Meet Anne Bradstreet Poet of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

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.

It is Women’s History Month: Celebrating Anna Maria van Schurman, a Strong Women

Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678) was a philosopher and a Dutch polymath. She spoke more than a dozen ancient and modern languages when women were officially excluded from colleges, universities and intellectual academies, when women were rarely given any formal education at all. That her genius was recognized is all the more remarkable.

She was neither a traditional Aristotelian philosopher nor a modern scholar who challenged the Aristotelians, but in expressing her views on contemporary scholasticism in depth correspondence with leading intellectual figures of her day, she charted her own unique path. And, her path was to articulate a breath of arguments advocating women’s education.

Anna Maria van Schurman demonstrated her intellect through her linguistic abilities. She was fluent in ancient languages such as Hebrew, Greek and Latin and in modern languages such as English, French, German. She was also a poet, a philosopher, an embroiderer, and a painter.

Some have divided Anna Maria van Schurman’s life into two periods: an early time of learning, philosophy, painting, and literature, and a later era of religious conviction and the rejection of her previous secular ways. But there is a thread of unity that weaves together both periods: throughout her long life, van Schurman was a woman of great conviction, and also a confident and independently minded person. She very deliberately did not allow the gender norms of her day to prevent her from achieving a deep education and a level of intellectual fame that was simply remarkable for any woman.

She was an inspiration and mentor to many men and women, including Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, and a challenging debater for many others, including Descartes. In her later life, she was an inspiration and mentor to many people who sought a new form of religious life, including most prominently the famous Quaker William Penn.

If you are hankering to learn more about this trail blazing woman, check out: annamariavanschurman.org 

What I learned from Angela Davis

Angela Davis

Angela Davis used to scare me, or maybe it was that she intimidated me. But that is probably not saying as much as it looks like, because there was a time (a long time) in my life when most people intimidated me. Why is a whole other story, more self-confessional than I want to get into here. But I think I’ve mostly grown beyond that now.

But Angela Davis. She really is something. Maybe she still intimidates me some.

She was born January 26, 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama. She graduated from Brandeis University, University of Frankfurt and earned her PhD from Humbolt University in Berlin.  She is a woman of intellect. Some have called her a radical. She says, “Radical simply means “grasping things at the root.”

Angela Davis was a leader in the second wave of feminism, a member of the Black Panther Party and a communist. She ran as the Vice Presidential candidate for the Community Party. She actively campaigned against the Viet Nam war.

Angela Davis taught at various Universities across the United States. She teaches that “We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.”  And, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”

She was a supporter of the Soledad Brothers, three inmates who where accused and charged with killing a guard at Soledad prison.  While the three inmates were on trial, one of their brothers secreted guns into the courtroom to help the defendants escape. Melee ensued. The judge and the defendants were shot and killed. A juror and the prosecutor were injured.

Angela Davis had corresponded with one of the inmates and purchased some of the guns. Even though she was not present during the court room melee, she was charged with aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder of the judge. At one point she was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. She was apprehended, and spent a year in jail before she was found NOT GUILTY on all charges.

Angela Davis has worked persistently for the abolition of prisons and the prison-industrial complex as well as the abolition of the death penalty. In Are Prisons Obsolete? Asserts “[Prison] relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.”

Angela Davis is a woman of principle and action. In Freedom Is a Constant Struggle she said, “Everyone is familiar with the slogan “The personal is political” — not only that what we experience on a personal level has profound political implications, but that our interior lives, our emotional lives are very much informed by ideology. We oftentimes do the work of the state in and through our interior lives. What we often assume belongs most intimately to ourselves and to our emotional life has been produced elsewhere and has been recruited to do the work of racism and repression.”

Angela Davis is a woman of action and compassion who challenges us to remember, “Whenever you conceptualize social justice struggles, you will always defeat your own purposes if you cannot imagine the people around whom you are struggling as equal partners.”

A Message from Amelia Earhart to the Women of the Future

Dear Sisters,

Dear Sisters,

You know me as a brash American flyer. And, yes, I set flying records. Yes, I championed the cause of women in aviation.  I was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the US mainland. Mostly, my flying has been solo, but the preparation for it wasn’t. Without my husband’s help and encouragement, I could not have achieved what I did. Ours was a contented and reasonable partnership, he with his solo jobs and I with mine. But always with work and play together, conducted under a satisfactory system of dual control.

But my greatest adventure – to circumnavigate the globe – was cut short in July of 1937.  Obviously I faced the possibility of not returning when first I considered going. Once faced and settled there really wasn’t any good reason to refer to it. The most effective way to take up a challenge or adventure, is to do it. One must plan thoughtfully and thoroughly. One must practice and perfect all skills. Then, one must take up the challenge and do it! Adventure is worthwhile in itself.

