Anne Bradstreet: Women Can Write Poetry
Poetry can be an important tool to unlock the experiences of European settlers in the 16th and 17th century time period as they colonized North America. Puritans were some of the first settlers in New England, their strict religious beliefs and customs instructed daily interactions, prose and poetry. Many people relied on writing during this time to describe the chaotic landscape of colonization. Poetry, in particular draws on experiences of all kinds and universally extends to all members of society, creating a higher understanding and awareness. Anne Bradstreet was the first woman to publish a book of poetry in early American literature, she did so by manipulating Puritan gender expectations and exploring the idea that both men and women alike can participate in poetry.
While it remained difficult for women to express their views in the 17th century, Anne Bradstreet navigated this time period with ease by writing from her own perspective in reaction to familial experiences of new world settlers. Bradstreet was a fortunate female during this time period. She came from a politically powerful family and had the opportunity to attend formal schooling on the humanities and arts. She is keenly aware of the insecurities males had on the subject of writing. During this time the role of women in Puritan society was to rear children, obey men and honor their subservient roles as women. As a result women were considered intellectually inferior and confined to their domestic roles. She wrote The Prologue in 1650 as an introduction to her poetry and anticipates the skepticism from the male by audience by stating, "Men can do best, and women know it well” (40.) She continues to honors the Puritan standard that only (male) poets and historians should write on wars, captains, and kings so that, “My obscure lines shall not so dim their worth” (l 6 420.) She implies that she will not threaten the male audience, by addressing such subjects in her writing because she is not worthy of that position. She is assertive in defining the woman’s role despite opposition from a Puritan culture that thinks her, “hand a needle better fits.”(26) “Let Greeks be Greeks, and women what they are,”
After Anne Bradstreet anticipates skepticism from the Puritan audience, she explores the idea that women should be acknowledged for their writing too through ironic examples. She admires Bartas, a skilled French writer of religious epics and states, “A Bartas can do what a Bartas will, But simple I according to my skill” (11.) She implies that women possess the ability to write, even if their writing is not as skilled as males and the people before her. She addresses this issue again in the 4th stanza stating, “A weak or wounded brain admits no cure,” (24) implying that her writing is somehow defective even though she is only pursuing her desire to write poetry. Her response to social constraints
“For such despite they cast on female wits: If I do prove well, it won’t advance, They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance. (28-30)
She points out that muses were females and influenced earlier male writers, yet because of strict Puritan ideals, “no art is able, Cause nature made it so irreparable” (17-18.) She points out the irony that muses were females, yet females cannot produce art.
references Bartas (French writer of religious epics), a poet she admired, implying that he is a far more skilled poet than her, “A Bartas can do what a Bartas will” (11)
After Anne Bradstreet soothes the male ego by employing her crafty writing style she foreshadows an attempt to the idea that women can write poetry too.
“For such despite they cast on female wits: If I do prove well, it won’t advance, They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance. (28-30) “Let Greeks be Greeks, and women what they are,”
“Men can do best, and women know it well....