Men have precedency and still excel;
It is but vain unjustly to wage war.
Men can do best, and women know it well,
Preeminence in all and each is yours;
Yet grant some small acknowledgment of ours.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
As Anne tells her children in her memoirs, “I found a new world and new manners at which my heart rose [up in protest.]”
The New World was fierce, rough, and dangerous. Giving birth to eight children, who all survived to adulthood, in ten years, Anne made her writing domain a domestic one. Frequently ill, her positive outlook was evident even in her writing. “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” When their house burned down, she wrote about this calamity that was so common in the 17th century. She wrote a poem about the loss of her young grandson.
Her mother set an admirable example of the type of wife Anne admired. We can read that in the epitaph she wrote for her mother.
Here lies/ A worthy matron of unspotted life,/ A loving mother and obedient wife,/ A friendly neighbor, pitiful to poor,/ Whom oft she fed, and clothed with her store;/ To servants wisely aweful, but yet kind,/ And as they did, so they reward did find:/ A true instructor of her family,/ The which she ordered with dexterity,/ The public meetings ever did frequent,/ And in her closest constant hours she spent;/ Religious in all her words and ways,/ Preparing still for death, till end of days:/ Of all her children, children lived to see,/ Then dying, left a blessed memory.
There is little evidence about Anne’s life in Massachusetts beyond that given in her poetry–no portrait, no grave marker. She and her family moved several times, always to more remote frontier areas where Simon could accumulate more property and political power. They would have been quite vulnerable to Indian attack there; families of powerful Puritans were often singled out for kidnapping and ransom. She admits no fear of her present or her future.
And then the earth (though old) still clad in green,
The stones and trees, insensible of time
Nor age nor wrinkle on their front are seen;
Is winter come, and greenness then do fade,
A spring returns, and they more youthful made
But Man grows old, lies down, remains where once
Anne seems to have written poetry primarily for herself, her family, and her friends, many of whom were very well educated. Her early, more imitative poetry, taken to England by her brother-in-law (possibly without her permission), appeared as The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America in 1650 when she was 38 and sold well in England.
That same brother-in- law wrote these words describing Anne. “…her gracious demeanor, her eminent parts, her pious conversation, her courteous disposition, her exact diligence in her place, her discreet managing of her family connections.”
There is much more to be said about her strength, her faith, and her life. But reading these snippets of her lyrical poetry perhaps remind us that the daily things in this world have not changed. She drew her moral lessons from her home activities and observations of nature, and her themes were religion, nature, and her family.
Hope and trust led her musings, and we need that focus, whether in 1650 or 2019.