This week I would like to introduce you to Anne Bradstreet. She was the first writer in the North American colonies to be published, the most prominent of the English poets in North America, and the first Puritan figure in American literature. That is a lot of firsts for anyone, and she was also a woman and a mother. Anne Bradstreet was born March 20, 1612 and lived about 60 years until September 16, 1672.
Anne Bradstreet was born in Northampton, England. She did not attend school, but she was born to well to do parents and was educated by her father and by reading extensively from the libraries of her father’s associates. She was married by the time she was 16. Two years later she and her husband and her parents migrated to North America where they were founding members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She was mother to 8 children, ran her household, attended to the duties associated with being a wife and daughter to public officials; and she wrote poetry. Her first collection, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, was widely read in America and England.
On the surface her life was triumphantly successful. But like everywoman she struggled – with the privations of life in the colonies, with the demands of motherhood, with the religious and emotional conflicts she experienced as a woman and a writer and as a Puritan. Her poems examine sin and redemption, physical and emotional frailty, death and immortality as well as her conflict between the pleasures of sensory and familial experience and the promises of heaven. As a Puritan knew she should relinquish her attachment to the world, its people and things; but as a woman her attachments to her husband and children were powerful.
Remember Anne Bradstreet lived in the same era as the exiled Anne Hutchinson. She must have felt the conflicting demands of piety and poetry, the social expectation of respectability and the literary call to daring. She live in a time and place that was hostile to personal autonomy and valued poetry only if it praised God.
Anne Bradstreet in her own words:
- Youth is the time of getting, middle age of improving, and old age of spending; a negligent youth is usually attended by an ignorant middle age, and both by an empty old age.
- Authority without wisdom is like a heavy ax without an edge — fitter to bruise than polish.
- I am obnoxious to each carping tongue who says my hand a needle better fits.
- Fire hath its force abated by water, not by wind; and anger must be allayed by cold words, and not by blustering threats.
- If we had not winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.
- Sweet words are like honey, a little may refresh, but too much gluts the stomach.