A Poem for all Writers
While we're on the subject of poetry, here's one that's stuck with me since I first made its acquaintance back in Nineteen(mumble-mumble) in some review of American literature. Anne Bradstreet, a Puritan colonist is considered the first American female poet, but her early publication is a strange tale. Apparently, her brother-in-law took her work -- without her knowledge or permission -- to England, where it was successfully published in the collection: The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts. The brother-in-law, I'm sure, felt he was doing Anne a favor, and in that paternalistic society, she had little choice but to go along to get along. But in her most famous poem, below, she describes a mixture of pride and mortification that I think every writer can relate to.
The Author To Her Book
by Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)
Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did'st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
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,
The 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 stretcht 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 home-spun cloth, i' th' house I find.
In this array, 'mongst vulgars may'st thou roam.
In critic's 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 caused her thus to send thee out of door.
The good news is that nowadays, few authors have to worry about "helpful" friends and relatives rooting through their hard drives and sending off their imperfectly-edited manuscripts to publishers. The bad news is, we have to bring ourselves to the point of getting it "out of door" or it will fade and wither, a child deprived of light.