookes: the first of poets and poesie, the second of proportion, the third of ornament (London: Printed by Richard Field, 1589), sig. X4v.
- See Margaret Cavendish, The World’s Olio (London, 1655), Book II Part I (sig. O4r–Q2r). I have lightly modernized quotations from this text.
- For a full list of all title changes across the two volumes, see the last section of the Textual and Editorial Introduction.
- One famous version of this fable appears in the first scene of William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus; for a topical update written after the regicide, see, e.g., Thomas Jordan, “The New State Described,” in Poetry and Revolution: An Anthology of British and Irish Verse, 1625–1660, ed. Peter Davidson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 334.
- My reading of the Clasps seems to differ from Siegfried’s; in the edition itself, she marks only Clasp IV–V as a transitional section (302 n. 1057).
- For my argument that this poem is untitled, not a poem called “The Clasp,” see the third section of the Textual and Editorial Introduction.
- For a comparable but not quite identical reading, see L.E. Semler, “Nation, nature, and poetics: transitions and claspes in Denham’s ‘Cooper’s Hill’ and Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies,” in Home and Nation in British Literature from the English to the French Revolutions, ed. A.D. Cousins and Geoffrey Payne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 19–32. In Semler’s beautiful reading of the Clasps, each is in its own way “primarily about poetry”; Clasp II–III is also political, in that it replaces the ruined island of England, the hunt, and the monarch with (he argues) “poetic surrogates that preserve hope for a future renewal” (30).
- See also Lora Edmister Geriguis, “Transplanting the Duchess: Margaret Cavendish and the ‘Chronic Dilemmas’ of Literary Anthology Construction,” English Studies 98 (2017): 897–916; Geriguis reads “The Poetress’s Hasty Resolution” in the context of the entire volume.
- On this topic, see also Mihoko Suzuki, “Thinking Beings and Animate Matter: Margaret Cavendish’s Challenge to the Early Modern Order of Things,” in Challenging Women’s Agency and Activism in Early Modernity, ed. Merry Wiesner-Hanks (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, forthcoming).
- Whitaker, for example, reads each of the Part II set pieces as expressions of Margaret’s own personality or feelings. According to Whitaker, Cavendish contradicts herself between the poem on “Pride” and the poem on “Humility”: “These works were not just critiques of society, but also admonishments to Margaret’s own pride and ambition, which she expressed in other poems. … Carried away, she continued into her next poem, ‘Of Ambition’ … But at once, Margaret rebuked herself with another poem, ‘Of Humility’ … Margaret’s poems played out the unending internal conflict she felt between the (feminine and Christian) virtue of modesty and her own ardent aspirations for achievement and recognition” (Whitaker, Mad Madge, 143).
- For an essay that connects these poems to natural magical thinking, see Lisa Walters, “‘[N]ot subject to our sense’: Margaret Cavendish’s Fusion of Renaissance Science, Magic, and Fairy Lore,” Women’s Writing 3 (2010), 413–31. A version of this argument also appears in her book, Margaret Cavendish: Gender, Science and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
- The quote comes from Margaret Cavendish, CCXI Sociable Letters (London, 1664), 301. I have modernized typography (including italics), spelling, and punctuation.
- Lara Dodds, The Literary Invention of Margaret Cavendish (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2013). See also Grant, Margaret the First, 113: “She mentions only five poets by name: Ovid—whom she knew only in Sandys’s translation—Shakespeare, Jonson, Donne and Davenant.” See also Julie Crawford, “Margaret Cavendish’s Books,” in Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain: Reading, Ownership, Circulation, ed. Leah Knight, Micheline White, and Elizabeth Sauer (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018), 94–114.
- Dodds, Literary Invention, 7.
- For more on Cavendish’s use of the blazon in her poetry, see Elizabeth Scott-Bauman, “‘Bake’d in the Oven of Applause’: The Blazon and the Body in Margaret Cavendish’s Fancies,” Women’s Writing 15.1 (2008): 86–106. On the grotesque nature of this and other Part III poems, see Margaret E. Owens, “‘A Hodge-Podge of Diseases Tasteth Well’: Arcimboldesque Portraits in Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies (1653),” Word & Image 25.2 (2009): 154–65.
