Unlike men, women are thought to expire quickly, as if they are wasted if not used. These thoughts are perfectly depicted in Anne Bradstreet’s poems “The Prologue” and “The Author to Her Book,” along with Maxine Kumin’s “Sonnets Uncorseted. ” With these poems, we are able to witness women’s ability to find a voice through clever utilization of the female apology during a time of complete male domination. First, through Parini’s book “Why Poetry Matters,” we will be able to see the ways poets and their works have pushed boundaries and resisted against oppressors throughout time. In a time when philosophy was king, Parini explains how poetry was its greatest adversary; Plato warned against poets and their ideas out of fear that they would corrupt the youth of Athens (3).
This left poets in fear of exposure, as the nature of a poet is to push boundaries. Plato would frequently refer to poets as “imitators of nature,” which would surely corrupt the young. However, not everyone felt this way; Aristotle agreed with Plato, but he did not see these “imitations” as damaging. Instead, he saw beauty and life within poets expression through figurative language. In the 18th-19th century, poetry transformed from this ancient perspective and began to take a new form. It became the defiant proclamation against authority as we are more familiar with today (4-11).
With Bradstreet and Kumin’s poetry, we are able to see how these women are beyond their time, Bradstreet dating to the 17th century, and Kumin discussing the same time period. In Bradstreet’s poem “The Prologue,” she frequently discusses her writings, often comparing them to scholarly men during the colonial era. She admits she will never be considered among the greats, like Bartas and Demosthenes. However, she doesn’t aspire to write like them. She would rather her writing style remain simple and her own.
With these references to famous poets, she admits she does aspire to be of that stature. However, she is quick to point out that all of the poets she has referenced are all men. In stanza three, she subtly blames her lack of artistic voice on her being a women, or rather, the fact that she is not a man. “. .
. alas, no art is able / ‘cause nature made it so irreparable” (The Prologue lines 17-18). She continues in stanza five, beginning to get more bold in her claims; she refutes those who tell her that her hand is meant for a needle and thread, not “a poet’s pen” (26-27). She fears that even if she had the opportunity as a women to write freely, it would be thought that she stole her ideas from a man or it was sheer luck.
“The Author to Her Book,” is written in response to her poems being published without her permission. She has a common theme among her poems, especially this one, using self-deprecating humor as a way to get her point across. For example, she begins with a very witty and quipped metaphor, comparing her writing to a child who had been birthed from her “feeble brain” (The Author to Her Book line 1). She is upset at her friends for publishing her book without allowing her the chance to correct the mistakes, eliciting another metaphor that compares her unpolished work to a washed face with dirt still remaining (12-14). Although, she is unhappy with her published work, she can’t help loving it, because it is her own.
She does revert back to her tongue-and-cheek humor, asking her audience to excuse the flaws within her poems, as she was not raised by a man, only a women, and a poor one at that (22-23). The use of her metaphors relating her book to a child helps further her previous points that writing poetry is something a women can, and should do. Women were built by God to create, so why stifle the conception?Maxine Kumin further illustrates many of Bradstreet’s feelings. Although she is not of the same time period as her, she writes in “Sonnets Uncorseted” about Margaret Cavendish and her experiences in that time.
Contradictory to Plato’s aforementioned opinions in Parini’s “Why Poetry Matters,” Cavendish was both a philosopher and poet (3). In Kumin’s first stanza, she illuminates the reality for women in the 1600s, excluding that of Cavendish. Women were thought of as property, and unless one married off, she would have no meaning. Their dowry equals their worth, and yet they are forbidden to own anything themselves.
Only prized for their childbearing abilities, women suffered greatly for their trophy (Kumin lines 9-10, 14-16). However, Cavendish was relieved of her womanly duties, as she was barren, allowing her to pour her energy and love into her writing. Kumin continues by comparing Cavendish to her husband: him, writing proper books on “the art of dressage,” and her, writing “goofy utopian fantas” and a vast variety of other subjects (30-33). Kumin applauds Cavendish’s ability to break through the barriers of her time, not caring about what others may say or think. She refused to let anyone or anything stifle her imagination and creativity.
Women have been silenced for centuries, but through their art, these women have been able to overcome their boundaries in a time of male domination. As said by Parini,“poets are the wayward ones, the voices of protest against authority, the defenders of powerful feeling over fierce intellection, the abettors of all forms of disgusting and irreverent behavior” (4). These women have demonstrated the ability to not be limited by the limitations of their society. Through their clever use of the female apology and figurative language, they are able to have their voices heard. We must understand the expectations and pressures women have faced throughout history, and the ways they have broken free in hopes of fixing them in the future.