Anne Bradstreet’s poem, “The Prologue,” portrays the struggles of being a woman in a Puritan society. She realized that in a Puritan society, women were not meant to speak their mind and have strong opinions. With this poem she acknowledges her role as a woman in society even if she doesn’t agree with it. Anne Bradstreet shows her recognition of men’s supposed superiority in that time period with this line: “Men can do best, and women know it well” (40). Regardless of her acknowledgment of her role in society, she uses her poetry to convey her feelings and opinions about it through honesty and humor.
Anne Bradstreet lived in a time where women were meant to keep quite and tend to the children and home. She wrote “The Prologue” during this time to express her opinion on a woman’s voice in society. She wrote in an atmosphere in which women were relegated to traditional roles. When reading this poem it is clear to see that Anne Bradstreet valued knowledge and intellect because she was a free thinking. Some even considered her an early feminist. The voice throughout this poem is at times hard to determine. In the first half of the poem she is adhering to the roles of women and that men are better, Anne Bradstreet the prologue, The prologue anne bradstreet.
But then in the second half she has a voice and wants people to hear it by saying things like, “Men can do best, and women know it well / Pre-eminence in all and each is yours / yet grant some small acknowledgment of ours” (40-42). She wants for women to be accepted as intelligent and opinionated people as well. Thematically, Anne Bradstreet wrote about many different topics that are both extensive and varied. She wrote about things like culture, nature, religion, family, death and history (Cowell, 2008).
There are reasons why Anne Bradstreet wrote “The Prologue. I believe that Anne Bradstreet’s intentions were those of informing and speaking her mind. She realized that even if she had written a good poem, most people would assume that it was either stolen or that she just got lucky. Women were not given any credit for things other than keeping up the house and tending to the children. I think her point in writing “The Prologue,” was to use it as an avenue of venting. She couldn’t just say these things to just anyone and using a poem, a literary work, to convey her thoughts was maybe more tolerable in that society.
This poem elicits strangely varied responses regarding the tone and mood. Jane Donahue Eberwein of Oakland University proposes some interesting questions. Eberwin questions, “Is the poet humbly submissive or bitterly angry? Is she self-deprecating and self-denigrating, as some readers find, or a pre-feminist champion of her sex? ” I believe that Anne Bradstreet realized her place in society, but because she was educated she still challenged the idea of a women’s role in the Puritan society.
The tone of the poem shows in my opinion some resentment and anger towards the assumed role of a women along with the humor she portrays so well. Also, the foot and meter of this poem is iambic pentameter. To fully understand the atmosphere and circumstances that Anne Bradstreet wrote this poem, you need to understand the Puritan way of life and its direct effect on women. The Puritan religion believed that women should be mainly stay quiet and take care of the children and the home. More often women were taught to read so that they could read the Bible.
But there were few who learned to write because it was normal to think that there was no reason a woman should know how to write. Writing was known as a man’s activity and was not for the women. At times it was customary for women to be reminded in church by ministers that they were inferior to men (New England Goodwives, 2002). To be a Puritan woman during this time proposed many struggles, especially to be an educated writer. Anne Bradstreet was born to a family that believed in her education. She grew up in circumstances that were unusual to women of the time.
She was well educated and tutored in the areas of history, language and literature (Wikipedia, 2008). At a young age she married and went to the New World. Her husband and father became prominent figures at the Massachusetts Bay Colony as they both ended up serving as governor at one point (Woodlief, 2007). According to Ann Woodlief of Virginia Commonwealth University, Anne Bradstreet had a friend named Anne Hutchinson who was a very outspoken woman on the topics of religion and ethics. She eventually was labeled a Jezebel and was banished, then slain in an Indian attach in New York.
One would see why Anne Bradstreet was not quick to publish her works, especially her more personal work. Because Anne Bradstreet was a woman, she was not going to be taken seriously and was forced to adhere to her Puritan religion and society. It is important to understand the Puritan way of life and also Anne Bradstreet’s upbringing and her circumstances in the New World before analyzing the poem, “The Prologue. ” Once her religion and personal background are recognized, it is easier to comprehend the theme and overall idea of her poem.
The Prologue,” was never meant to introduce Bradstreet’s love poems or meditations. It was instead written specifically for “The Four Monarchies,” and was written to introduce historical surveys in the opening section of The Tenth Muse (Eberwein, 1981). In the first stanza Anne Bradstreet says, “To sing of wars, of captains, and of kings / Let poets and historians set these forth; / My obscure lines shall not so dim their worth” (1, 5-6). It’s interesting how she writes directly about subjects that she pointed out were only for poets and historians.
This first stanza shows the irony that is displayed throughout the entire poem. In the second stanza, Anne Bradstreet speaks of the “Great Bartas,” who is formally known as Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas. Du Bartas was known to be her favorite poet and she deeply respected him and emulated him at times. The third stanza she basically is explaining that readers should not expect too much from her as evidenced by these lines, “My foolish, broke, blemished Muse so sings; / All this to mend, alas, no art is able / Cause nature made it so irreparable” (16-18).
The fourth stanza shows Anna Bradstreet apologizing. The fifth stanza is the most honest stanza I think. She wrote “If what I do prove well, it won’t advance; / They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance” (29-30). She is saying that even if she wrote a good poem, most people would think that it was either stolen from a man or even written out of luck. The seventh stanza shows her admittance that men are at the top of the sociological pyramid and women are only there to compliment them.
The statement “Let Greeks be Greeks, and women what they are” (39) isn’t an acknowledgment of a deficient woman, but a plea for people to realize that women are very capable despite the suppression of patriarchy and Puritanism (Blackstock, 1997). But at the same time she asks for a little recognition as a woman too as shown in these two lines: “Pre-eminence in all and each is yours; / Yet grant some small acknowledgment of ours” (41-42). In the last stanza she is refers to the masters of poetry such as Du Bartas when she says “And O ye high-flown quills that soar in the skies” (43).
One line that is so interesting and maybe even humorous is this: “Give thyme or parsley wreath; / I ask no bays” (46). She wants her poetry to be recognized, not with the traditional bay laurel. She would rather a richer foliage than a kitchen herb (Eberwein, 1981). In ancient Greek times, Thyme symbolized vitality and courage, and was used to honor athletes and dead heroes (Wikipedia, 2008). Anne Bradstreet is saying that she wants to be recognized for her work. Anne Bradstreet was an intelligent woman trying to write poetry in a patriarchal, unimaginative world.
Even though she grew up having the luxury of an excellent education, she was still expected to live the life of a Puritan woman. She did not agree with the cultural bias towards women in her time. She was harshly criticized for being a female writer and still she kept writing. Her upbringing and her religion had a major effect on her writings and even the ability to release those writings to the public. Still she was persistent and would eventually be considered America’s first poet.