Study Guide

The Prologue Memory and The Past

By Anne Bradstreet

Memory and The Past

To sing of Wars, of Captains, and of Kings,
Of Cities founded, Common-wealths begun, (1-2)

The way our speaker tells it, these are the really great subjects for poetry. In line three she calls them "superior." Where does this idea that poems about the past are the best come from? Well, that's what a lot of the really famous classical poems (like the Aeneid, the Iliad and the Odyssey) are all about. She probably has those kinds of big, manly poems in mind. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, and even for people in Bradstreet's time, poetry was a major way of keeping in touch with your history.

Nor can I, like that fluent sweet-tongued Greek
Who lisp'd at first, in future times speak plain. (19-20)

This is her first direct reference to a historical example. Notice that she doesn't use the name Demosthenes, but instead describes him. The message seems to be that any reader who knows her stuff would know Demosthenes just from the description of his lisp and his famously beautiful oration ("sweet-tongued"). She's helping us to see that even if she says she won't write poems about war, she still knows her history.

But sure the antique Greeks were far more mild,
Else of our Sex, why feigned they those nine (31-32)

The message here is: "Listen up chumps!" (Okay, Bradstreet would never say that, she's waaay too polite.) Still, in her kind of sweet way she's calling her critics out. By running her down and trying to shut her up, they're ignoring the wisdom of the Greeks, who understood that women and poetry belong together. That's why they made the muses women. Ooo, cold burn.

Let Greeks be Greeks, and Women what they are. (37)

In this line, she lets the Greeks go. Finally, she doesn't want to start a big fight about history. Or at least she doesn't want to end there. She's focused on the present. Notice that she also doesn't call for a big revolution in the present day, either. She's willing to let women be "what they are." What she's really after here is just a little recognition.

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

We think this is a really lovely blending of the old and the new, the glorious and the simple. Here Bradstreet calls up the image of the mighty poets of the ancient world, and compares them to her simple work around the house. In one way, it's a little funny, a gentle joke—we think the image of a parsley crown would have made even a Puritan smile (and yes, they knew how to smile, occasionally). At the same time, it brings a little bit of the glory of the past into her kitchen and her verse. Even if she won't make herself the equal of the Greeks, their legend rubs off on her by association.

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