The poet celebrates the late Queen's excellence. Since her death, there have thousands of people bringing offerings and the honors have accumulated. The poet's own verses are among many laudatory lines, and she hopes that Elizabeth would be pleased even though "I resound my greatness 'mongst the / throng."
The pens of Spenser and Camden cannot come close to summing up Queen Elizabeth's reign. Of all England's monarchs, the poet describes Elizabeth as the wisest and the most just; this cannot be disputed, for millions concur. Elizabeth flew in the face of anti-feminist critics, who believed that women could not be rulers. She showed Spain and France that their misogynistic ideas were wrong, with an "argument enough to make you mute." There have never been people better ruled than Elizabeth's, or a land more peaceful than her England. There was never a time of more wealth or more English victories against foreign enemies. Queen Elizabeth presided over the destruction of the Spanish Armada and helped the Franks. Her nobles sacrificed themselves for her, and she also helped to quell the Irish.
Men did great deeds for Queen Elizabeth: Drake brought home Spanish gold, and Essex took Cadiz. The poet compares Elizabeth to Tomris, Dido, Athena, Cleopatra, and Zenobia, and concludes that these women are "no fit parallel" to this Phoenix Queen who will rise from the ashes.
Now, the poet wonders, people cannot say women have no worth, or can they? Did they have some and then lost it once the Queen died? No, the poet asserts, men have taxed women too long and Elizabeth will "vindicate our wrong." She claims that Elizabeth moves in a higher sphere now, setting like the sun and never rising again until "heaven's glorious revolution." Then, she will rule England once more.
The queen sleeps on a royal bed of white and red roses, with perfume filling the air. This rose, who was once was so lovely, has now withered. Never before has there been a rose like this, and never again will its equal appear.
Here lies the "Prince," unparalleled and full of virtue. Her "great glory famed" is evident.
Bradstreet's poem honoring the deceased Queen Elizabeth is notable for its "feminist" themes and for the poet's display of her vast historical knowledge and command over the elegiac form. Bradstreet wrote this poem in 1643 and it appeared in The Tenth Muse. At its core, the poem "praises the Queen as a paragon of female prowess. Chiding her male readers for trivializing women, Bradstreet refers to the Queen's outstanding leadership and historical prominence" (The Poetry Foundation).
Queen Elizabeth I was Queen Regnant of England and Ireland from 1558 to 1603. Her people referred to her as the "Virgin Queen" because she never married. As the daughter of Henry VIII, Elizabeth was the last monarch from the Tudor dynasty. She ruled by good counsel and established an English Protestant Church, which later evolved into the Church of England. Her rule was moderate and there was little religious strife or violence in her kingdom. The Pope declared Elizabeth illegitimate and she encountered many threats on on her life, but her ministers defeated all the assassination plots. She was cautious in foreign affairs, but won her most memorable victory in 1588 with the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Her reign, which historians refer to as the Elizabethan era, is when the great English dramatic traditions emerged, led by William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Additionally, the start of British exploration into the New World occurred during this time.
Bradstreet begins her elegy with a proem, which is a preamble to a poem. She explains that the queen has died and this poem pays tribute to her glory and "wondrous worth." Bradstreet humbly states that there are thousands bringing offerings and that hers might seem irrelevant amidst such tributes, but she will proffer it just the same. Her display of humility mirrors her tone in "The Prologue," and evinces Bradstreet's familiarity with that traditional poetic conceit.
In the poem itself, Bradstreet effusively praises the Queen's many virtues and claims that there has never been a country so happy, so free, and well ruled as Elizabeth's England. The poet mentions Elizabeth's defeat of the Spanish Armada and her decision to assist the Franks. Bradstreet refers to the Queen's foreign policy successes, which were commonly associated with male rulers. However, her shrewd political maneuverings solidified Queen Elizabeth's reputation as a fearless woman and a ruler just as formidable as any of her male counterparts.
Bradstreet also compares Elizabeth to great female rulers of the past, but as critic Anne Hildebrand writes, the poet relies on apotheosis and hyperbole: "Elizabeth has all the good qualities of the famous queens of history, but none of their characteristic defects. Dido is also 'a great Eliza' because she built Carthage, but she suffers in a fuller comparison to Elizabeth. Cleopatra was as rich as Elizabeth, but less honorable, and so on." Bradstreet also refers to Elizabeth as "our (Pallas) Queen," evoking the Greek goddess Athena and Zenobia, who was the Queen of Roman-Syria in the 3rd century. Zenobia led a revolt against the Roman Empire and later ruled Egypt.
Bradstreet's expatiation on Elizabeth's successes and comparisons to great female leaders leads her into a lucid claim for female worth. She writes, "Now say, have women worth, or have they none? / Or had they some, but with our Queen is't gone? / Nay Masculines, you have thus tax'd us long, / But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong." While Bradstreet is certainly not advocating gender equality at the level of 1970s feminists, she does ask men to take pause before dismissing a woman's ability to lead. Bradstreet was no doubt aware that a woman like Elizabeth was a rarity, but the poet remained humble about her own profession and abilities. However, she makes an unequivocal case that men should view Elizabeth's reign as representative of what all women are capable of.