Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
In this array, 'mongst vulgars may'st thou roam.
In critic's hands, beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known.
- The book looks really bad. We are again reminded of the “rags” of line 5, and the “home-spun cloth” of line 18.
- The speaker says the book’s “array,” or appearance, is so bad that it is best for it to “roam” or wander or make its away among “vulgars.”
- “Vulgar” here doesn’t really mean “obscene” or “gross,” but rather poor and uneducated—the lower classes, if you will.
- The book is junk, and will be totally at home with the junk of the social spectrum. It (the book) should be careful (“beware”) not to come into “critic’s [critics'] hands,” where it (again, the book) is not yet known.
- In other words, the book is no good. Remember, it is the “ill-formed” product of an obscure, unknown writer—well, unknown to the critics anyway.
- And those same critics (i.e., the reviewers) are sure to judge this unknown production very harshly.
- Hmm. Well, that might explain why the speaker is so adamant about keeping this grungy book away from those potentially cruel fellows.
- Interestingly, the speaker really gives the book a life of its own here. Somehow the book will be able to makes its way among the vulgar, or the critics, as it so chooses.
- Yes, once again we have personification. But why?
- Well, if the book has a life of its own, the author isn’t really responsible now is she? That’s one idea at least. Let’s read on…
If for thy father askt, say, thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.
- If asked about its father, the speaker instructs her book to say that it “hadst none.” If asked about its mother, well she’s poor, and that’s what “caused her” to send the book out the door.
- Well, this is weird. The book has no father, only a single mother who was so poor that she forced her child out.
- And she didn’t just force it out. She forced her out by selling her (she was poor, remember).
- Now hold on just a sec before you get all worked up and accuse this poet of being a human trafficker.
- This whole selling business refers to a book, not an actual child (child, you will recall, is a metaphor for the speaker’s book).
- Nonetheless, this all seems very mercenary and contradictory. For pretty much all the poem the speaker has been complaining about how bad the book is, how it shouldn’t be published.
- She even blamed everything, at the beginning of the poem, on her friends! Now, all of a sudden, she’s kind of acting like she sent the book out to be published because she needed money.
- So why this change of heart? Perhaps the whole process of writing this little dedicatory poem has made the speaker realize that her poems aren’t really that bad after all.
- Then again, maybe she doesn’t want anybody else to take credit for getting the poems published. We have no way of knowing the real answer.
- This business about taking credit goes hand in hand with all that stuff about the book having no father.
- Yeah, what’s with that anyway? Is the book’s father not in the picture anymore, or what?
- Well, like so much of this poem, this too is a metaphor—for the fact that the speaker wrote this whole book all by herself.
- In other words, she “gave birth” (we’re being metaphorical now) to a book, without any male intervention.
- Weird, weird, weird. Who does anything without at least some help?
- This is also bold, though, even more so when you consider that it sort of echoes women’s rights… in the seventeenth century.
- Wait, how’s that? Well, think about it. The speaker is a woman—a mother—who is claiming to have written this big ol’ book of poems without the help of any dudes.
- In other words, it’s like saying “Even though I’m a woman, I’m just as smart as any man and can write good, smart poems just as well.”
- If you’ve already read our “In a Nutshell” section, you’ll recall that the title of the book (The Tenth Muse) referred to in the poem (and which in its second edition contained the poem) is similarly bold.
- If you haven’t read our “In a Nutshell,” here’s the nutshell, in a nutshell: In Greek and Roman mythology, there were traditionally nine muses—deities of sorts that inspired art of all kinds.
- You can read all about them here.
- The author of The Tenth Muse suggests that her book is the newest member of this distinguished “ennead” (that’s a fancy word for a group of nine things).
- She’s implying that she, a female poet, is a powerful, inspirational figure, living across the Atlantic in the United States of America (instead of somewhere in Greece, where the muses traditionally lived).
- To summarize: the speaker makes a bold move in “The Author to Her Book,” and in the title of the whole collection, yet does so while apologizing (at least on the surface) for her poor work.