I will always cherish the vision of flying after midnight, the moon set, and I was alone with the stars. I have often said that the lure of flying is the lure of beauty, and I need no other flight to convince me that the reason flyers fly, whether they know it or not, is the esthetic appeal of flying.  Flying might not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price

After I was lost over the Pacific, probably in near the Howland Island, the wreckage of my plane, my bones were never found. And so, for all of my accomplishments, for all of my achievements, I am remembered as the woman who was lost at sea.  

But I was so much more than that. I was a woman who relished beauty and adventure. I was a woman who believed that women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.

And so I say to you, my sisters of the future, never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done. Watch them, learn from those who are doing. Use your fear, let it take you to the place where you store your courage. And then, FLY!

A message from the Amazons to the Women of the Future

Dear Women of the Future,

We are Penthesilea and Hippolyta. We are Andromache and Antiope. You know us as queens and ruthless warriors. You know us wrongly. Those who control the present have rewritten the past to suit their wants and needs. We are the Mothers. We are a nation of women. We are leaders. We are healers. We are creators. We are weavers and potters. We farm and tend our herds. We are skilled in weapons and wisdom. We are as strong and resilient as need be. And we stand in combat as need be.

You know us as the daughters of Ares, the god of war. We are the daughters of Artemis, goddess of hunting, wild nature, and chastity. We are the daughters of Athena, goddess of wisdom, war and peace, and spinning and weaving. We are who we are, a tribe, a nation of self-sufficient women who stand with strength and pride, and care for our own.

We, the Amazons, are the wild women who inhabit the wild places. Freedom feeds our souls, death trembles before our deeds. We write our holy books, we shape our rules and rituals, we craft heaven from the holiness of our hearts, lives and love.

We the Amazons say to you Women of the Future, choose your battles with the wisdom of your heart, mind and soul. Never give up. Learn each day. Each day do your best to the betterment of your craft and hearth. Face your fears with trembling knees and courage; nature may taunt us with our weakness; our destiny may be poured by a measure beyond our understanding; and yet, goodness will triumph in the end.

Good Women of the Future, you are now the scribes! Take up your words, reclaim the vision of our wisdom, and let our dream and our deeds fade no more. Good Women of the Future, through your actions and voice, the songs of the Amazons, the creativity and courage of wild and willful women will echo ever more symphonically through the valleys of eternity.

(with thanks to Anne Fortier for the inspiration of her book, The Lost Sisterhood)

A message from Alice Paul to the women of the future

Dear Women of the Future,

Wake up girls! There is too much at risk to be napping or resting on our laurels!! Do you not realize how much we who went before you have sacrificed? Do you not realize how long and hard we labored to build the foundations for women’s rights upon which you now stand?

But wait, this is not the tone I intended to take. I do not mean to be a shrew or a nagging elder, but to shine a light on the wealth of opportunities within which you bask. I mean to encourage you to invest in those opportunities, to develop them, to see them grow and multiply.

To those whom much is given, from them much is expected. I know this. I was a child of wealth and opportunity, born in Mount Lauren Township, New Jersey in 1885. I was able to attend Swarthmore College and then I completed my postgraduate studies at the New York School of Social Work. I was even able to study social work further in England where I participated in the women’s suffrage movement. Oh how that shaped and sharpened my skills on protesting tactics. When I returned to the US, I earned a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, rounding out my credentials. But more importantly, I soon joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association and eventually started my own organization, the National Woman’s Party.

All in all, I have devoted my life to the cause of women’s equality. There are goals yet to be achieved, but our achievements warrant celebration. In 1878 we introduced an amendment to the United States constitution to grant women suffrage, which is to give women the right to vote. In 1878, we women of America proclaimed that America was not a democracy, not when twenty million women are denied the right to vote.

We worked long and hard to gain attention and support for our cause. We organized protests outside the White House, which had never been done before. Our group became known as the Silent Sentinels. We continued our protests continued even when the country was preparing for World War I. After all, when you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row. Many of us were jailed multiple times during the protests, we went on hunger strike, and some of us were force fed via a tube. But our determination for equality eventually gained public and political support.

We kept at our work until the amendment was passed by the House of Representatives on May 21, 1919, by the Senate on June 4, 1919. Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin ratified the amendment within days.  By March 1920 35 states had ratified the amendment, but a core of southern states rejected it. It came down to Tennessee. And the outlook was not good. The vote in the state legislature was 48 to 48. A tie. One representative was yet to vote – Harry T. Burn, a 23 year old Republican, who was known to oppose the amendment. But, his mother wrote to him:  “Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt (Carried Chapman Catt) put the ‘rat’ in ratification.” He honored his mother’s wish, voted yes, and the 19th Amendment was ratified by the required 36 states on August 18, 1920, and certified on August 26, 1920.

The Nineteenth Amendment simply says: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

I have long believed that there really is nothing complicated about ordinary equality. So, once the vote was secured, we took up the work for a women’s Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution. I could not help but take the next step in our journey to equality out of a feeling of loyalty to our own sex and an enthusiasm to have every degradation that was put upon our sex removed.  I know if we get freedom for women, then they are probably going to do a lot of things that I wish they wouldn’t do. But it seems to me that isn’t our business to say what they should do with it. It is our business to see that they get it. It is not for me to judge the choices of other women, after all, courage in women is often mistaken for insanity. 

