Where It All Goes Down
The speaker of this poem doesn’t give us a whole lot to go on by way of setting. All those references to revising her work and trying to fix it, however, make us think that she is in her house somewhere, working at a desk, or on a writing pad, or… yeah, wherever one revises poems. Now this is Bradstreet we’re talking about here, so let’s put this house in a real, historical setting, and see how that looks.
If you’ve read our “In a Nutshell,” you know that Bradstreet was living in Massachusetts when she wrote this poem, so we’ve got the East Coast. Before you get all excited about this, however, remember this was the 1640s. There was no Red Sox, no New England Patriots, no MIT—basically none of the cool stuff you associate with Massachusetts now. No, it was still rather sparsely populated, and the Bradstreets were part of a small Puritan community. Religion was a really big deal—like, the center of existence in a way that is hard for us to understand now. If you peek at some of Bradstreet’s other poems here you will see how often God, religion, and the like occupied her artistic life.
This backdrop goes a long way in explaining one of the central puzzles of this poem: Is the speaker really trying to downplay her abilities as a poet? Or is she trying to toot her own horn as a female author? If we read this poem on the surface, then clearly the speaker is just down on herself and her book. However, she does clearly mention that this book has a mother and no father. So, in that way, she may be taking a serious (if underhanded) dig at the prevailing attitudes of Bradstreet’s day, in which women were not considered equals to men. This was particularly the case when it came to writing and poetry.