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Anne Bradstreet

The Author to Her Book

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1678

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Summary and Study Guide


Anne Bradstreet’s poem “The Author to Her Book” (1678) appears in the collection Several Poems…by a gentlewoman in New-England, a posthumous collection that revised and expanded The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America…, which many critics see as the first published work in English by a settler-colonist woman from North America. “The Author to Her Book” is a poem about the writer’s fears of what readers will make of her creative legacy. The poem relies on an extended metaphor that compares a book to a child, a comparison that appears widely in the classical and Renaissance poetry Bradstreet read as part of the excellent education she received. “The Author to Her Book” is important as a work because it gives insight into Anglo-American print culture of the 17th century and the authorial anxiety of female writers.

Poet Biography

Anne Dudley Bradstreet was born in 1612 in England. She was the daughter of Thomas Dudley, an estate steward for the Earl of Lincoln. Bradstreet’s proximity to the aristocracy afforded her access to a library and education that were typical for the nobility and gentry. She would have read classical Greek and Roman works, learned Latin and other ancient languages, and been exposed to the thriving literary culture of the Renaissance.

Bradstreet's father and brother were prominent Puritans who invested in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which they envisioned as a haven where they could practice Christianity that was purified of the excesses of the Church of England. Bradstreet married Simon Bradstreet in 1628, and in 1630, Bradstreet and her husband followed her father to New England. After a stint in Salem, Massachusetts, then the New England hub of religious dissenters, the family settled in Andover, the frontier of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. During the first three years of her marriage, Bradstreet had no living children, which would have distinguished her from many of the women in her social circle. Between 1630 and 1652, Bradstreet gave birth to eight children, however.

In 1650, Bradstreet’s brother-in-law collected her poems, which had only circulated privately, and had them printed by a publisher in London. The volume, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, burnished the reputation of the Dudleys and the Bradstreets, and established Bradstreet as one of the most important female writers of the period. Bradstreet continued writing, composing five poems that she planned to include in Several Poems, and a revised and expanded Tenth Muse. After she died in 1672, her family published Several Poems in 1678. “The Author to Her Book” is included in this collection.

Poem Text

Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,

Who after birth didst by my side remain,

Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,

Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view,

Made thee in raggs, halting to th’ press to trudge,

Where errors were not lessened (all may judg).

At thy 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 wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,

And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.

I stretched thy joynts to make thee even feet,

Yet still thou run’st more hobling then is meet;

In better dress to trim thee was my mind,

But nought save home-spun Cloth, i’ th’ house I find.

In this array ’mongst Vulgars mayst thou roam.

In Criticks hands, beware thou dost not come;

And take thy way where yet thou art not known,

If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none:

And for thy Mother, she alas is poor,

Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.

Bradstreet, Anne. “The Author to Her Book.” 1678. Poetry Foundation.


The speaker directly addresses the work being composed in a long apologia for the poor state in which it finds itself. The tone is one of self-deprecation as the speaker pronounces the following: You, my book, are something like a child who sprang from my weak mind. Before I had the chance to clothe and rear you so that you would be a fine child, my friends kidnapped you. They did it out of love, but they were wrong to take you from me in this state.

Strangers saw you outside my home clothed in rags. When you walked, your steps were halting and uneven. The printer made things still worse with his own errors. I am ashamed of what he and I made of you.

No one should have set a child like you loose on the world. You are an ugly child whose face shouldn’t see the light of day. Still, you are mine, so I can’t help but love you. If only they had given me the time, I would have made you beautiful. I tried to make you better with tweaks and edits here and there, but my revisions couldn’t undo the fundamental flaws in your conception.

I played with your meter, hoping to make your rhythm sound better, but my efforts helped only a little. If only I could have polished you just a little more to make you into a respectable poem! My talents weren’t up to the task, so I only made you look like a serviceable poem and nothing else.

It is in this plain shape that you circulate among any readers who want to look at you. Hopefully no literary critic will ever decide to dissect you or show you to still more readers who might see how shamefully bad you are.

If anyone asks who made you, say you are a fatherless, illegitimate child whose mother did the best that she could, even though that wasn’t enough.