Dear women of the future, it is time for you to put your hearts, minds and hands to the plow, to take up the work of women’s equality.  How much longer must women wait to get their liberty? Let us have the rights we deserve.

(the above includes a number of quotes from Alice Paul, woven together and elaborated with words from my heart.)

A message from Abigail Adams to the women of the future

Perhaps you will remember me as the wife of the second president of the newly formed United States of America. I would rather you knew me as I was, a woman who thought deeply and who acted with care. The times of my life placed many limits on the actions and engagements of women. But I believe the women of my time stretched and strained those limits to the best of our abilities.

Our times were times of greatness and of grief. They were times of hope and of desolation. They were times in which a genius would wish to live. Your era has said, ‘keep calm and carry on.’ I think that a calm is not desirable in any situation in life. Humans were made for action and for bustle too, I believe. Indeed, it is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. It formed the habits of a vigorous mind in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. All history will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruit of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.

But let no person say what they would or would not do, since we are not judges for ourselves until circumstances call us to act. No one is without difficulties, whether in high or low life, and every person knows best where their own shoe pinches. Great difficulties may be surmounted by patience and perseverance.

I beseeched my husband and the men of my time to remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than their ancestors. I urged them to not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands; to remember, all men would be tyrants if they could; to remember that members of your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend. I cautioned them that if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

Well, my entreaties went unheard. To you women of the future, I say, if we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me, and accuse me of vanity, but you, I know, have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the sentiment. If much depends upon the early education of youth and if the first principals which are instilled take the deepest root, great benefit must arise from literary accomplishments in women. Even while I argue that knowledge is a fine thing, remember that while mother Eve thought so as well, she smarted so severely for hers. Most of her daughters have been afraid of it since. Women of the future, set aside that fear. Take up your books. Take up your lives of action. Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence. To be good, and do good, is the whole duty of human beings, comprised in a few words. Learn each day. Each day, do your best, for your soul, for your family, for your community.

(the above is a collection of quotes from Abigail Adams, woven together and elaborated with words from my heart.)

Stages

I just finished reading The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George.  If you haven’t read it yet, stop what you are doing, get a copy of the book, sit down and start reading it.  Read it to savor it, like a fine wine. Yes, it will break your heart. Yes, it will frustrate you. But, oh, it will open your heart and invite you to breathe — TO BREATHE deeply — to inhale like your life depended on it, to exhale and let go of the past, to cherish the moment, in all of its unpoetic, unromantic grit. And, AND, there is even a bibliography at the end of the book!! what could be better than a work of fiction with a bibliography!! (Well, maybe a really well done new Harry Potter book, but that is another subject all together).

so, here is one of the poems that Nina George works into the story line of The Little Paris Bookshop . . .

 

From  “The Glass Bead Game”  by Hermann Hesse (Translated by Richard and Clara Winston)

Stages

As every flower fades and as all youth

Departs, so life at every stage,

So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,

Blooms in its day and may not last forever.

Since life may summon us at every age

Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,

Be ready bravely and without remorse

To find new light that old ties cannot give.

In all beginnings dwells a magic force

For guarding us and helping us to live.

Serenely let us move to distant places

And let no sentiments of home detain us.

The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us

But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.

If we accept a home of our own making,

Familiar habit makes for indolence.

We must prepare for parting and leave-taking

Or else remain the slaves of permanence.

Even the hour of our death may send

Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,

And life may summon us to newer races.

So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.

 

on how I want to be famous

I was listening to the audio book version of a book that promised it was about mercy. The first word I heard was ‘famous.’  I was not happy. I don’t give a flying fig newton about being famous. Especially now that I am retired.  But I was walking on the treadmill, so I kept on listening. Finally I heard these lines:

I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back.  I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.

Now that kind of famous I could aspire to. And then I heard, that the lines were from the poem ‘Famous’ by Naomi Shihab Nye. She is still one of my most favoritest poets. Her words still take my breath away and open my heart to the wonders of our world.  Here’s the poem  . . .

 

 

Famous

Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

The river is famous to the fish.

 

The loud voice is famous to silence,

which knew it would inherit the earth

before anybody said so.

 

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds

watching him from the birdhouse.

 

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

 

The idea you carry close to your bosom

is famous to your bosom.

 

The boot is famous to the earth,

more famous than the dress shoe,

which is famous only to floors.

 

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it

and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

 

I want to be famous to shuffling men

who smile while crossing streets,

sticky children in grocery lines,

famous as the one who smiled back.

 

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,

but because it never forgot what it could do.

 

On Life

 

 

From Rilke’s Book of Hours, Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

I live my life in widening circles

that reach out across the world.

I may not complete this last one

but I give myself to it.

 

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.

I’ve been circling for thousands of years

And I still don’t know: am I a falcon,

A storm, or a great song?


I love this poem. It just opens my heart and makes me want to fly.