Anne Dudley Bradstreet

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue,
Who sayes, my hand a needle better fits,
A Poets Pen, all scorne, I should thus wrong;
For such despighte they cast on female wits:
If what I doe prove well, it wo'nt advance,
They'l say its stolen, or else, it was by chance.
- Bradstreet

Anne Dudley Bradstreet was America's first poet. Born about 1612 in Northampton, England, Anne was the first daughter and second of the five children of Thomas Dudley and Dorothy (Yorke) Dudley, who was, by Cotton Mather's account, "a gentlewoman whose extraction and estate were considerable." Her parents' marriage record was found in the Parish Register at Hardingstone, near Northampton, England: "Marriages Anno Dni 1606 - Thomas Dudley & Dorothy York married the 25th of April, 1603" (NEHGR 56:206 Notes and Queries).

Anne's childhood was spent in comparative luxury at Tattershall Castle in Sempringham, Lincolnshire, where her father was the chief steward of the vast estates of Theophilus Clinton, the Puritan Earl of Lincoln. Her upbringing was largely influenced by her father's position. She had private tutors, access to the Earl's library, the enouragement of a literate father who loved history, and a strict religious indoctrination.

Her young life was often interrupted by illness; she was bedridden with rheumatic fever and as an adolescent she almost died from smallpox. Shortly after recovering, Anne, aged 16, married Simon Bradstreet in 1628. Simon was a protégé of the Earl's, nine years her senior, the son of a Nonconformist minister and a graduate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. In 1630 Anne accompanied him and her parents to America. They were members of John Winthrop's party, the first settlers on Massachusetts Bay and they sailed on the flagship, Arbella. The party arrived "in June at the half-dying, famine-ridden frontier village of Salem, after a journey of 3 month of close quarter, raw nerves, sickness, hysteria and salt meats," wrote Anne. At first dismayed by the rude life of the settlement, she soon reconciled herself to it. "I changed my condition and was marryed, and came into this country, where I found a new world and new manners, at which my heart rose. But after I was convinced it was the way of God, I submitted to it and joined to the church at Boston."

Anne's father, Thomas Dudley became deputy governer of the Massachusetts Bay Company. He was a magistrate at the trial of Anne Hutchinson, the other, heretical, Anne, who threatened the foundations of the colony and "gloried" in her excommunication. Simon Bradstreet was an assistant and later twice governor of the colony. The official standing of her father and husband gave Anne a place of dignity and honor in the New World. After a brief residence in Cambridge, the family moved to Ipswich and after 1644 to North Andover, her home for the remainder of her life.

It was a humiliation to this eighteen-year-old wife that she did not at once become a mother. "It pleased God to keep me a long time without a child, which was a great grief to me." Her first son, Samuel, was born at Newtowne (Cambridge) in 1633/4, just before moving to Ipswich, and he proved to be the first of eight children. The others were Dorothy, Sarah, Simon, Jr., Dudley, Hannah, John and Mercy.

Admidst her social obligations, Anne found time to write poetry. By her own admission, she began her verse-making almost accidentally. Her poems were written for her own satisfaction. As was customary of the time, her poems were circulated among family and friends in the new colony. She greatly admired the leading French calvinist poet Du Bartas and her early verse shows his influence upon her.

Anne's brother-in-law, the Rev. John Woodbridge, who had secured a manuscript copy comprised of fifteen poems, caused them to be printed in England under the title, The Tenth Muse Lately sprung up in America, Or Severall Poems, compiled with great variety of Wit and Learning, full of delight ... By a Gentlewoman in those parts. This appears to have occurred without her knowledge or consent. All of the poems in this collection were written before her thirtieth year, somewhere between 1630-1642, imitating Du Bartas. Her early work was conventional, dull, and easily forgotten. No one of the long poems in The Tenth Muse would be read today by anyone save a literay historian. The often wooden lines and forced rhymes of her early poems reveal Bradstreet's grim determination to prove that she could write in the lofty style of the established male poets, but her deeper emotions are obviously not engaged in the project.

Seeing The Tenth Muse in print completely cured Anne of writing imitative poetry. In 1678 an American edition of The Tenth Muse appeared under the new title Several Poems Compiled with great variety of Wit and Learning and included some of her later work, which became her chief claim to attention. The first satisfactory edition of her work was edited by John Harvey Ellis in 1867. It is clear that this edition contains the poet's own corrections, made because she was dissatisfied the The Tenth Muse. These later poems show that she had not only learned to see nature and human life directly, but also to look into her own heart and write with the imagination vision of a poet. Much of her later work was rooted in her actual experience as a wife, as a mother, and a woman in seventeenth-century New England. It concerned her personal reflections, and the warmth and frank humanity that pervaded them struck a welcome contrast to the Puritan stereotype.

