Study Guide

The Prologue Sound Check

By Anne Bradstreet

Sound Check

There's something about the rhythm of this poem just kind of relaxes us. The sound of it rolls along at a smooth and steady pace, like little waves, lapping on the shore. Here, we'll explain (you know, in case that sounds a little spacy). Try a little experiment with us: read the first stanza fast, at galloping speed. We'll wait right here.

See? It just sounds wrong, doesn't it? Now try slowing it down. Do you feel how the meter wants to find its own gentle speed, just like quiet waves? Of course, we talk over in "Form and Meter" about how the poem's use of iambic pentameter helps with that evenly spaced rhythm. Still, check out a line like: "And this to mend, alas, no Art is able" (17). The words are short, but open and rounded. That's thanks to the large number of A's hanging out in this line, creating a kind of assonance that forces your mouth open if you read this out loud. (Just try it and you'll see what we mean.) There are also a ton of S's here, a soft-sounding stream of consonance that relaxes the ear like a quiet sigh.

We think the gentle sound of the lines are there for a reason. After all, the speaker is trying to calm down the critics who she thinks might attack her. She's refusing to wage war—instead she wants to soothe her enemies, to make them feel like she isn't a threat. Check out how that works here: "Let Greeks be Greeks, and Women what they are" (37). We think that alliteration of G sounds (which in this case is just "Greeks" repeated) has a kind of lullaby effect. And the phrase "women what they are" (note the repeated W's) sounds smooth and calm and rounded to us. Bradstreet uses the sounds of her poem to make the point she's making in this line: "Shh… calm down, poems won't hurt you." A woman with eight children would know what sounds would calm down a baby, and if her critics are behaving like babies, she's got just the soothing tones to deal with them.

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