- Liza Blake, “After Life in Margaret Cavendish’s Vitalist Posthumanism” [publication TBD].
- See “The Motion of Thoughts” in Part I, or “A Prospect of a Church in the Mind” and “A Landscape” in Part III.
- Part II is the most dramatic: in addition to the dialogue poems that make up the first part of Part II, many of the “moral discourses” read like monologues where she temporarily inhabits a character or type and creates speeches on their behalf; in some cases (Ambition, Pride), those characters are explicitly “vices.” See also the allegorical “Phantasm’s Masque” that makes up Clasp III–IV.
- See the second section of Part V, which contains both imaginative and “real” elegies (that is, elegies about people in her life who have died).
- The pair of Part IV poems “A Description of a Shepherd’s and a Shepherdess’s Life” and “The Allegory of Shepherds is too Mean for Noble Persons” are more explicit about her refusal of the conventions of pastoral: the first emphasizes the dirty and coarse realities of shepherding life with correspondingly “low” language (e.g., “Milking their ewes, their hands do dirty make, / For being wet, dirt from their duggs do take”; ll. 3–4), while the second offers a metacommentary on the inappropriateness of such rough life for depicting nobility. See also the Part III poem “Similizing the Sea to Meadows and Pastures, the Mariners to Shepherds, the Mast to a Maypole, the Fish to Beasts.”
- Cavendish, World’s Olio, sig. B4r–v.
- Cavendish, World’s Olio, sig. B4r.
- Cavendish, Sociable Letters, sig. C3r.
- On the close publication dates of the two books, see the final note to the reader at the end of Poems and Fancies, “Untitled [Final Note to the Reader]”; see also the first section of the Textual and Editorial Introduction to this edition.
- See the Part I vision “The Motion of Thoughts,” or the Part II poem “A Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth,” or the Part III poems “A Prospect of a Church in the Mind” and “A Landscape.”
- See, e.g., the Part III Moral Discourses “Of Foolish Ambition,” “Of Humility,” “Of Poverty,” and others in that series.
- See the Part V poems “Upon the Funeral of my Dear Brother, Killed in these Unhappy Wars” and “An Elegy on my Brother, Killed in these Unhappy Wars.”
- “Of Sharp Atoms,” l. 6; “Of Fire and Flame,” ll. 1–2; “The Temper of the Earth,” ll. 1–2; emphases added in each instance.
- “Of Airy Atoms,” l. 1n (1653 variant). We selected the variant from the 1660s in our edition to make the transition between poems less jarring for modern readers, though the textual note allows one to explore this unique aspect of her poetics.
- Here, as above, I have developed many of my arguments from Lara Dodds and Michelle M. Dowd—both from their essay “The Case for a Feminist Return to Form,” Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal 13 (2018): 82–91, but also from their in-progress edited collection Feminist Formalisms, to which I am contributing a chapter on Cavendish’s forms.
- See Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1947), a founding study of our discipline.
- I am currently undertaking a multimedia monograph that takes as its central focus what is at stake in her rearrangements of the atom poems of Part I across editions. This edition, tentatively entitled Choose Your Own Poems and Fancies, is under contract with Electric Press; see http://electric.press/books/cavendish.html.
- For an analysis of the implication of those changes, see Elizabeth Scott-Baumann, Forms of Engagement: Women, Poetry, and Culture, 1640–1680 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 65.
- See Mihoko Suzuki, “Animals and the political in Lucy Hutchinson and Margaret Cavendish,” The Seventeenth Century 30 (2015): 229–47.
- On the poem “Of Sense and Reason …” see Liza Blake, “After Life in Margaret Cavendish’s Vitalist Posthumanism.”
- See also Roberto Bertuol, in the “Further Reading” section below, and Brandie Sigfried’s introduction to her edition.
- Liza Blake, “After Life in Margaret Cavendish’s Vitalist Posthumanism.”
- I acknowledge that there may be some missing entries between 1930 and 1996; I only included, for instance, the tenth edition of the Norton, but an interesting weekend project would be to fill in other versions of the Norton and to track when she first appeared, and whether the selections changed across editions.
