The Bibliophile's Adventurers Club

Exemplars of bookish delight

Well, that’s a first

Anne Bradstreet

Today is Anne Bradstreet day.

I first read her works in college — oh, who am I kidding? That was the first and last time I read her works. Early American lit tends to give me a dreadful headache and I need to lie down.   There, I said it.

In reality, however, she’s really quite something . . .

Anne was born in Northampton, England, in 1612, to Thomas and Dorothy {Yorke} Dudley. With her father, the Earl of Lincoln, and her mother, a gentlewoman of noble heritage, Anne grew up to be educated, well versed in literature, history, and languages.  At sixteen, she married her father’s assistant — the son of a Puritan minister, a man by the name of Simon Bradstreet. Two years later, the whole family set sail to settle on Massachusetts Bay.

It was no easy voyage.

Three months they battled poor weather and malnutrition, sea squalls and scurvy. Many died, and continued to die once they reached shore.  Others turned around and went back home. They’d had quite enough. But not the Bradfords or the Dudleys. They set up the government.

A lady, she had to learn to acclimate to a change in weather, deal with a lack of food, and primitive living conditions. She had to raise eight children–many times alone–amid her husband’s frequent travels. She had to work through paralysis of the joints {thanks to smallpox}, and build again when they lost all their earthly possessions to a house fire. She had to bury a child.

Through it all, she never fell out of love with her husband, she never gave up on her family, she never lost faith in her God.

Instead, when times got tough, and nights grew lonely, she set pen to paper and wrote poems.

She never intended them to be published, mind you. That’s not at all what women did.

All the same, her brother-in-law saw promise. Unbeknownst to Anne, he copied her work and brought it to England to be published. Sly though it may have been, that’s how her first collection of poems, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts, came to be published {1650}.  In that, Anne Bradstreet became one of the first poets to write English verse in the American colonies, and the first published female American writer.    

So here’s to Anne Bradstreet — to firsts — and to something rather extraordinary in the every day . . .

In Reference to her children | Anne Bradstreet

I had eight birds hatcht in one nest,
Four Cocks were there, and Hens the rest.
I nurst them up with pain and care,
No cost nor labour did I spare
Till at the last they felt their wing,
Mounted the Trees and learned to sing.
Chief of the Brood then took his flight
To Regions far and left me quite.
My mournful chirps I after send
Till he return, or I do end.
Leave not thy nest, thy Dame and Sire,
Fly back and sing amidst this Quire.
My second bird did take her flight
And with her mate flew out of sight.
Southward they both their course did bend,
And Seasons twain they there did spend,
Till after blown by Southern gales
They Norward steer’d with filled sails.
A prettier bird was no where seen,
Along the Beach, among the treen.
I have a third of colour white
On whom I plac’d no small delight,
Coupled with mate loving and true,
Hath also bid her Dame adieu.
And where Aurora first appears,
She now hath percht to spend her years.
One to the Academy flew
To chat among that learned crew.
Ambition moves still in his breast
That he might chant above the rest,
Striving for more than to do well,
That nightingales he might excell.
My fifth, whose down is yet scarce gone,
Is ‘mongst the shrubs and bushes flown
And as his wings increase in strength
On higher boughs he’ll perch at length.
My other three still with me nest
Until they’re grown, then as the rest,
Or here or there, they’ll take their flight,
As is ordain’d, so shall they light.
If birds could weep, then would my tears
Let others know what are my fears
Lest this my brood some harm should catch
And be surpris’d for want of watch
Whilst pecking corn and void of care
They fall un’wares in Fowler’s snare;
Or whilst on trees they sit and sing
Some untoward boy at them do fling,
Or whilst allur’d with bell and glass
The net be spread and caught, alas;
Or lest by Lime-twigs they be foil’d;
Or by some greedy hawks be spoil’d.
O would, my young, ye saw my breast
And knew what thoughts there sadly rest.
Great was my pain when I you bred,
Great was my care when I you fed.
Long did I keep you soft and warm
And with my wings kept off all harm.
My cares are more, and fears, than ever,
My throbs such now as ‘fore were never.
Alas, my birds, you wisdom want
Of perils you are ignorant.
Oft times in grass, on trees, in flight,
Sore accidents on you may light.
O to your safety have an eye,
So happy may you live and die.
Mean while, my days in tunes I’ll spend
Till my weak lays with me shall end.
In shady woods I’ll sit and sing
And things that past, to mind I’ll bring.
Once young and pleasant, as are you,
But former toys (no joys) adieu!
My age I will not once lament
But sing, my time so near is spent,
And from the top bough take my flight
Into a country beyond sight
Where old ones instantly grow young
And there with seraphims set song.
No seasons cold, nor storms they see
But spring lasts to eternity.
When each of you shall in your nest
Among your young ones take your rest,
In chirping languages oft them tell
You had a Dame that lov’d you well,
That did what could be done for young
And nurst you up till you were strong
And ‘fore she once would let you fly
She shew’d you joy and misery,
Taught what was good, and what was ill,
What would save life, and what would kill.
Thus gone, amongst you I may live,
And dead, yet speak and counsel give.
Farewell, my birds, farewell, adieu,
I happy am, if well with you.

1 Comment

  1. This poem should speak to any mother – thanks for sharing!

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