Devout Puritans like Anne Bradstreet believed deeply in humility. They thought that all people, whether they were men or women or children, should humble themselves, and avoid clothing or actions or speech that might make them seem proud. (Like, we're really proud of our jean jacket collection, but that would so have to go in Bradstreet's world.) That's actually helpful for understanding the moments where the speaker of "The Prologue" agrees to take a back seat to male poets. Showing that kind of humility, for a Puritan, was not "humiliating" in the negative way we think about it today. Instead, it was a way of showing that you accepted your place in God's divine order.
Questions About Humility
Is there such a thing as being too humble? Does this poem cross that line? Where, if so?
Do you think the speaker of this poem thinks women should be more humble than men, or does she think that's everybody's job? How do you know?
Do you find humility appealing? Do you like the speaker of this poem better because she's so humble? Why or why not?
Is it possible to be competitive and humble at the same time? What do you think this poem has to say about that question?
Chew on This
The speaker emphasizes her humility, but she can't hide her pride and her desire for greatness either. She's modest, but a part of her wants to be the best, too. (Eye of the tiger, Anne.)
Ultimately, this poem makes the point that humility is the most important virtue of all, better than any success as a writer could ever be. (And here our money was on patience as the top virtue...)