- De Briefwisseling van Constantijn Huygens, ed. J.A. Worp (’S-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff, 1916), vol. 5: 1649–1663, 187 (letter number 5310).
- There is a single exception: the lone poem “What is Liquid,” included as an object of scorn in the 1930 The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse (see below).
- Katie Whitaker, Mad Madge: The Extraordinary Life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, the First Woman to Live by her Pen (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 156–57.
- Poems by Eminent Ladies. Particularly, Mrs. Barber, Mrs. Behn, Miss Carter, Lady Chudleigh, Mrs. Cockburn, Mrs. Grierson, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Killigrew, Mrs. Leapor, Mrs. Madan, Mrs. Masters, Lady M.W. Montague, Mrs. Monk, Dutchess of Newcastle, Mrs. K. Philips, Mrs. Pilkington, Mrs. Rowe, Lady Winchelsea, 2 vols. (London: Printed for R. Baldwin, at the Rose, in Paster-Noster Row, 1755). This collection was also reprinted in 1773.
- Poems by Eminent Ladies, vol. 2, 206n.
- Select Poems of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, ed. Sir Egerton Brydges (K.J. Kent: Printed at the Private Press of Lee Priory, by Johnson and Warwick, 1813).
- Specimens of British Poetesses, ed. Alexander Dyce (London: T. Rodd, 2 Great Newport St., 1827).
- “A Literary Curiosity: Nature’s Cook. (From ‘Poems; or, Several Fancies, in Verse.—Written by The Thrice-Noble, Illustrious, and Excellent, the Duchess of Newcastle.’—Folio, London, 1668, Page 186.)” (Great Totham: Printed at Charles Clark’s Private Press, [ca. 1835]). I consulted British Library shelfmark 11621.k.2(67).
- The Cavalier and His Lady: Selections from the works of the first Duke and Duchess of Newcastle, ed. Edward Jenkins (London: Macmillan and Co., 1872).
- The Cavelier and His Lady, ed. Jenkins, 82n.
- See Four Early English Poetesses below, under the heading “.”
- Four Early English Poetesses. Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle; Katherine Philips (“Orinda”); Aphra Behn (“Astræa”); Anne, Countess of Wilchilsea (“Ardelia”). Selected Poetry (Hull: J.R. Tutin, Albert Avenue, 1908).
- Ibid., 5–6.
- A treasury of seventeenth century English verse from the death of Shakespeare to the restoration (1616–1660), ed. H. J. Massingham (London, Macmillan and co., limited, 1919).
- “The Elf Queen’s delight,” Boosey’s Modern Festival Series, no. 208 (London: Boosey & Co., Ltd., 1926).
- The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse, ed. D.B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee (New York: Capricorn Books, 1930; repr. New York: New York Review of Books, 2003).
- The Atomic Poems of Margaret (Lucas) Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, from her Poems, and Fancies, 1653, an electronic edition, ed. Leigh Tillman Partington (Atlanta, GA: Lewis H. Beck Center, Emory University, 1996), http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/179qb.
- Selected Poems of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, ed. Ron Cooley (September 3, 1998), http://www.usask.ca/english/phoenix/cavendishlist.htm.
- Early Modern Women’s Writing, ed. Paul Salzman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
- Paper Bodies: A Margaret Cavendish Reader, ed. Sylvia Bowerbank and Sara Mendelson (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2000).
- Early Modern Women Poets (1520–1700): An Anthology, ed. Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
- Seventeenth-Century British Poetry, 1603–1660, ed. John P. Rumrich and Gregory Chaplin (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2006). Cavendish’s poems appear on pp. 613–626. Their decision to use the 1664 edition as their base text appears to be because it was the revised edition; they do not seem to be aware of (or at least do not note in their chronology of major dates on p. 613) the third edition of 1668.
- Colin Burrow, Metaphysical Poetry (New York: Penguin, 2006), p. xliv.
- Women Poets of English Civil War, ed. Sarah C.E. Ross and Elizabeth Scott-Baumann (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018).
- The Norton Anthology of English Literature, ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Tenth Edition (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2018).
- Margaret Cavendish, ed. Michael Robbins (New York: New York Review of Books, 2019).