Anne Bradstreet

Anne Bradstreet was born in in England in 1612. In 1630, she sailed with her father and husband, Simon Bradstreet, to America with the Massachusetts Bay Company. The voyage on the “Arbella” took 3 months and was quite difficult.

Historically, Anne’s identity is primarily linked to her prominent father and husband, both governors of Massachusetts. Though she appreciated their love and protection, "any woman who sought to use her wit, charm, or intelligence in the community at large found herself ridiculed, banished, or executed by the Colony's powerful group of male leaders."

This situation was made painfully clear to her in the fate of her friend Anne Hutchinson, a dynamic speaker who held prayer meetings where women debated religious and ethical ideas. Hutchinson was banished and killed in an Indian attack. No wonder Bradstreet was not anxious to publish her poetry and kept her more personal works private.

Bradstreet wrote epitaphs for both her mother and father, which not only show her love for them but shows them as role models of male and female behavior in the Puritan culture.

Anne seems to have written poetry primarily for herself, her family, and her friends, many of whom were very well educated. Her early, more imitative poetry, taken to England by her brother-in-law, appeared as The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America in 1650, when she was 38 and sold well in England. Her later works, not published in her lifetime although shared with friends and family, were more private and personal. Her style and subject matter was unique for her time.

She evidently took herself very seriously as an intellectual and a poet. She read widely in history, science, and literature, and gradually developed a confident poetic voice.

Her "apologies" were more ironic than sincere, responding to those Puritans who felt women should be silent, modest, living in the private rather than the public sphere. She could be humorous with her "feminist" views, as in a poem on Queen Elizabeth I:

Now say, have women worth, or have they none
Or had they some, but with our Queen is't gone?
Nay, masculines, you have taxed 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.

One must remember that she was a Puritan, although she often doubted, even questioning God. Her love of nature and the physical world, as well as the spiritual world, often caused creative conflict in her poetry. Though she found great hope in the future promises of religion, she also found great pleasures in the realities of the present, especially of her family, her home, and nature.

Her poetry was generally ignored until "rediscovered" by feminists in the 20th century. These critics have found many significant artistic qualities in her work.

Source: Anne Bradstreet
© Ann Woodlief, Virginia Commonwealth University

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