By Elaine Magliaro
Because it’s Valentine’s Day, I decided to post a love poem. The following poem by Anne Bradstreet was written in the 1600s. According to the Poetry Foundation, Bradstreet “was the first woman to be recognized as an accomplished New World Poet.”
Her volume of poetry The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America … received considerable favorable attention when it was first published in London in 1650. Eight years after it appeared it was listed by William London in his Catalogue of the Most Vendible Books in England, and George III is reported to have had the volume in his library. Bradstreet’s work has endured, and she is still considered to be one of the most important early American poets.
TO MY DEAR AND LOVING HUSBAND
By 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 women, 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 ought 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 persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
Anne Bradstreet (Academy of America Poets)
Anne Bradstreet was born Anne Dudley in 1612 in Northamptonshire, England. She married Simon Bradstreet, a graduate of Cambridge University, at the age of 16. Two years later, Bradstreet, along with her husband and parents, emigrated to America with the Winthrop Puritan group, and the family settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts. There Bradstreet and her husband raised eight children, and she became one of the first poets to write English verse in the American colonies. It was during this time that Bradstreet penned many of the poems that would be taken to England by her brother-in-law, purportedly without her knowledge, and published in 1650 under the title The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America.
Tenth Muse was the only collection of Bradstreet’s poetry to appear during her lifetime. In 1644, the family moved to Andover, Massachusetts, where Bradstreet lived until her death in 1672. In 1678, the first American edition of Tenth Muse was published posthumously and expanded as Several Poems Compiled with Great Wit and Learning. Bradstreet’s most highly regarded work, a sequence of religious poems entitled Contemplations, was not published until the middle of the nineteenth century.
Anne Bradstreet (Poetry Foundation)
Although Anne Dudley Bradstreet did not attend school, she received an excellent education from her father, who was widely read— Cotton Mather described Thomas Dudley as a “devourer of books”—and from her extensive reading in the well-stocked library of the estate of the Earl of Lincoln, where she lived while her father was steward from 1619 to 1630. There the young Anne Dudley read Vergil, Plutarch, Livy, Pliny, Suetonius, Homer, Hesiod, Ovid, Seneca, and Thucydides as well as Spenser, Sidney, Milton, Raleigh, Hobbes, Joshua Sylvester’s 1605 translation of Guillaume du Bartas’s Divine Weeks and Workes, and the Geneva version of the Bible. In general, she benefited from the Elizabethan tradition that valued female education. In about 1628—the date is not certain—Anne Dudley married Simon Bradstreet, who assisted her father with the management of the Earl’s estate in Sempringham. She remained married to him until her death on 16 September 1672. Bradstreet immigrated to the new world with her husband and parents in 1630; in 1633 the first of her children, Samuel, was born, and her seven other children were born between 1635 and 1652: Dorothy (1635), Sarah (1638), Simon (1640), Hannah (1642), Mercy (1645), Dudley (1648), and John (1652).
Although Bradstreet was not happy to exchange the comforts of the aristocratic life of the Earl’s manor house for the privations of the New England wilderness, she dutifully joined her father and husband and their families on the Puritan errand into the wilderness. After a difficult three-month crossing, their ship, the Arbella, docked at Salem, Massachusetts, on 22 July 1630. Distressed by the sickness, scarcity of food, and primitive living conditions of the New England outpost, Bradstreet admitted that her “heart rose” in protest against the “new world and new manners.” Although she ostensibly reconciled herself to the Puritan mission—she wrote that she “submitted to it and joined the Church at Boston”—Bradstreet remained ambivalent about the issues of salvation and redemption for most of her life.