There’s a saying. Maybe you’ve heard it. It says that writing is easy: all you have to do is sit at a typewriter and open a vein. Isn’t that the truth. Writing uses up all sorts of emotional reserves. It touches on deep aspects of ourselves, forces us to look inside and feel things that are both wonderful and horrifying. We spend so much time with our characters that we grow to love them like children. We take care of them, nurture them, destroy their lives and then repair them. In the end, we can only hope that others will love our babies as much as we do.
Which is why I was thrilled when my co-worker brought me a poem today. You see, yesterday we’d been talking about writing. I’d told her exactly what I said above, how scared I am every time I finish a story and have to send it out into the world. This poem captured my sentiments perfectly.
To truly understand the impact of it, you must understand its background. It was written by author Anne Bradstreet. As her biography helps us to appreciate:
Anne Bradstreet was especially fond of poetry, which she had begun to write herself; her works were kept private though, as it was frowned upon for women to pursue intellectual enlightenment, let alone create and air their views and opinions. She wrote for herself, her family, and close circle of educated friends, and did not intend on publication. One of her closest friends, Anne Hutchinson, who was also a religious and educated woman had made the mistake of airing her views publicly, and was banished from her community.
However, Anne’s work would not remained unnoticed… Her brother-in-law, John Woodbridge, had secretly copied Anne’s work, and would later bring it to England to have it published, albeit without her permission. Woodbridge even admitted to it in the preface of her first collection, “The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts”, which was published in 1650. The book did fairly well in England, and was to be the last of her poetry to be published during her lifetime. All her other poems were published posthumously.
Now just imagine what that must have been like. To have your works taken, your private works, and have them published without your knowledge. Think of the things you write that have yet to see the light of day. Things that are as of yet unedited, or in progress. O_O Ha ha! I see your horror! That’s basically what happened to Anne. Which is what I think makes her poem, The Author to Her Book, that much more poignant. Enjoy!
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.