The Muse and the Mother in Bradstreet's "The Prologue" and "The Author to Her Book"
Early female authors and poets almost always introduced their work with some sort of apology for speaking out at all. Such an apology or plea was necessary for any woman who didn't want to be viewed as arrogant or rebellious, or otherwise out of line with her societal role. Bradstreet writes as the Muse by writing about writing in her poems "The Prologue" and "The Author to Her Book." In "The Prologue" she writes as the Muse, and in the second poem she writes as the Mother, which is synonymous with the Muse.
"The Prologue" stood as the introduction for her book The Tenth Muse. This poem is both an attack on men's attitudes towards women as writers and a plea for them not to condemn her poetry on the basis of her gender. She is not asserting that she is equal to male poets; in fact, she bases her plea on the idea that women are naturally inferior to men, and therefore should not be held to the same standard in their writing. At the same time, she says that women should be allowed to write the best they can with whatever skill they have, and that men should not see them as a threat since they can only make them look more talented anyway.
Bradstreet begins the poem by claiming that she isn't attempting to touch the same subjects as men. "To sing of wars, of captains, and of kings,/.../For my mean pen are too superior things" (lines 1, 3). Already, she has identified herself as inferior. In the last two lines of the same stanza, she says that those subjects are for "poets and historians" and that she will not "dim their worth." By saying that those subjects are for poets, she is saying that she's not even a real poet. "Poets and historians" is synonymous with men. What Bradstreet is really saying is that she's not a man and isn't trying to interfere with men's topics, or interfere with anything that was traditionally reserved for men. In the second stanza she admits jealousy of greater poets, and of men, and says that a great poet can do whatever he wants but she is "simple" and only has limited skill. She also says that she grudges the Muses for not splitting the excess talent between the men and the women, or at least between Bartas and herself.
The third and fourth stanzas lay out the reasons she believes women should not be held to the same standards as men when it comes to poetic skill. "From schoolboy's tongue no rhet'ric we expect,/ Nor yet a sweet consort from broken strings" (lines 13-14). The last two lines of that stanza claim that nature is what determines ability. "And this to mend, alas, no art is able,/ Cause nature made it so irreparable" (lines 17-18). This mention of nature is not about the nature of the physical world. She is talking instead about the natural roles of men and women. The nature that makes her position irreparable is the inherent inferiority of women. Considering her religious beliefs it is not surprising that...