The Author to Her Book

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save homespun cloth i’ th’ house I find.
In this array ‘mongst vulgars may’st thou roam.
In critic’s hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.

Footnotes

  1. With a book so flawed and unrefined, the speaker insinuates that its readers must be “vulgars,” or people lacking sophistication or taste. As such, the book is doomed to “roam,” or circulate, around a lower echelon of readers since people of finer sophistication would be quick to notice its flaws or failings.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. This line extends the clothing metaphor. The speaker now views her book-child as plain and lacking, dressed only in “homespun cloth.” This line connects to the previous reference “rags,” because books in the 1600s were made with varying ratios of cotton and pulp. The speaker’s comparison of homespun cloth may suggest either that her book has been printed on cheap, low-quality paper, or, conversely, that the language used is plain or barren, much to her dissatisfaction. Since Puritan ideology states that luxury or sensual pleasures are sinful temptations that harm the path to God, this line appears strangely at odds with Bradstreet’s Puritan beliefs: she despairs the lack of adornment or decoration present in the work of her published volume.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. This is another example of double meaning. In the practice of sewing, the verb “to trim” means to apply ornament or embellishment to either clothing or furniture. When applying this meaning to writing, to trim a book may mean to add further ornamental detail or language. From this line, we see that the author had wished to “trim” her book in better dress, or to add further detail before publication, but was prohibited from doing so.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The verb to amend means to make changes or improvements, often within a written text. Its use here is yet another example of language that can be used to refer to a book and to a child. In this context, the speaker aims to amend the already-published text in much the same way as one would attempt to clean a grubby child. However, the book is already published, and the speaker finds her attempts ultimately fruitless.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The speaker changes tone here indicating that she still holds affection for her book although she is unhappy with the state in which it was published. The speaker compares her affection for her book to the unconditional love of a parent for their child. This change in tone is reflected by the use of a spondee (a double stress) which creates emphasis on ‘mine’ and ‘own.’ By emphasizing these two words, the speaker subverts the meter of the poem and draws attention to the overarching importance of the book to its author. Regardless of the circumstances of its publication, the written work is still the beloved creation of its author.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The phrase “even feet” plays on the double meaning of feet. It is both the anatomy of the metaphorical infant as well as the metrical feet of the poem. “Even feet” in this case would refer to iambic pentameter—alternating between unstressed and stressed syllables. The phrase “more hobbling than is meet” offers another pun. “Meet” means proper or decorous, but also sounds like “meter,” as in the poetic meter to which Bradstreet’s speaker hopes to shape the poem.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. The noun visage is a person’s face or facial features. The use of visage here describes the ‘face’ of the book as irksome, meaning irritating or annoying to its author. Thus, while this line uses older Elizabethan vocabulary, its meaning is relatively simple: the book is irritating to look at for the author. We may deduce from earlier lines that this irritation is due to its perceived imperfections or flaws, which causes the author to recoil from it in disgust. This line furthers the exasperated tone of the speaker as one disgusted by the flawed product of her own making, thus unfit or unready for release into the outside world.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. The verb “to trudge” can mean walking slowly with heavy steps, often due to exhaustion or reluctance. Here, the use of “trudge” suggests that the book was reluctant to be published in its current state. By projecting such emotions onto the book, the speaker further personifies it as an ill-kept child, unready for the outside world.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The word “rags” here has a deliberate double meaning. First, it literally describes clothes, illustrating the book (“child”) as poorly dressed and ill kept. In addition, rags also serves as a wordplay on the book-publishing industry—more specifically, on the quality of printing paper, which was referred to as “rag content.”’ In Elizabethan times, cotton rags were the principal material used in the book-making process. Paper with a high-rag content had a higher ratio of cotton fiber to pulp, and therefore the clothing was of better quality.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. In this line, the “press” refers to the printing press to which the unfinished poem goes in “halting” fashion. The poem’s “halting,” or unfinished, quality is expressed by the line’s halting meter: the line is composed of iambs, except for the word “halting” itself, which is a trochee (a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable). This is an example of a clever and intentional shift in meter.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Bradstreet moved from England to Massachusetts in 1630. In 1647, Bradstreet’s brother-in-law Rev. John Woodbridge took her first volume of poems, entitled The Tenth Muse, back to England for publication. This was done without the knowledge and permission of Bradstreet, who regarded the volume unfinished and unready for publication. Bradstreet’s Puritan faith would have been at odds with her role as a writer, due to the Puritanical belief that the female role was solely in the domestic household as a wife and a mother. It is unclear if Bradstreet ever truly intended to have the poems published at all or if she wished to downplay her ambitions as an author due to these Puritanical beliefs. Nevertheless, The Tenth Muse brought Bradstreet major acclaim and made her the first poet of English verse to be published in the British colonies.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. This poem is comprised of a series of heroic couplets: pairs of rhyming lines in iambic pentameter. The use of this orderly rhyme scheme emphasizes the poet’s deliberate control over her language; mirroring the poem’s thematic exploration of the relationship between author and written work.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. The phrase “cast thee by” means that the speaker would throw away or reject her child. This action might be seen as subversive in a puritanical society, where the woman’s duty was to raise children and keep the household in order. In rejecting this child, the speaker both defies her social position and takes responsibility for its existence; it is just as much her fault for casting the child away as it is for her misguided friends to steal it from her. This type of thinking reflects Puritan ideology, which held that humans are innately sinful in all actions because of Adam and Eve’s original sin.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. The parenthetical aside “(in print)” reminds the reader that she is talking about a piece of writing, not an actual child. This reminder comes directly before the speaker’s most audacious claim that she would “cast thee,” or throw away, this child because she did not like it—a claim that might otherwise make the speaker unsympathetic to her audience.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the noun “brat” was used to refer to a child that was insignificant or of questionable parentage. It was generally used to show contempt for the child.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. In the era in which Bradstreet wrote, every-day clothing was generally made in the home instead of bought at a store. It was a mother’s job to dress her family and keep them warm. Here, the speaker dresses her metaphorical child in “rags,” or threadbare clothing that has been tattered by overuse and time. The disheveled appearance of this child would reflect badly on the mother tasked with clothing it; in other words, the rags are a sign of the speaker’s failures as a mother.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. The pronouns “thee” and “thou” are archaic forms of singular “you” that showed familiarity or a close, personal relationship between two people. Notice that the speaker addresses her book with this pronoun to show their familiarity even though she seems to have cast it aside.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. Notice the forgiving tone with which Bradstreet introduces this betrayal. She calls the people who took her work from her “friends” and characterizes their decision as “less wise than true.” This phrase suggests that they took her work because they were unwise or foolish, not because they had truly malicious intentions. While a modern reader might see “snatched” as connoting violence or stealing, the word in Bradstreet’s time meant obtained in a hasty manner. This original definition builds on the idea that these “friends” took the manuscript hurriedly, without thinking; it suggests carelessness rather than malevolence.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. Notice that Bradstreet uses conventional gender roles from her time period in order to create an extended metaphor comparing her book to a child. In 17th-century Puritan society, women’s duty in society was primarily to bear and raise children. Here, Bradstreet conceptualizes her book as a child in order to express her close relationship with her work, its importance, and also to frame her argument in terms that her audience might understand.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff