Monday, November 2, 2015

Puritan Poet Anne Bradstreet c.1612-1672

A portrait often used to demonstrate how Anne Bradstreet may have looked between 1630-1663 in the British American colonies.

To My Dear and Loving Husband

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee, give recompence.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,
The heavens reward thee maniford I pray.
Then while we live, in love lets so presever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Anne Bradstreet was born in England, in 1612. As the daughter of Thomas Dudley, a steward of the Earl of Lincoln, & Dorothy Yorke, she was a well-educated woman learning history, several languages, & literature.  She married Simon Bradstreet, a graduate of Cambridge University, at the age of 16. 

Anne, her husband, & her parents immigrated to America aboard the Arbella as part of the Winthrop Fleet of Puritan emigrants in 1630. The sail on the Arbella with John Winthrop took 3 months & was quite difficult, with several voyagers dying from the experience. Both Anne's father & husband were later to serve as governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. 

Life in New England was rough & cold, quite a change from her family's estate in Northampton, England, with its well-stocked library. Anne's husband was a lawyer, judge, & legislator who was often absent for long periods. In 1661, he even returned to England to negotiate new charter terms for the colony with King Charles II. She wrote that she loved her husband deeply & missed him greatly, when he traveled frequently on colony business to other settlements. These absences left Anne in charge of managing the homeplace & family - keeping house, raising the children, overseeing the farm's work.

Despite poor health including smallpox & tuberculosis & eventual joint paralysis, she had 8 children in 10 years & achieved a comfortable social standing in the Massachusettes Bay Colony. The Bradstreets moved frequently in the Massachusetts colony, first to Cambridge, then to Ipswich, & then to Andover, which became their permanent home.

1867 Image displayed on page 9 in The Works of Anne Bradstreet in Prose and Verse by John Harvard Ellis.

She was the first notable American poet of either gender, and the first poet to be published in colonial America. Anne’s early education helped her to write with certainty about politics, history, medicine, & theology. Her religious beliefs allowed her to write of  deeply personal life, love, & death in simple, powerful language.

In 1647, Bradstreet's brother-in-law Rev. John Woodbridge went to England carrying a manuscript of Anne’s poetry. When her brother-in-law published the first compilation of her poems “The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, by a Gentlewoman of those Parts” in London in 1650, Anne Bradstreet became the first woman poet to be published both in England & America. In 1678, the 1st British American edition of Tenth Muse was published posthumously & expanded as Several Poems Compiled with Great Wit and Learning. Bradstreet’s most highly regarded work, a sequence of religious poems entitled Contemplations, was not published until the middle of the 19C.

Apparently, she did not fit into the local New England conception of the ideal housewife of her time. She wrote poetry, while others tended the house & made the clothing. Married women were not allowed to possess property, sign contracts, or conduct business. Their husbands owned everything, including the couple's children. Generally a wife's role was to love, obey & further the interests & will of her husband. Women could divorce their husbands in certain circumstances - adultery, willful desertion, & physical cruelty. If a woman was a good mate, she had fulfilled her God-given duty. 

Anne wrote of the expected role of a wife in Puritan New England when she wrote "An Epitaph on my dear & ever honoured mother, Mrs. Dorothy Dudley, Who deceased December 27, 1643, and of her age, 61: 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. 

She also wrote of the role of the male when her father died 10 years later: Within this tomb a patriot lies/ That was both pious, just and wise,/ To truth a shield, to right a wall,/ To sectaries a whip and maul,/ A magazine of history,/ A prizer of good company/ In manners pleasant and severe/ The good him loved, the bad did fear,/ And when his time with years was spent/ In some rejoiced, more did lament./ 1653, age 77 

In 1666, fire burned down the Bradstreet home which is believed to have contained 800 books that Anne had collected. Shortly afterward she lost a son & a daughter. But her will remained strong, & she found peace in the firm belief, that her children were in heaven. Believing that all happenings come from God for some instructive reason, Ann wrote of the fire,

"And when I could no longer look,
I blest his grace that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so 'twas just.
It was his own; it was not mine.
Far be it that I should repine."

Anne Bradstreet died on September 16, 1672, in Andover, Massachusetts, at the age of 60.

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