The Prologue Poem by Anne Bradstreet Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


Anne Bradstreet’s poem “The Prologue” is a personal account of the author. In this poem, Anne Bradstreet claims to be a rising author in the realm of English literature. Readers are introduced to a literary work in the prologue. It provides a general understanding of the book’s storyline or any remarks that will make the plot easier for readers to follow. She is also presenting herself to the literary community and the current reading audience in this poem. The poet is assisting the readers in getting to know the author and herself better. A brilliant example of the sort of smart lady Anne Bradstreet was throughout her life may be seen in her beautiful writings.

About the poet

The most well-known of the early English poets in North America and the first Puritan character in American literature was Anne Bradstreet, who lived from March 8, 1612, to September 16, 1672. She was a well-read scholar who was influenced by the writings of Du Bartas. She was born to a prosperous Puritan family in Northampton, England. At the age of sixteen, she got married and started writing poems. The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, her debut collection, was well-read in both the United States and England.


Stanza 1

To sing of Wars, of Captains, and of Kings,

Of Cities founded, Common-wealths begun,

For my mean Pen are too superior things;

Or how they all, or each their dates have run,

Let Poets and Historians set these forth.

My obscure lines shall not so dim their worth.

The poet used capital letters to emphasize certain lines in the first stanza of her poem, “The Prologue,” which she felt were particularly significant. She capitalizes “Wars,” “Captains,” and “Kings” as her first words. She is explaining how, as a writer, she will refrain from attempting to write about these three crucial topics, along with the emergence of civilizations and urban centers. She feels that as a woman, she lacks something that men possess that enables them to write about these historical subjects well. She makes no specific mention of what these items are.

Stanza 2

But when my wond’ring eyes and envious heart

Great Bartas’ sugar’d lines do but read o’er,

Fool, I do grudge the Muses did not part

‘Twixt him and me that over-fluent store.

A Bartas can do what a Bartas will

But simple I according to my skill.

The speaker’s regret at not having the same abilities as other individuals to write well about significant, broad themes is shown in the second stanza of “The Prologue.” She feels that the “Muses” failed to provide her with the tools she needed to produce great writing. She contrasts her writing with that of French Protestant poet Guillaume du Bartas, whose style she admires. The speaker says she will act “according to” her “skill” in the fifth and sixth lines.

Stanza 3

From School-boy’s tongue no Rhet’ric we expect,

Nor yet a sweet Consort from broken strings,

Nor perfect beauty where’s a main defect.

My foolish, broken, blemished Muse so sings,

And this to mend, alas, no Art is able,

‘Cause Nature made it so irreparable.

The speaker of ‘The Prologue’ describes how the poet will be satisfied with her own, in her opinion, limited abilities in the third stanza. Society does not anticipate a woman like Anne Bradstreet to write like a male poet, just as we do not anticipate a little boy to compose magnificent sentences. This is a “main defect” in the character of the poet. She’s a female. This indicates that she will always be held to the lowest standards. What little she received from the muses was not much.

Stanza 4

Nor can I, like that fluent sweet-tongued Greek

Who lisp’d at first, in future times speak plain.

By Art he gladly found what he did seek,

A full requital of his striving pain.

Art can do much, but this maxim’s most sure:

A weak or wounded brain admits no cure.

The poem makes a reference to Demosthenes, a legendary Greek orator who overcame a speech handicap, in the fourth stanza. Bradstreet struggled to succeed as a poet in a society dominated by males, and although she may view herself as inferior in certain ways, she has achieved progress that shouldn’t be undervalued. She uses the adjectives “weak” and “wounded” when describing her own brain and acknowledges that she is unsure if the power of “Art” can do anything for her. This is a difficult representation of the poet’s thoughts, but one that a reader should fully take into account.

Stanza 5

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue

Who says my hand a needle better fits.

A Poet’s Pen all scorn I should thus wrong,

For such despite they cast on female wits.

If what I do prove well, it won’t advance,

They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance.

The fifth stanza of Jane Bradstreet’s poem “The Prologue” discusses how some people assume a woman shouldn’t write and that her hand would be better suited to a sewing needle. This is directed to all women who attempt to break out from the constraints of their traditional roles, not only Bradstreet. If she is successful, she is aware that they will never confess that they were mistaken and that although her work may be on par with a man’s, she will never receive the recognition she deserves.

Stanza 6

But sure the antique Greeks were far more mild,

Else of our Sex, why feigned they those nine

And poesy made Calliope’s own child?

So ‘mongst the rest they placed the Arts divine,

But this weak knot they will full soon untie.

The Greeks did nought but play the fools and lie.

With a reference to the “nine” muses in the sixth stanza, the poet reintroduces Greek mythology. In her opinion, the Greeks were superior to modern men in this very clear sense because they saw the value that women could contribute to the arts and sciences. This stanza and others in the poem consistently employ enjambment. The poet is worried that the more intelligent “male” minds would soon disprove her theory about the muses and assert that the Greeks were “fools” and liars.

Stanza 7

Let Greeks be Greeks, and Women what they are.

Men have precedency and still excel;

It is but vain unjustly to wage war.

Men can do best, and Women know it well.

Preeminence in all and each is yours;

Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours.

Bradstreet contends that as nature cannot be changed, Greeks should be Greeks and women should remain women. She thinks that males will perform better and have “precedency,” and she doesn’t think a fight to reverse this will accomplish anything. She informs the men that although they are wiser and will always be in control, she does want some “small acknowledgment of ours” of women’s accomplishments.

Stanza 8

And oh ye high flown quills that soar the skies,

And ever with your prey still catch your praise,

If e’er you deign these lowly lines your eyes,

Give thyme or Parsley wreath, I ask no Bays.

This mean and unrefined ore of mine

Will make your glist’ring gold but more to shine.

The word “And” in the first two lines of this poem serves as a good example of anaphora. As the poet draws the poem to a conclusion, this word begins both lines. In the opening line, she refers to the guys as “high flown quills” using a metaphor. The poet is showcasing some of her abilities by employing devices like internal rhyme to give the poem a powerful ending. By now, a reader should be aware that the poem contradicts what the author is trying to communicate. She is demonstrating the reverse of her conciliation with males in these eight stanzas. She is an equally or even superior writer to men in her era or throughout history.