While we always warn you Shmoopers not to confuse the speaker with the poet him- or herself, we can say at least that we’re dealing with a female author. That’s who the speaker of this poem is, in two words. And she’s not just any old author, but a poetess who knows a thing or two about the trials and tribulations of writing. While she’s a little on the self-deprecating side (all that business about “defects” and feeble brains and irksomeness), she clearly knows how hard it is to write (it’s like raising a child, in her apt metaphor) and what a huge pain revision can be. About halfway through the poem, for example, she compares revising her poems to attempting to wash the face of her child. No matter how hard she tries, however, she just can’t get the dirt off—just can’t get the poems fixed up in a way she likes.
This speaker isn’t any old woman, but a smart, seventeenth-century lady (actually, kind of a lot like Anne Bradstreet when you think about it). While she complains about not being good enough, the fact of the matter is she is good enough. Her command of form and meter alone shows that she knows a thing or two about poetry. (Head over to “Form and Meter” for more on that one.)
Not only does she know a thing or two about poetry, she’s familiar with the western literary tradition more generally. Remember all that business about not being good enough? While she may really feel poorly about her work, that stuff about being no good is, or rather was, a popular literary convention, which means lots of other famous writers used to do it in their work.
If the speaker is smart, she’s also a little bold. While at first she seems kind of modest about presenting her work to the public (she’s not happy with her friends for stealing it, remember), near the end she kind of changes her mind and basically says she sold it because she needed the money. Oh, and she also tells the book to say it has no father.
Woah! Wait a second. Think about this. In the seventeenth century, a woman with a child and no father anywhere in sight was a BIG DEAL. That could get you in serious trouble. Granted, the speaker isn’t being literal when she says that, but to claim that kind of self-sufficiency (“I’m smart and wrote all these poems with no male help or input whatsoever”) would have been pretty brave. Heck, it’d be pretty brave now, come to think about it. Women who talked too much, and too boldly, didn’t always have it so good in seventeenth-century America. Just read about Bradstreet’s contemporary Anne Hutchinson to see what we mean.