September 16, 2012
America's First Published Poet
Anne Bradstreet was America's first published poet. She died on this day, September 16th, in 1672.
Anne was born in Northampton, England in 1612. She was the daughter of Thomas Dudley, a steward of the Earl of Lincoln, and was a well-educated woman for her time, being tutored in history, several languages and literature.
At the age of sixteen she married and both Anne's father and husband were later to serve as governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Anne and her husband Simon, along with Anne's parents, immigrated to America along with Puritan emigrants in 1630.
Anne Bradstreet was the first poet and first female writer in the British North American colonies to be published. Her first volume of poetry was The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts, published in 1650. It was met with a positive reception in both the Old World and the New World.
I'm not sure that many readers today love her poetry. It is poetry of a style that is not in fashion and Anne is someone you read in classrooms in anthologies of American literature. But her place in history is important for women and for "American" poetry.
Anne Bradstreet died on September 16, 1672 in North Andover, Massachusetts at the age of 60. A marker in the North Andover cemetery commemorates the 350th anniversary in 2000 of the publishing of The Tenth Muse in London in 1650. That site and the Bradstreet Gate at Harvard may be the only two places in America honoring her memory.
The Works of Anne Bradstreet (John Harvard Library)
The Author To Her Book
Thou ill-formed 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 exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call.
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight,
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run'st more hobbling than is meet.
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun cloth, i' th' house I find.
In this array, 'mongst vulgars may'st thou roam.
In critic's hands, beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known.
If for thy father askt, say, thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.
~ Anne Bradstreet