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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.
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.
Bio of Bradstreet
This site, from The Poetry Foundation, has good biographical info on Anne B.
If you're interested in some background info on early colonial Massachusetts, here's a good place to start.
This lady dressed up like Anne Bradstreet to read her poetry in North Andover, MA—mad props for the commitment.
Charlotte Gordon on Bradstreet
Charlotte Gordon wrote a biography of Bradstreet called Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America's First Poet. Hear her talk about it on NPR.
Another Bradstreet Poem
Here's a really nice reading of "A Love Letter to Her Husband," in case you want a flavor of her other poems.
Check out her portrait here. What's she thinking about?
Title Page of The Tenth Muse
It's kind of cool to get a feeling for what this book would have looked like right off the press.
Anne Bradstreet's Grave
We don't have any authentic pictures of Bradstreet, or even an original gravestone. This marker was put up later.