The aim of great poetry is to enlighten and to enrich our lives. Great poetry allows the reader to become more aware of oneself and one’s surroundings. The traditional expectations of great poetry are summed up thus by Oscar Williams: “Anyone who knows how to love, or to suffer, or to think, anyone who wishes to live fully, needs and seeks poetry. . . .A poem, if it is a good one, is inexhaustible; we want to read it to refresh the dull moments of the day, over and over, wherever we may be” (9). This essay will trace the development of this theme throughout the work of four women poets: Bradstreet, Dickinson, Moore and Brooks.
The sentiments about poetry offered above by Williams were not always believed to be attainable by women. As in most areas of our male dominated Western civilization, women had to break previous barriers in order to gain respect as poets. This is true of Anne Bradstreet, a true pioneer of not only poetry by women, but poetry by Americans. It was she who published the first book of poetry in the colonies, and she was acutely aware of the barriers she had to overcome in order to be accepted as a poet in her male dominated society. This can be seen in “The Prologue,” in which she shows that she is not only an intellectual and a classicist, but also a woman well aware of the boundaries she is breaking. We see this in stanza 5, in which she answers the critics who would belittle her work on the basis of her being a woman (25-30). In this way she speaks to all aspiring artists who wish to overcome stuffy conventions and thereby confirms the great expectations of poetry.
Emily Dickinson continues the tradition started by Bradstreet, albeit in a strikingly new way. Dickinson, along with her contemporary Walt Whitman, said farewell to convention and forever changed the face of poetry with the revolutionary form of free verse. In #401, Dickinson blasts fellow wome