Study Guide

The Prologue Humility

By Anne Bradstreet

Humility

My obscure lines shall not so dim their worth. (6)

We think this is one of those moments (and there are a bunch of them in this poem) where it's hard to draw the line between humility and beating yourself up. Sure, no one likes a show-off, and you couldn't accuse our speaker of patting herself on the back. At the same time, maybe she takes it a little too far here. Because in fact, instead of being obscure, her lines are remembered and recited today, long after most of her male critics are completely forgotten. Then again, maybe this is just meant to throw her potential critics off, so she can go on writing about whatever she wants (which she does anyway).

My foolish, broken, blemished Muse so sings, (16)

If our speaker had a therapist, she might call this "negative self-talk." Seriously, Anne, what's with all the beating up on yourself? At times, it feels like she's drinking the woman-hating Kool-Aid she seems to be poking fun at.

Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours. (42)

This really isn't a lot to ask, is it? She doesn't want to be first or best or most famous. She just wants some "small acknowledgment." This is a pretty ingenious way for her to have her cake and eat it, too. She can be humble, but also ask for what is hers. She doesn't have to threaten or compete with the apparently very sensitive men of her day. She can be patient and humble and demure, like a Puritan wife should be, but also ask for some recognition of her special gifts.

Give thyme or Parsley wreath, I ask no Bays. (46)

Here we get another really great image of humility. She doesn't want glory, just the kind of recognition that would match her humble state as a woman. Still, we think it's really important to remember that there's all the difference in the world between asking for a modest prize and not asking for any prize at all. The mere fact of writing, for a woman in Bradstreet's position, is a mighty thing.

This mean and unrefined ore of mine
Will make your glist'ring gold but more to shine. (47-48)

Let's have one last parting shot, to put her nervous male readers at ease. Apparently they are so terribly threatened by the idea of a woman writer that she feels the need to calm them down a little. We think our speaker really believes that humility is a wonderful thing—it just also happens to be a great way to deal with worked-up guys and their cranky feelings.

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