What literary devices are most important in Anne Bradstreet's poem "The Author to Her Book"?

Anne Bradstreet combines the literary devices of apostrophe, personification, and extended metaphor in her poem "The Author to Her Book" as she directly addresses her book-child and describes its birth, growth, and presentation to the world.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Anne Bradstreet's poem "The Author to Her Book," serves as an extended metaphor in which she compares and author and her book to a mother and her child. The book is described as the author's "ill-form'd offspring," birthed from her mind, whose defects and flaws convert it...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Anne Bradstreet's poem "The Author to Her Book," serves as an extended metaphor in which she compares and author and her book to a mother and her child. The book is described as the author's "ill-form'd offspring," birthed from her mind, whose defects and flaws convert it into a source of shame for its mother, who addresses it as "My rambling brat." Bradstreet uses this metaphor to illustrate the connection between an author and their work even after it has been sent out into the world. She shows the author as someone who has raised and nurtured their works, but is also harshly critical of their faults, as the work's shortcomings reflect her own.

If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none:
And for thy Mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.

The author is responsible for the appearance of the child, and because she is "poor" in mind, possessing only a "feeble brain," she is unable to produce a book-child more fit for public viewing.

In comparing a book to a child, Bradstreet also makes good use of personification, a literary device in which human characteristics are figuratively attributed to nonhuman things. In an attempt to make her book more presentable for public view, the author cleans and tends it as one would a child.

I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joynts to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobling then is meet;
The book has a face, joints, and feet, and it is able to run and roam the earth, being sent "out of door" by its mother. The book has been made into a human child, capable of independence and possessing a body that can be tended to.
The final literary device that Bradstreet most notably employs is apostrophe, a device in which an address is made to a person who is not present or to a personified object, such as the book-child. The entire poem is, as the title implies, an address from the author to her book, in which she speaks to it as if it can hear her, such as warning it to stay out of the hands of "Criticks" and instead seek out places where it has not been encountered yet.
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In her poem “The Author to Her Book,” Anne Bradstreet reveals herself to be a master of apostrophe, personification, and extended metaphor.

Apostrophe is a literary device in which the speaker addresses an inanimate object as though it were a human being. Bradstreet addresses her book like this. She speaks directly to the book throughout the poem.

Further, Bradstreet personifies her book through an extended metaphor. This book is her “ill-form'd offspring,” she says in the first line. Then she continues this comparison of the book with a child throughout the poem. The book-child springs from her “feeble brain,” and then remains at her side after birth before it is snatched away by friends and put on display, made up in “raggs” (i.e., published).

The author is embarrassed that her book-child, her “rambling brat (in print),” is sent out in the world in such a way, for she considers it “unfit for light,” its face “irksome” to her. All she sees in that book is errors.

Yet over time, her affection for this book-child grows, for it is hers. She seeks to fix its blemishes. She washes its face and rubs off its spots, yet she always discovers further defects. She tries to stretch the book-child's joints and make its feet even (notice the wordplay on “feet,” which refers both to physical feet and poetic feet). Still, though, she only has “home-spun Cloth” in which to dress the book-child.

The author then sends out her book-child into the world to roam among “Vulgars” (the common folk) and “Criticks.” The book-child's mother is, after all, poor, and that's why she has to send her offspring “out of door.”

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Another poetic device which is central to this poem is Anne Bradstreet's use of apostrophe.  Apostrophe is when the narrator speaks to something that is nonliving as though it were living and could respond.  In this case, the narrator of the poem is speaking to her published book (a very imperfect "child" of her brain rather than her body, a comparison she makes via metaphor), as though that book could hear and react to her.  It is a sort of mild form of personification.

In addition to comparing her text to a flawed child of her own mind, Bradstreet also compares herself, via metaphor, to an imperfect mother. She says, for example, "In better dress to trim thee was my mind, / But nought save homespun cloth i’ th’ house I find."  She would have liked to have been able to make her text better, literally, but she was only able to "dress it" in homely cloth, figuratively, because that is all she has access to: she identifies the homeliness and limits of her own mind as the cause of her text's flaws.  The "child" is imperfect because the mind that produced it is, likewise.  Then, in the final lines of the poem, she instructs her text/child, "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."  In other words, the text has no father and only a mother who is lacking, and this is why, though she would like to have put something better out into the world, she was unable.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In her poem "The Author to Her Book" Anne Bradstreet bemoans the quality of her work that has been exposed to the public because "alas [she] is poor."  Most importantly, the poem is written as an extended metaphor in which her literary endeavor is compared to "an ill-formed offspring," a child that has defects.  Bradstreet blushes at the return of her cast-off child whose appearance was "so irksome" in her sight, conveying her embarrassment that the work that "friends, less wise than true," have had published.

Within this extended metaphor, of course, there are other metaphors.  For instance, Bradstreet writes that she "washed" the face of the book, meaning she made attempts at improving its appearance and content, but in "rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw," in correcting one error she commits others.  The use of these metaphors describing her actions upon the book certainly personify the work as a child with an "irksome" face and "hobbling" legs that are metaphors also for the sequence of plot events.  The last line contains both personification and metaphor as the child/book (personification) is sent out of the door (metaphor), meaning it is put out for publication.  And "door" is an example of metonymy in which the door represents the whole house.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team