(Anne Bradstreet 1612-1672)

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye woman, 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 aught but love from thee, give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so perservere
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Even though Valentine’s Day is still months away, I wanted to share this love poem written by my favorite poet Anne Bradstreet.

Anne Bradstreet was born in England in 1612 and raised on the estate of the Earl of Lincoln where her father was the steward. She learned to read and had an opportunity to study the classics. She married Simon Bradstreet, her father’s assistant, in 1628. In 1630, Anne emigrated to the New World with her parents and husband. After surviving the difficult journey, the Puritan men of the Arabella formed the new government of the fledgling Boston Settlement. John Winthrop became Governor, her father Thomas Dudley became Deputy-Governor, and her husband Simon was appointed Chief Administrator. While the men enlarged the Massachusetts Bay Colony and went on to found Harvard University, Anne struggled with basic daily survival for her growing family. The lack of food, the harsh climate, and poor living conditions took their toll on her health, already weakened from a bout of smallpox.

Yet Anne’s faith held her steadfast and filled her heart with hope. As the days turned to years and she struggled with the hardships of colony living, she sought solace through writing poetry.

When her husband became a diplomat for the growing colony, she found herself raising her children alone in the wilderness. Despite her hard life, Anne was a passionate woman who adored her seven children and was deeply in love with her husband. She was imaginative, quick-witted, and highly intuitive. But since Anne was also a contemporary of Anne Hutchison who, in 1637, was exiled by Governor John Winthrop to Rhode Island because of her outspoken views on religion and women, Anne Bradstreet learned the dangers of open dissent. Especially by a woman.

Then, unbeknownst to Anne, her brother-in-law Rev. John Woodbridge took her poems back to England and published them without her consent. In 1650, her first book The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America was published. Four hundred pages long, its publication made her the first published author and poet of the New World. But her brother-in-law’s action did not pass without comment from Anne in a later poem titled The Author to her Book. The first stanzas express her subdued irritation beautifully.

Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,

Who after birth did’st by my side remain,

Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true,

Who thee abroad expos’d to public view

Even though Anne lived a Puritan life, she used her writing to subtly fight the biases against women. When her first book came out, her brother-in-law had to stress it was written by a virtuous woman. He even signed the authors line with the words “written by a Gentle Woman of Those Parts.” Then came the criticism that she’d given up time tending her duties to her children and God in order to write. She was expected to prove she’d given up hours of sleep instead of time with her family to complete the manuscript. Her response to this criticism came in a later poem The Prologue.

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits;
A poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong,
For such despite they cast on female wits.
If what I do prove well, it won’t advance;
They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance.

Her first poems were well received, but were considered nice “imitations” of the male literary works of the Elizabethan era, such as John Milton and Edmund Spenser. It wasn’t until she harnessed her passion and tapped into her scathing wit that her later works were met with even more acclaim. The poems of her older (more confident) years are considered her best work–emotionally authentic, true to her voice, with a simple style of writing. The following stanzas from the poem In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess, Queen Elizabeth is my favorite example.

Now say, have women worth, or have they none?
Or had they some, but with our Queen is’t gone?
Nay Masculines, you have thus tax’d us long,
But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong.
Let such as say our sex is void of reason
Know ’tis a slander now, but once was treason.

But I don’t just love Anne Bradstreet because of her poetry. We all have daily annoyances as well as life sufferings, yet nothing I do in the twenty-first century is as hard as a single day Anne lived in the seventeenth. Despite all the hardships, caring for and home-schooling eight children, dealing with a traveling husband, she still found time to write. So whenever I come up with reasons to not sit in front of my laptop, I think of Anne Bradstreet. After all, if a humble woman of unremarkable means living in the wilderness can become the first published author of a new country, what’s my excuse? And what’s yours?

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