This is a preface to the second edition of Anne Bradstreet’s book Sprung Up in America (1650) which was published in England without her consent. As we speak about tone, this one has several towards her book suddenly sprung upon the world much to her surprise.
The Author To Her Book
by Anne Bradstreet
Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did’st by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad exposed to public view;
Made thee in rags, halting, to the press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened, all may judge.
At they return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call;
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could:
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save homespun cloth in the house I find.
In this array, ‘mongst vulgars may’st thou roam;
In critics’ hands beware thou dost not come;
And take thy way where yet thou arenot known.
If for thy Father asked, say thou had’st none;
And for thy Mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.
If anyone has written a book, that person understands the context of this poem. Writing a book really is like birthing a child – the rough draft I’ve often considered to be pregnancy which it’s really just a lump of clay forming, perhaps even (to mix my metaphors) stewing and stirring in that alchemical magic of the mind (or in the child’s case in the body).
She seems to have what I would term a motherly tone. The book refers to it as several tones, but I see it as the same thing as motherhood is a complex and complicated process that one tone would not do. You love your child; you hate your child; you care for your child; you worry about your child; you fear for your child; you hope for your child. You can see the hate for her child when she calls it a brat and the worry when her child was “snatch from [her] side.” She scrubs the child, and stretches out its limbs to make it presentable to the world. She feels embarrassed for her child as they return it blushing to her side. Yet she does mention that she has affection for it and then starts to lecture it on what to avoid in the world as if finally she has taken the child to her heart.
Perhaps this poem is trying to express how she didn’t expect this book to go beyond her kitchen table (or her trunk for that matter), but once it was put “out there” how she had to wrestle to come to terms with it and eventually she learned to love it. Some pieces are like that (some parenthood experiences are like that as well), but it is a great reminder that these words on paper or electronic screens are not simply symbols floating in front of our eyes, phonemes pronounced by our tongues or even images flowering into our heads they are living things that breath and grow and transform from generation to generation. Is the same Frankenstein trudging among us today as was birthed in that cold night at Geneva when Mary Shelley dreamed of her miscarried child? We used to fear that child, but that fear turned to sympathy even though we look on it with dread for we too are creations of a more strange and wondrous author.