This poem is about the relationship between and author and her book. It is also, however, about writing itself, and not just that, but writing and revising poetry. The speaker uses a bunch of metaphors (“stretcht,” “washed,” “rubbed”) to describe the act of revision, and boy does it sound tough. No matter how hard she tries, the speaker just can’t seem to revise her writing to her satisfaction. Well we all know that feeling, that’s for sure.
- Lines 11-12: The speaker uses a metaphor to compare the work of revision to amending “blemishes.” Revision, then, is a kind of fixing or cleaning.
- Lines 13-14: The metaphor of cleaning off dirt—amending “blemishes”—continues in these lines, where it is even more explicitly compared to washing dirt from a child’s face. As we've probably all experienced, her revisions reveal more “flaws,” and in some cases, seem to make things worse, or “dirtier.”
- Lines 15: The speaker uses the metaphor of stretching to describe her attempts to fix the meter of her poems (“make thee even feet”). It seems that revising poetry—making it metrically “even” or smooth—entails an act of violence (“stretcht”).
- Line 16: The speaker’s attempts at revision have failed. The poems still seem like “hobbling” works of art, which is a metaphor for the way in which they appear metrically uneven: rough, not smooth, characterized by jolts.
- Lines 17: To trim in better dress—that phrase refers to decking out one’s kid in nice clothes, and here it’s a metaphor for making the poems better. Specifically, it probably refers to using better or more “poetic" language.
- Line 18: The “home-spun cloth” is also a metaphor for the poems' language. It is “home-spun,” i.e. plain and boring, rather than elaborate or elegant.
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).