Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
- Whoops, looks like we spoke too soon. The speaker washed her child’s face, but all that did was reveal more “defects.”
- Then she tried “rubbing off a spot,” and that just made another “flaw”—it made things worse.
- We’ve told you at least three times, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tell you again: the speaker is talking about a book, which means she isn’t literally doing this. The washing and the rubbing are metaphors for various forms of editing and rewriting. The book is personified as a child that is dirty and gross.
- Unfortunately, there’s no cleaning up or fixing this child, at least not according to the speaker.
- Wait now, isn’t it just a matter of washing the dirt off a kid’s face? Eh, it’s more complicated than that.
- Have you ever tried to revise or rewrite an essay only to end up with something that looks worse? Or have you started editing your paper only to discover that there are way more problems than you thought?
- Yeah, that’s kind of how the speaker feels about her little book. Next time your teacher asks you to do a revision, just say you’re worried you’ll make it worse.
- (P.S. Don’t actually do that; you might get in trouble.)
I stretcht thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run'st more hobbling than is meet.
- The speaker continues to describe a metaphorical cleaning up or fixing of her book. This time, she says she “stretcht” the book’s “joints” in order to give it “even feet.”
- Despite her best efforts, however, the book “yet still” runs (“runst”) with a really bad hobble that just isn’t appropriate or fitting (“meet”).
- Okay, these lines need some ‘splaining, don’t they?
- First, this whole bit about “stretching” the book’s joints seems kind of violent. In a way, it kind of is. Something about it just reminds us of the rack, you know that old medieval torture device on which victims were “stretcht”?
- Rest assured, even though Bradstreet wrote this poem in the seventeenth century, she definitely was not talking about this.
- So what was she talking about then? Well, for starters, recall that the word “feet” here undoubtedly refers to poetic feet.
- Oh, so poems have little feet and can walk? Um, no. A “foot” is a term used to refer to a unit, or division, or beat, of a line of poetry. (Check out “Form and Meter” for more.)
- The implication is that the poems in the speaker’s book are imperfect, disjointed, not metrically even—perhaps some of the lines had 9 syllables, instead of, say, an even ten.
- The speaker claims to have stretched the lines—added syllables here and there—to make the poems more acceptable, more well-rounded.
- Now, even though the speaker really worked at fixing all the “feet” by stretching the book’s metaphorical joints (the book does not have real joints, remember), that wasn’t enough.
- For some reason, the poems in the book still seemed to “hobble,” which here is a metaphor for the way in which, to the speaker’s mind, the poems didn’t flow smoothly.
- Instead of nice, smooth, iambic pentameter lines, the speaker thinks the poems in her book just sounded off, hit or miss, stop and go, etc.
- Ironically, folks, these lines are, metrically speaking, pretty darn neat (“even”).
- Maybe Bradstreet isn’t as bad a poet as she keeps claiming here—just a thought.
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun cloth, i' th' house I find.
- We get more metaphorical descriptions of the editing process here. This time, it’s not stretching or washing, but dressing and clothing that are the metaphors.
- “Trim” means something like “decorate” or “adorn,” so the speaker says it was her “mind” (i.e., her intention) to outfit the poems in “better dress.”
- Unfortunately, she couldn’t find anything (“nought”) in the house except “home-spun cloth.”
- So, the speaker wanted to dress her book up in some fine lace and silk, but could only find some basic, homemade cloth. (This recalls the “rags” of line 5, by the way.)
- She wanted to make the poems look a lot nicer, a lot prettier, but she just didn’t have the means to do it.
- The “home-spun cloth” here seems to be a metaphor for the speaker’s talents or abilities when it comes to writing poetry, the “house” a metaphor for wherever such talents are lodged (in her brain, perhaps?).
- As with much of the rest of this poem, the speaker is beyond negative. She basically flat out says “I’m no good at writing poetry. I can’t find the right word. I can’t fix all the problems in here,” etc., etc.