The Author To Her Book Ap Essay Grading
Massachusetts, 1642—a devoted Puritan wife and mother has a taken to writing poetry in her spare time, most likely because, well, she’s read so much of it, and in so many languages, that she thought she’d try her hand at it. While she uses some of her poems for teaching purposes in the small school that serves her community, the rest she keeps quietly tucked away. A Puritan writing poetry, not to mention a woman? Now that was definitely not very seemly. At least, that’s how most folks looked at it.
At some point in 1647, one of this woman’s sneaky relatives discovers the poems while rummaging in the young woman’s desk (why he was doing that, we have no idea). He peruses them, realizes they are exceptional, copies them out, takes them with him to London and has them published three years later in 1650.
Neat story, huh? You could probably make a movie out of it. It’s true too. At least, for several hundred years that has been the accepted story of the publication of Anne Bradstreet’s first (and only—at least during her lifetime) book of poems, entitled The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America. (The title is actually much, much longer; you can check it out here.) Anyway, the story goes that Bradstreet’s brother-in-law, one Thomas Woodbridge, stole the poems, or copied them, and then had them published in England in 1650, much to his sister-in-law’s dismay (so it seems). (Still, some people don’t buy this story in its entirety.)
So, why didn’t Bradstreet go ahead and publish those poems if they were so great? Well, as we said, that wouldn’t have been very appropriate. On top of that, however, we suspect that Bradstreet wasn’t very proud of her poems, or felt that they weren’t good enough, or was more concerned about raising her children in, and teaching others about, Puritan ideals than selling books of poetry. A lot of this stuff—the theft of the book, fears about her artistic ability—appears in “The Author to Her Book,” a poem that was first published in 1678 (after Bradstreet’s death) in a collection that is sometimes referred to as the “second edition” of the Tenth Muse, even though it was just called Several Poems. You can check out a very fine version of this later volume right here.
The biggest irony about this whole business, however, is the book’s title. For a poet that wanted to keep quiet, and wasn’t interested in publishing, the branding of herself as the tenth muse is pretty darn bold. In Greek and Roman mythology, the muses were a group of nine deities that inspired art of all kinds (painting, sculpture, poetry, drama, etc.). Even after the Greek and Roman cultures were wiped out, the whole idea of being inspired by a muse continued. Anyway, Bradstreet’s title says, essentially, “I’m not just any old poet, I’m the newest muse, and I live here in America.” It’s both a claim to superior artistic ability (I’m on par with the patron deities of art) and a claim to American, as opposed to European, artistic fertility (America as the new place for great poetry).
Ever sing in the shower? Doodle in a notebook? How about danced in a mirror when you knew no one was looking? Sure you have. We’ve all been there, Shmoopers. The question is, why not do those same things in front of other folks? Why not put your talents out on display?
Well, we’re guessing that one reason is that cranky, little, invisible gnome who sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear that you’re not good enough. Sure, you’d love to tell him to stuff his hat where the sun don’t shine, but honestly it’s not an easy thing to do, right?
Well, if you’ve ever had an experience even remotely like this, you know EXACTLY how the speaker of “The Author to Her Book” feels. Sure, this poem is about an author, who wrote a book of poems, but clearly her feelings about her poems are the same as yours towards your own talents: a sense that they aren’t quite good enough, that no amount of revision can make them better, and an extreme fear of showing them to anybody.
Never been much of a poet, or an artist? That’s no matter. The sentiments of our little artist and the speaker of “The Author to Her Book” can apply in any number of situations. Let’s say you’re an amateur chef, or baker. Well, making cakes and cooking stir fry require a certain amount of artistry. Perhaps you’re shy when it comes to letting people try your food, for fear that they’ll either gag or only pretend to like it. What if your mother stole some of your cookies that you had just made and let the neighbor lady taste them? You wouldn’t be happy, would you?
Here’s the bottom line: We are all our own worst critics, and no more so than when it comes to anything that can be remotely considered artistic (cooking, baking, origami, knitting—whatever). It’s frustrating to feel like we can’t make anything better (by our own standards), and it’s especially frustrating when somebody decides share our business without asking. Just ask the speaker of “The Author to Her Book.”
The poet writes about the experience of looking at her book for the first time, which she describes as the "ill-form'd offspring" of her weak brain. It was always by her side after its birth but then, friends took it abroad and exposed it to public view. It went to the press "in rags," and its errors remained uncorrected.
Now that the book has returned to her, the poet blushes at her "rambling brat." At first, she thinks it is hateful to her sight, and she tries to wipe off its blemishes, but to no avail. The more she washes its face, the more flaws appear. She tries to level its uneven feet, but it still hobbles. She had hoped to dress it better, but it is in "home-spun cloth" that she found in the house.
She hopes that the book does not fall into a critic's hand or go to places where it ought not to go. If anyone asks if the book has a father, the book will tell them no, and if they ask if it has a mother, the book should tell them that her mother is poor and that is why she sent the book away.
“The Author to Her Book” is one of Anne Bradstreet’s most personal and memorable poems. Although she writes the verse in a lucid way, the poem is much more complicated than it initially seems. It offers many interesting insights into the role of the female poet, her psychology, and the historical context of the work. Bradstreet wrote the poem in iambic pentameter. The poem expresses Bradstreet's feelings about her brother-in-law’s publication of some of her poems in 1650, which she was not aware of until the volume was released.
Using the metaphor of motherhood, she describes the book as her child. Like a protective mother, she notes that the volume was “ill-form’d” and snatched away from her before it was ready for independence. The “friends” who took it were “less wise than true,” meaning that while their actions were careless, these people certainly did not have malicious intentions. Now that the work has been published without giving the poet time to correct any errors, it is out in the world at the same time that it is back in her hands.
At first, she describes the newly bound volume as “irksome in my sight,” unable to ignore the flaws she wished she had the opportunity to address. She wishes she could present her work in its best form but that is now impossible - she describes washing its face but still seeing dirt and marks. However, the poet cannot help but feel affection for the book, because it is hers - even though it is incomplete.
Critic Randall Huff points out that in this poem, Bradstreet uses contemporary terms culled from the book-publishing industry. For example, the “rags” in which the child was sent to the press may refer to the “high rag content of most paper at the time; it was the expensive product of a labor-intensive process and usually superior in many ways to most paper being produced today.”
At the end of the poem, Bradstreet accepts that her poetry is now out in the world. She hopes people will understand that she did not mean it to be academic or portentous. She takes responsibility for her work, and, as Huff writes, "in developing such maternal analogies, Bradstreet demonstrates that poetry, and especially its creation, is something that women can do."
Critic Eileen Margerum delves further into the matter of Bradstreet's thoughts on poetry and, specifically, poetry written by women. She writes that Bradstreet was proud to be a poet and did not consider it sinful or unrighteous to undertake such an endeavor. By the time The Tenth Muse was published and Bradstreet penned "The Author to Her Book," she was a mature poet. In this poem, she "deals with correcting the poems, not condemning their creator." She sees herself as more than a DuBartas acolyte or a woman beholden to her influential father (see "The Prologue" for more on this subject).