As a Puritan woman of the seventeenth-century, Anne Bradstreet struggled to write poetry in a society that was hostile to imagination. Women were expected to behave deferentially and neither her education nor her privileged status as the child of one colonial governor and wife of another could protect her against the scorn and persecution visited upon women who stepped beyond their role in Puritan society. Anne often appears self-deprecating in order to appease the critical males, describing her work as lowly, meanly clad, poor, ragged, foolish, broken, and blemished.

In the Prologue of The Tenth Muse, Anne makes a very modest claim for the attention she and all women deserve:

Let Greeks be Greeks, and Women what they are,
Men have precedency, and still excell,
It is but vaine, unjustly to wage war,
Men can doe best, and Women know it well;
Preheminence in each, and all is yours,
Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours.

In start contrast, however, is her bold declaration of female abilities in Happy Memory of Queen Elizabeth, the only poem in The Tenth Muse which is not apologetic, but which would have been dangerous had Anne proclaimed the worth of her own work in such a manner.

Who was so good, so just, so learn'd, so wise,
From all the Kings on earth she won the prize;
Nor say I more then duly is her due,
Millions will testifie that this is true.
She hath wip'd off th' aspersion of her Sex,
That woman wisdome lack to play the Rex.

Overall, the poetry of Anne Bradstreet is without a trace of romanticism or sentimentalism. Her art was not an escape from life, but an expression of it. She could express a tender sentiment without being sentimental. This appears best in her poem on the burning of her home at Andover in 1666 and her feelings as she passed the blackened ruins of the house.

When by the ruins oft I passed
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast,
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I say, and long did lie.

Here stood that trunk, and there that chest;
There lay the store I counted best;
My pleasant things in ashes lie,
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy table eat a bit.

No pleasant tale e'er be told,
Nor things recounted done of old.
No candle e'er shall shine in thee,
Nor bridegroom's voice e'er heard shall be.
In silence ever shalt thou lie;
Adieu, Adieu, all's vanity.

Anne's prose "Meditations Divine and Moral," written for her son Simon, were found after her death along with many unpublished poems written to her children. It is likely that other unpublished works were destroyed in the fire that consumed her North Andover home in 1666. Anne Dudley Bradstreet died on September 16, 1672, in North Andover, Massachusetts of consumption or tuberculosis. No potrait survives and her burial place is not known. She may be buried in the old Burying Ground at North Andover or in her father's tomb at Roxbury, Massachusetts.

It is questionable if Anne Bradstreet influenced other poets, but many have paid homage to her. It has been said that Anne's genius was reincarnated in Emily Dickinson. Numbered among her illustrious descendants are Richard Henry Dana, William Ellery Channing, Wendell Phillips, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Coming in March: A Biography of Anne Bradstreet

Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America's First Poet
Mistress Bradstreet:
The Untold Life of
America's First Poet

by Charlotte Gordon
Hardcover, (March 2005)

Click here to order
Mistress Bradstreet

Further reading & Sources:

  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. Builders of the Bay Colony. A Classics Edition. Northeastern Univeristy Press, Boston. 1930.

  • James, Edward T.; James, Janet Wilson; Boyer, Paul S. Notable American Women 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, ; Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 1971.

  • Mather, Cotton. Magnalia Christi Americana, Ecclesiastical History of New England, from its First Planting in the year 1620, Unto the Year of Our Lord, 1698, In Seven Books. New Haven, CT. 1820 edition.

  • Pope, Charles Henry. Gov Thomas Dudley and his Descendants. NEHGR 10:130, April 1856.

  • The Works of Anne Bradstreet, Edited by Jeannine Hensley with foreword by Adrienne Rich. Harvard University Press.

  • Campbell, Helen. Anne Bradstreet and Her Time. 1891.

  • Bradstreet, Anne. The Several Poems Poetry. The Complete Works of Anne Bradstreet. Eds. Joseph R. McElrath, Jr. and Allan P. Robb. Twayne Publishers, Boston. 1981.

  • White, Elizabeth Wade. "The Tenth Muse - A Tercentenary Appraisal of Anne Bradstreet". William and Mary Quarterly, July 1951.

  • Bradstreet, Anne. The Tenth Muse Poetry. The Complete Works of Anne Bradstreet. Eds. Joseph R. McElrath and Allan P. Robb. Twayne Publishers, Boston. 1981.

  • Rosenmeier, Rosamond. Anne Bradstreet Revisited. Twayne Publishers, Boston. 1981.

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