Motives for Humility
'To sing of wars, of captains, and of kings, Of cities founded, commonwealths begun, For my mean pen are too superior things...' (Bradstreet, lines 1-3) 'I am this crumb of Dust which is designed To make my Pen unto Thy praise alone, And my dull Fancy I would gladly grind ' (Taylor 13-15) Throughout their prologues, both Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor use imagery, metaphors, and diction to express humility in their abilities to compose poetry. Bradstreet, a woman of the Puritan society, displays her poetry as unworthy compared to those of the distinguished poets of that era. Taylor, a minister of the Puritan community, also feels that his poetry is not worthy of admiration.
However, Taylor is seeking the admiration of God whereas Bradstreet is seeking the admiration of men. Thus, one can find when reading these prologues, that each author's humility, though similar in its portrayal, is different in its purpose and motive. Beginning with Bradstreet's prologue, I will attempt to analyze this motivation behind their humility. Anne Bradstreet begins her poem with a disclaimer, which tells us that we should not expect too much out of her. She does not want us to get our hopes up and regard her poetry with inspiration in any way. From the first three lines to the last three lines, Bradstreet continues to humble herself.
The quotation included in the opening lines of this essay is the opening of her prologue. She is convincing us that wars, captains, kings, cities founded, and commonwealths begun are far too superior for her "mean pen" to even consider writing about. " Or how they all, or each their dates have run Let poets and historians set these forth, My obscure lines shall not so dim their worth" (Bradstreet 4-6). What Bradstreet means by saying this is that she is only bound to drag down other poets who truly are great by her own writings or "obscure lines." Bradstreet makes many mentions to the Greek throughout her prologue and uses them as the scapegoat for her own inferiority. Bradstreet first mentions the Greeks and their mythology in the second stanza where she says, " Great Bartas sugared lines do but read o'er, Fool I do grudge the Muses did not part " (Bradstreet 8,9).
The Muses, which she mentions, were the nine goddesses of the arts and sciences in Greek mythology. She even calls herself a fool for holding a grudge against these Muses for not being generous enough to hand her the skill that they granted to the celebrated French writer Bartas. Bradstreet also makes mention in stanza four to the "fluent sweet tongued Greek, Who lisped at first, in future times speak plain" (Bradstreet 19,20). She is speaking of the Greek orator Demosthenes who conquered a speech defect by means of art, which gave him, "A full requital of his striving pain" (Bradstreet 22). " A weak or wounded brain admits no cure" (Bradstreet 24). This "weak or wounded brain" is the female's brain in comparison with the male's brain. This final line in the forth stanza in a way sums up what she is attempting to describe to us in the first half of her prologue. The first half "contains the necessary statements about essentialized female inferiority " (Blackstock).
Bradstreet then goes on to state that "Men can do best and women know it well, Preeminence in all and each is yours" (Bradstreet 40,41). These lines don't exactly state that she acknowledges her own female deficiencies, rather they are "a plea for the realization of women's capabilities that patriarchy and Puritanism suppress"(Blackstock). Bradstreet closes her prologue with a metaphor by saying, "This mean and unrefined ore of mine Will make your glist'ring gold but more to shine" (Bradstreet 47,48). This statement is a sharp contrast between her "unrefined substance" and the writings of men, which glitter like gold. Bradstreet has proven to us in her prologue that she is seeking the admiration of men by constantly reminding us of how the Greek gods granted them superiority and how she, no matter how hard she tries, will always be just one rung below them.
Edward Taylor's prologue from Preparatory Meditations is one in which we should all read and take heed. His motive for writing is clear after reading the first two lines, "Lord, Can a Crumb of Dust the Earth Outweigh, Outmatch all mountains, nay, the Crystal sky" (Taylor 1,2)? He automatically humbles himself before God as he asks Him how he can possible be worthy of God's love. It seems as though Taylor is referring to Genesis 2:7, which says, " the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." He uses "the crumb of dust" to refer to himself throughout the rest of his prologue.
In the second stanza, Taylor emphasizes the importance of having God in one's life and how we are nothing without Him. He uses a pen as his example of the importance of God in our lives. No matter what we have on this earth, it is useless if we do not have Christ in us. "If it its Pen had of an Angel's Quill, And sharpened on a Precious stone tight It would but blot and blur, yea, jag and jar Unless Thou mak'st the Pen, and Scrivener" (Taylor 7-12). The only way the pen would possibly work would be if it was used "unto Thy praise alone " (Taylor 14). Taylor then makes an illusion to the Zion's precious stone on which he will sharpen his pen, " And my dull Fancy I would gladly grind Unto an Edge on Zion's Precious Stone" (Taylor 15,16).
The fourth stanza is the epitome of humbleness. He claims that no matter how much he messes up he does not want God to "laugh Thou them to scorn but pardon give" (Taylor 20). He prays that God will overlook his weaknesses and see through them to the true person, which is trying to live for Him. All Taylor asks is that, "Thou wilt guide its pen to write aright To prove Thou art, and that Thou art the best" (Taylor 26,27). Both Edward Taylor and Anne Bradstreet appear to the readers with lowly hearts and humble spirits. They both have a goal in their heads and want to accomplish something great. Although their ideas of accomplishing something are the same, the things in which they are trying to accomplish are completely opposite.
Anne goes into the prologue with this idea in her head that even if she does accomplish what she is striving for, it really won't matter because of her place in society. She is not good enough or smart enough so she does not even attempt to write about "big" things such as war and kings. Anne ends her prologue by saying that even if she does succeed, all she will do is add to the glory of men's writings, "This mean and unrefined ore of mine Will make your glist'ring gold but more to shine" (Bradstreet 47,48). On the other end, Edward's goal is to win the glorification of God. If he attains this then his whole purpose in life will be fulfilled. Just as Bradstreet mentions that if she succeeds then she will make men's gold shine brighter, Edward states that if he succeeds then he will make God's works shine brighter, " And show Thy Properties to shine most bright. And then Thy Works will shine as flowers on Stems Or as in Jewelry Shops, do gems" (Taylor 28-30).Both poets express themselves with an attitude of humility, which is required of us by God.
Edward Taylor was completely right in his motives about how he is trying to commit his life to Christ. Although Anne Bradstreet did not have the right motives for humbling herself, should we really blame her? She was just a lowly woman of the Puritan society who is just writing out on what was in progress around her. Can we possibly call her immoral for what she is trying to accomplish? The Bible tells us the importance of humbling ourselves before God in Joshua 7:6. When we are humbling ourselves we must make sure who we are actually humbling ourselves to and be sure that our motives are legitimate. Luke 14:11 "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."