‘The Author to Her Book’ by Anne Bradstreet is a 24 line poem that can be clearly separated into four distinct sections of six lines. These lines are constant in their rhyming pattern of AABBCCDD…etc.
Due to the time in which the poem was written, the mid-1600s, there are a number of instances in which common words are spelled alternatively. These spellings do nothing to impede a modern reading of the poem and are often more phonetically correct that their contemporary counterparts.
Summary of The Author to Her Book
“The Author to Her Book” by Anne Bradstreet describes the disappointment that a writer feels over the finished product she has created and her fruitless attempts to improve it.
The poem begins with the speaker describing her finished book as being malformed. It is incorrect, in some fundamental way. She believes this to be of no one’s fault but her own as her brain is “feeble.” This book that she does not wish to share with anyone, was taken from her by friends, and published. The result is spread around the world for all to see.
When the author finally gets her own copy of her book she is still unhappy. It is just as bad, if not worse than she remembers. She wants to throw it out of her sight, but knows that it belongs to her, as if it were her own child, and she is unable to. She decides to take it under her wing and attempt to improve it. All of her efforts are in vain though and she is forced to send her “child” away. She tells it to go somewhere that it is not known, and to pretend that it’s mother was too poor to take care of it.
Analysis of The Author to Her Book
Lines 1- 6
Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view,
Made thee in raggs, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judg).
It is clear from the title of this piece, and it is then reconfirmed in the first line, that the narrator is speaking directly to her own book. The relationship she has with this completed volume is not a positive one. In the first line she refers to her book as being “ill-form’d,” but it does not seem to be so through any fault of it’s own. It came from the author’s “feeble brain.”
The speaker is disappointed in this work that she has created and feels that her own failed intellect is the reason that she was unsuccessful. The next lines progress through the life of this volume and how at first it remained by her side. It was close to her, almost a part of her, like a child, until it was snatched away. This metaphor of the book being a child, and she being it’s mother, will continue till the end of the piece.
The book was taken from her by “friends” that were not wise enough to know what they were doing. It is not that they wanted to do her wrong, they just didn’t know enough to see that the book was not ready. These friends published her novel, spread it so that it was “expos’d to publick view.” Now all the world has access to her unfinished, at least in her mind, work. When the book was published, it did not improve. It was just as bad as she thought it was before.
Lines 7- 12
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy Visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could:
This is made even clearer when she sees the “finished” book for the first time. She blushed greatly upon receiving it and took it as a mother would call in her “rambling brat.” She did not welcome this “child” home, but longs cast it to the side. She still sees it as being “unfit for light.” But it is too late now, everyone has seen and read it.
While she might despise, or feel disappointed in, the book she wrote, it is still her own. It still belongs to her as a disobedient child belongs to it’s mother. It is due to this bond that she is going to try to improve it. She isn’t ready to completely abandon it.
I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joynts to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobling then is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun Cloth, i’ th’ house I find.
The next set of lines describes the ways in which the speaker physically tries to improve the book. While it is impossible that she is actually doing these things, they are more likely a metaphor for the ways in which she tries to improve the text.
She tries to “wash [it’s] face,” with no improvement. She only sees the defects more clearly. If she tried to rub a spot off, she made a bigger flaw. When she tries to fix the book’s form and give it “even feet” it still hobbles when it runs.
The speaker is also hoping to re-cover the book in “better dress” but in her house all she can find is “home-spun Cloth” which is no improvement.
Lines 19- 24
In this array ’mongst Vulgars mayst thou roam.
In Criticks hands, beware thou dost not come;
And take thy way where yet thou art not known,
If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none:
And for thy Mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.
In the final six lines of the poem, after attempting to improve the book, she sends it on it’s way. She knows there is nothing she can do and tells it to leave and live among the “Vulgars” and vagabonds. She warns the book to be careful and avoid falling into the hands of “Criticks” or critics, there it will be torn apart.
The speaker believes the best place for her writing to go is somewhere where no one knows it, or knows her. She tells it, when asked, to deny having had a father. She also wants it to say that it’s mother was so poor she was forced to send it “out of door.”
About Anne Bradstreet
Anne Bradstreet was born in Northampton, England in 1612. Bradstreet was married young at the age of only sixteen, and soon after sailed with her parents and husband to settle Massachusetts Bay in what would be the United States.
She balanced an intense home life with her literary pursuits as she was forced to write while taking care of eight children. Her family moved all throughout Massachusetts, complicating her life further. Without her knowledge, Anne’s brother-in-law took her poems with him to England where he had them published as The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, in 1650. This made her one of the first English writers in the New World. This volume would eventually be republished as Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning.
Her first poems were largely unremarkable, but her work matured as she incorporated her spiritual growth and personal thoughts on death and beauty into their texts. Her best known work, “Contemplations,” which was not published until the 19th century, is celebrated for it’s treatment of religious subject matter. Bradstreet died in 1672 in Andover.