The Prologue Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Prologue” is Bradstreet’s apology for her book of poems. At first, it seems like an apology in the common sense of the word, for she refers to her “foolish, broken, blemished Muse” and begs elaborate pardon that her poems are not so fine as those of other poets, although she insists that she is doing the best she can. Upon closer inspection, “The Prologue” turns out to be an apology in the literary sense of a defense of her art. One of her favorite poets, Sir Philip Sidney, also referred to his own work condescendingly. This attitude has a special meaning when expressed by a woman writing in a New World Puritan outpost before 1650.

“The Prologue” is written in eight six-line iambic pentameter stanzas, using the rhyme scheme ababcc. Bradstreet begins by advising her reader that she has no ambition to write an elaborate, important poem such as an epic. She lauds the sixteenth century French poet du Bartas but notes that her work will be much simpler. She hopes it will not be judged too harshly, for her ability is severely limited.

In the second half of the poem, she modifies her defense. She acknowledges that men expect women to practice feminine arts such as needlework and refuse to recognize any value in a woman’s poem. She intimates that the Greeks, in making the Muses feminine, had more regard for feminine creativity but concedes that this argument will not convince the men. She then concludes with two stanzas confessing the superiority of male poets but asking “some small acknowledgment” of women’s efforts. After all, Bradstreet’s “lowly lines” will simply make men’s poetry look better by comparison.

Even read literally, as it often has been...

(The entire section is 708 words.)

The Prologue Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cowell, Pattie, and Ann Stanford, eds. Critical Essays on Anne Bradstreet. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.

Dolle, Raymond F. Anne Bradstreet: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.

Hammond, Jeffrey. Sinful Self, Saintly Self. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993.

Harde, Roxanne. “’Then Soul and Body Shall Unite’: Anne Bradstreet’s Theology of Embodiment.” In From Anne Bradstreet to Abraham Lincoln: Puritanism in America, edited by Michael Schuldiner. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004.

Martin, Wendy. An American Triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.

Scheick, William J. Authority and Female Authorship in Colonial America. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998.

Stanford, Ann. Anne Bradstreet: The Worldly Puritan. New York: Burt Franklin, 1974.

White, Elizabeth Wade. Anne Bradstreet: The Tenth Muse. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.