The speaker of this poem is the world’s worst mother. Okay, that might be a little harsh, but she’s definitely very critical of her “child,” the book described in the poem’s title. Wait, this isn’t a poem about actual parenting? Nope, parenting, motherhood, child-rearing—those are just metaphors for the relationship between the author and her book. Like a child, a work of art must be nurtured, developed, raised, taken care of, cleaned, taken to the bathroom… you get the idea. And, just like kids, sometimes our artistic “children” can drive us crazy. Unlike kids, however, we can sell our works of art if we want.
- Line 1: The poem’s first line starts off with a little derision from the speaker. The book is described as “ill-formed offspring.” Clearly this is a metaphor, one that makes the book’s contents into some kind of mutant child. Note that the author blames herself (“feeble brain”).
- Line 2: Continuing with the metaphor, the speaker essentially claims that she hid her “ill-formed” child (her book) from the public.
- Lines 3-4: The situation has become dire. The speaker’s friends kidnapped (“snatch[ed]”) this “ill-formed” child and exposed it to the world! Exposure is here a metaphor for the friends’ decision to get the book published.
- Line 8: The speaker says she blushed a lot when she discovered that her “rambling brat” of a book-child called her her mother… in print! This is a very poetic way of saying, “My book was published with my name on it.” The whole “rambling-brat” bit is a metaphor for both the book’s “rambling” journey across the Atlantic to England (to be published) and a jab at its style (at least according to the “mother” writing the poem).
- Lines 9-10: Like we said, the speaker isn’t the best mother. Here she basically tries to disown the book (“I cast thee by”) because she finds it so annoying and irritating (“irksome”).
- Lines 11-12: As a mother, however, the author can’t quite ignore her “child.” She wants to, but she can’t. Because it is her child, she feels some affection for it and wants to “amend” its “blemishes.” That last part there is definitely a metaphor for “revise the work’s faults.”
- Lines 13-14: The metaphor of revision-as-cleaning continues here. And now the speaker starts to seem like a better mom. She tries to rub the metaphorical dirt off the child-book, or wash its face, but with little success. She finds more “defects” and creates even more “flaws.”
- Lines 17: The speaker attempts to give her poems a “better dress.” This metaphor (a mother dressing her kids in nice clothes) makes the speaker seem a little more motherly than she has appeared so far.
- Line 22: These lines give us our first indication that we’re dealing with a single mom in this poem. The absence of the father (“say thou hadst none”) is a metaphor for the fact that the speaker wrote these poems—gave birth to them—all by herself, with no help from anybody else.
- Lines 23-24: Well, this “mother” is poor, which is why she “turned” her child “out of door.” That’s a metaphor for the fact that she sent the child-book away for publication. In other words, she sold it.
The poet writes about the experience of looking at her book for the first time, which she describes as the "ill-form'd offspring" of her weak brain. It was always by her side after its birth but then, friends took it abroad and exposed it to public view. It went to the press "in rags," and its errors remained uncorrected.
Now that the book has returned to her, the poet blushes at her "rambling brat." At first, she thinks it is hateful to her sight, and she tries to wipe off its blemishes, but to no avail. The more she washes its face, the more flaws appear. She tries to level its uneven feet, but it still hobbles. She had hoped to dress it better, but it is in "home-spun cloth" that she found in the house.
She hopes that the book does not fall into a critic's hand or go to places where it ought not to go. If anyone asks if the book has a father, the book will tell them no, and if they ask if it has a mother, the book should tell them that her mother is poor and that is why she sent the book away.
“The Author to Her Book” is one of Anne Bradstreet’s most personal and memorable poems. Although she writes the verse in a lucid way, the poem is much more complicated than it initially seems. It offers many interesting insights into the role of the female poet, her psychology, and the historical context of the work. Bradstreet wrote the poem in iambic pentameter. The poem expresses Bradstreet's feelings about her brother-in-law’s publication of some of her poems in 1650, which she was not aware of until the volume was released.
Using the metaphor of motherhood, she describes the book as her child. Like a protective mother, she notes that the volume was “ill-form’d” and snatched away from her before it was ready for independence. The “friends” who took it were “less wise than true,” meaning that while their actions were careless, these people certainly did not have malicious intentions. Now that the work has been published without giving the poet time to correct any errors, it is out in the world at the same time that it is back in her hands.
At first, she describes the newly bound volume as “irksome in my sight,” unable to ignore the flaws she wished she had the opportunity to address. She wishes she could present her work in its best form but that is now impossible - she describes washing its face but still seeing dirt and marks. However, the poet cannot help but feel affection for the book, because it is hers - even though it is incomplete.
Critic Randall Huff points out that in this poem, Bradstreet uses contemporary terms culled from the book-publishing industry. For example, the “rags” in which the child was sent to the press may refer to the “high rag content of most paper at the time; it was the expensive product of a labor-intensive process and usually superior in many ways to most paper being produced today.”
At the end of the poem, Bradstreet accepts that her poetry is now out in the world. She hopes people will understand that she did not mean it to be academic or portentous. She takes responsibility for her work, and, as Huff writes, "in developing such maternal analogies, Bradstreet demonstrates that poetry, and especially its creation, is something that women can do."
Critic Eileen Margerum delves further into the matter of Bradstreet's thoughts on poetry and, specifically, poetry written by women. She writes that Bradstreet was proud to be a poet and did not consider it sinful or unrighteous to undertake such an endeavor. By the time The Tenth Muse was published and Bradstreet penned "The Author to Her Book," she was a mature poet. In this poem, she "deals with correcting the poems, not condemning their creator." She sees herself as more than a DuBartas acolyte or a woman beholden to her influential father (see "The Prologue" for more on this subject).