Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did'st by my side remain,
- The poem opens with an apostrophe. No, no, we don’t mean the punctuation mark, but a direct form of address, as in “oh, Christmas tree,” or, as here, “thou ill-formed offspring.”
- So, this is a poem that is addressed to something. Now even though we get the word “offspring,” this poem is not about the speaker’s child.
- Well, it’s not about a human child, but rather an intellectual or artistic child: the book that this poem, presumably, introduces and is about.
- The poem is the speaker’s address to her book (and we’re just assuming it’s a she), which she describes in these first lines as the “ill-formed” product of her “feeble brain.”
- Sheesh, enough self-deprecation isn’t there? Yeah, definitely. The speaker seems to have some confidence issues about her writing.
- However, this whole “my work is garbage and my brain isn’t good enough” business also used to be something of a convention, especially among young authors.
- You weren’t supposed to be like, “thou incredible, awesome offspring of my genius,” after all. That would be arrogant, especially for a new poet or artist. It would be like a rookie athlete boasting about how awesome he was before ever proving himself.
- Anyway, the speaker uses a metaphor and compares her book to a child that she gave birth to and that, after being born, remained by her side.
- Note that these first two lines aren’t a complete sentence, only part of a longer sentence. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to it in a minute.)
- Basically, this is all set-up, a description of the book about which we will surely learn more very soon. As in… right now.
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad exposed to public view,
- Aha. So the speaker gave birth to a book of poems—this is a metaphor for “wrote” a book of poems.
- This book remained by her side until her friends snatched it from there (“thence”). As a result, the speaker describes those same friends as “less wise than true.”
- A puzzling little phrase, this seems to mean they acted stupidly (“less wise”) but they did it because they were trying to help her—trying to be “true” friends.
- Anyway, her pals took this book, and then took it “abroad” and “exposed” it to “public view.” Now, we know it sounds like the speaker means they took the book out in public somewhere and held it up for everybody to see, but this isn’t really what she means.
- Only, it sort of is. She means that they took it abroad and had it published, which is exactly what happened with Bradstreet’s first book, The Tenth Muse.
- She wasn’t planning on publishing all the poems that make up that volume, but, thankfully, her brother-in-law snatched the book without her knowledge and had it published in England in 1650.
- Now, did you notice how “who” and “thee” are right next to each other in the line? In normal speech, we would probably say “who exposed thee abroad to public view” or “exposed thee to public view abroad.”
- Putting the object of the verb “exposed” (“thee”) before the verb is a, well, very poetic way of speaking. It also, however, shows that there is a very close relationship between the book (“thee”) and the friends.
- Finally, so far every group of two lines rhyme, and this will continue for the whole poem. In other words, we have a poem composed entirely in heroic couplets of iambic pentameter. Huh? Check out “Form and Meter” for more on that stuff.
Made thee in rags, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
- Well, apparently the speaker isn’t done talking about her little book’s journey “abroad.” Her friends also made the book “trudge” to the “press” (i.e., the printing press, where the book would have been printed and bound) in “rags.”
- Okay, obviously the speaker is being very figurative here. The book wasn’t actually trudging or wearing rags.
- The personification here (trudging, rags) is meant to make the book seem like a piece of junk.
- It’s not dressed up all nice and neat, but wearing rags. It’s not in great shape either, which is why it is trudging (and not, say, walking erect and stately).
- The point the speaker is making is that her book wasn’t ready to be printed yet, or it wasn’t up to her standard. It would be like somebody taking a rough draft of your blog entry and posting it on Facebook.
- Normally, you would think errors and things like that would be emended at the publishing house.
- Well that wasn’t the case with this book; at the “press,” the “errors” were not lessened, as all who read the book may judge.
- Well sheesh, these don’t sound like very nice friends after all.