by Anne Bradstreet
The Prologue Introduction
In A Nutshell
Anne Bradstreet knew that life can be hard. She wrote as movingly as anyone about sorrow, death, and loss. (She definitely had a happy side, too—we here at Shmoop especially love her poems about married life, like "To My Dear and Loving Husband".) What's great about Bradstreet is the way she faces that difficulty with such courage and honesty. She lets you see her working through her feelings in her poems, struggling with her insecurity, her fear, and her sadness. That's not always real cheerful, but we think it's hugely powerful. We all feel the sting of life sometimes, and having someone else talk it out in a poem can be a great way to heal.
Bradstreet's own life certainly wasn't super-easy. She left the comforts of her home in England and crossed the Atlantic to settle in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 when she was only eighteen. There, despite the sickness and trouble of colonial life, she managed to give birth to eight children and become the first published woman poet in America. (That sort of makes us wonder what we've been doing with our time.) The book that "The Prologue" comes from (The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung up in America, published in 1650) was submitted to publishers in London without Bradstreet knowing it, by her brother-in-law John Cambridge.
On the one hand, maybe that was the push she needed to start publishing. On the other hand, it's a reminder that it was hard for a woman to do much in public in Bradstreet's society without a man getting involved. And that's what this poem is all about (one challenge among the many that she dealt with in her life): how to be a female poet in a man's world.
Why Should I Care?
At its core, this is a poem about taking risks. It's about a feeling we've all had, those jitters you get before you do something scary for the first time. With "The Prologue," Anne Bradstreet was stepping out into a scary and hostile world of public writing. Before, her thoughts and poems might have been private. Now, all of a sudden, they're going to be exposed to the world. We think that "edge of the diving board" moment is something we can all relate to—the fear of the brink, and then the pure thrill of jumping off. Sure, the woman in this poem might have particular problems that have to do with her era. What really counts for us, though, is the timeless joy of that moment where you step over the line, where you say "Hey! I'm here, and I'm worth paying attention to!"
We don't want to bum you out, but this is still a world with its share of prejudice, where people might try to pull you down because of how you look or speak, or where you're from. That's why we're rooting for people like Anne Bradstreet. They're not always the obvious rebels (she definitely wasn't), but the quiet courage of their self-expression is one of the things that really make poems matter. If you want to root along with us for the underdog, this is definitely the poem for you.