Featured Poem: The Prologue by Anne Bradstreet

To celebrate International Women’s Day (yesterday, 8th March) we have a picked a poem by Anne Bradstreet, probably one of the first feminist poets.

She was the daughter of Thomas Dudley, a steward of the Earl of Lincoln. She grew up in a literary environment and was very well-educated for her time. She married Simon Bradstreet at age sixteen. Anne and Simon, along with Anne’s parents, immigrated to America in 1630. Despite ill health, she had eight children and achieved a comfortable lifestyle in spite the constraints of the Puritan living.
She alludes to the role of women and to women’s attributes in many of her poems. She extols the virtues of female figures in her poems, such as Queen Elizabeth 1. In the following poem, she passes comment regarding those who may feel that writing poetry is not an acceptable occupation for a woman:

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits

If what I do prove well, it won’t advance,
They’ll says it’s stolen, or else if was by chance

Anne Bradstreet accepted the Puritan definition of the proper roles for men and women, although again, in this poem she asks that a women’s role is more highly acknowledged.

Men can do best, and women know it well,
Preeminence in all and each is yours;
Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours.

The Prologue

TO sing of Wars, of Captains, and of Kings,
Of Cities founded, Common-wealths begun,
For my mean pen are too superiour things:
Or how they all, or each their dates have run
Let Poets and Historians set these forth,
My obscure Lines shall not so dim their worth.

But when my wondring eyes and envious heart
Great Bartas sugar’d lines, do but read o’re
Fool I do grudg the Muses did not part
‘Twixt him and me that overfluent store;
A Bartas can, do what a Bartas will
But simple I according to my skill.

From school-boyes tongue no rhet’rick we expect
Nor yet a sweet Consort from broken strings,
Nor perfect beauty, where’s a main defect:
My foolish, broken, blemish’d Muse so sings
And this to mend, alas, no Art is able,
‘Cause nature, made it so irreparable.

Nor can I, like that fluent sweet tongu’d Greek,.
Who lisp’d at first, in future times speak plain
By Art he gladly found what he did seek
A full requital of his, striving pain
Art can do much, but this maxime’s most sure
A weak or wounded brain admits no cure.

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits,
A Poets pen all scorn I should thus wrong,
For such despite they cast on Female wits:
If what I do prove well, it won’t advance,
They’l say it’s stoln, or else it was by chance.

But sure the Antique Greeks were far more mild.
Else of our Sexe, why feigned they those Nine
And poesy made, Calliope’s own Child;
So ‘mongst the rest they placed the Arts Divine,
But this weak knot, they will full soon untie,
The Greeks did nought, but play the fools & lye.

Let Greeks be Greeks, and women what they are
Men have precedency and still excell,
It is but vain unjustly to wage warre;
Men can do best, and women know it well
Preheminence in all and each is yours;
Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours.

And oh ye high flown quills that soar the Skies,
And ever with your prey still catch your praise,
If e’er you daigne these lowly lines your eyes
Give Thyme or Parsley wreath, I ask no bayes,
This mean and unrefined ure of mine
Will make your glistring gold, but more to shine.

Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)

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