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Tag Archives: Anne Bradstreet

America’s First Published Woman Poet

When teaching American literature, I always chose to introduce my students to two Puritan writers, Jonathon Edwards and Anne Bradstreet. I would read their works aloud, because their stilted language could be difficult.
Because of the Puritans’ unfamiliar doctrines of covenant people, covenant marriage, and the individual’s place in the community, discussions of their beliefs vs. twentieth century ideas were often led by “why. ” We can not walk in the shoes of these colonial men and women.
The ideas and lifestyles of these immigrants to our country are still foreign to us today.
She didn’t argue with the Puritan thoughts on the roles of men and women.
Let Greeks be Greeks, and Women what they are
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.
 It is in Anne Bradstreet’s poem, “To My Dear and Loving Husband,”  she clearly states the Puritan belief of covenant marriage. The unity of husband and wife (“If ever two were one, then surely we…”), the requirement of exclusive devotion (“My love is such that rivers cannot quench…”), and the permanence of the marital relationship (“…when we live no more we may live ever”) are all emphasized. Passionately, with her heart and with her words, she proclaims her beliefs on her marriage, concluding with the words,
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
Anne Bradstreet was born on March 22, 1612 to a former soldier of Queen Elizabeth’s, Thomas Dudley and wife Dorothy,  in Northhampton, England. Dudley managed the affairs of the Earl of Lincoln, and the family lived on a beautiful estate. Her family was Puritan, and their home was full of books. Anne was tutored in literature and history in Greek, Latin, French, Hebrew, as well as English.
Image result for anne bradstreet biography oil painting of Anne Bradstreet
At age 16, she married her childhood sweetheart, twenty-five-year-old Simon Bradstreet. Simon was the son of a Puritan minister and had been in the care of the Dudleys since his father’s death. Simon was a Cambridge graduate.
Image result for anne bradstreet biography Simon Bradstreet
Two years later, in 1630, the family, along with Anne and Simon, sailed for America with the Massachusetts Bay Company. This group was made up of well-to-do families, who believed they were called by God to establish a new settlement in a New World, as it was called.
John Winthrop was the leader of this expedition, and the main ship was named “Arabella.” There were eleven ships that sailed from Yarmouth in this expedition. The three month journey was difficult; several died. But these Puritans were dedicated to form a community where they could exercise their religion and worship God in the manner of their choosing without the corrupting influence in England of Catholicism.
 Arabella
Settling in Ipswith, Massachusetts, the leadership of this new colony was with three men. Anne’s father, Thomas Dudley, was Deputy-Governor of the Boston settlement. His friend John Winthrop was Governor, and Anne’s husband was Chief-Administrator. Both her father and husband later served as governors.

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.

Image result for quotes about anne bradstreet's poetry

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. 

Anne Bradstreet Home Salem MA

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.

When I behold the heavens as in their prime,
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
he’s laid.

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.

 

 

Our First American Woman Poet

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Her family’s good status helped her in having a good raising and education. In her growing up years, Anne was taught history, several languages, and literature. Anne had been well tutored in literature and history. She learned Greek, Latin, French, Hebrew, as well as English. She was married to Simon Bradstreet at the age of sixteen and had eight children.

Image result for governor bradstreet Simon Bradstreet

Though 17th century American poet Anne Bradstreet once called her poems “homespun,” her words sore above her dreary and dire life in early New England. Leaving England for the New World in 1630, with her husband and parents, she met a world an ocean away comprised of unknown fevers, malnutrition, poor food, and Indian attacks.

Image result for governor bradstreet

The voyage to America on the “Arbella” with John Winthrop took three months and was quite difficult, with several people dying from the experience. Life was rough and cold, quite a change from the beautiful estate with its well-stocked library where Anne spent many hours. As Anne tells her children in her memoirs, “I found a new world and new manners at which my heart rose [up in protest.].”

Image result for john winthrop John Winthrop

Her conflict with the Puritan faith and love for her husband inundated her verse. When I taught her poetry in American literature classes, students were astonished with the depth of her writing. She had no formal education, was home schooled by her literary father, and described her world with realism. She was the first American woman poet to be published.

Image result for governor bradstreet

 

More often, her poems and meditations consist of drawing moral lessons from her domestic activities–house cleaning, baking, preserving, caring for her children–or from her observations of nature. And she observed deeply those personal experiences, allowing them to speak to her.

Spring is my favorite season, and I welcomed it early this year. A variety of birds have found our bird feeder and have started their nest building under John’s workshop with their lattice protection. Even the days are finally longer.

“Spring flew swiftly by, and summer came; and if the village had been beautiful at first, it was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its richness. The great trees, which had looked shrunken and bare in the earlier months, had now burst into strong life and health; and stretching forth their green arms over the thirsty ground, converted open and naked spots into choice nooks, where was a deep and pleasant shade from which to look upon the wide prospect, steeped in sunshine, which lay stretched out beyond. The earth had donned her mantle of brightest green; and shed her richest perfumes abroad. It was the prime and vigour of the year; all things were glad and flourishing,” said Charles Dickens.

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant,” wrote Anne Bradstreet. Whether it is the weather or our circumstances, we can count on this change of seasons.

“Contemplations” is considered by many as her best poem.

Then higher on the glistering Sun I gaz’d

Whose beams was shaded by the leavie Tree,

The more I look’d, the more I grew amaz’d

And softly said, what glory’s like to thee?

Soul of this world, this Universes Eye,

No wonder, some made thee a Deity:

Had I not better known, (alas) the same had I

The wisest man to ever live, King Solomon affirmed this truth in Ecclesiastes 3:1. “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens….” I am so grateful for spring.