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"The Prologue" by Anne Dudley (or Anne Bradstreet) is a poem in eight stanzas which utilizes a regular rhyme scheme (ABABCC) and meter. Its subject is writing and the capacity of women to write, something which was in doubt at the time this poem was penned.

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In the first stanza, Dudley describes the various "lofty" things—including wars, kings, and grand political events—for which her pen is too "mean." She suggests that writing of these things is for historians and true poets and that she would never demean these subjects with her writing.

She goes on, however, to express her envy that her own skill is inadequate in comparison to that of others. She wishes the "Muses" had granted her more—but also notes that it is unfair of people to expect too much of her. Schoolboys, she states, would never be expected to produce perfect rhetoric, nor a broken string instrument good music. Dudley suggests that nobody should expect perfection of her, because her own muse is "broken" too.

The picture Dudley paints of herself is exceptionally lowly—unlike Demosthenes, she is too "wounded" mentally to be cured. However, she goes on to state that she is "obnoxious," nevertheless, to those who say women should not write but should sew instead. She states that "female wits" are thought so little of that if Dudley were to do well, people would say she had stolen her work or it had happened "by chance." Effectively, she is suggesting that men not only think women inferior and want women to think their own work inferior, but that men also want women to be inferior, because, otherwise, it threatens them.

Dudley tries to change this viewpoint by addressing it directly. She asks men to let women "be what they are," saying that men will always "excel" and have "precedency" but that it would still be nice for them to give some "acknowledgement" to women's skill, too. Indeed, if men allow women to write, the "gold" of their work (if it is indeed so much better than women's) will simply shine more next to the raw "ore" of women's output.

Summary

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“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 read, this poem displays clever strategy. How could any fair-minded person expect competent poetry from...

(The entire section contains 1194 words.)

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