Anne Bradstreet: Puritan Poet, Passionate Wife, Devoted Mother, Friend of God

I’ve just read a delightful biography of Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet, Beyond Stateliest Marble, by Doug Wilson. I’d enjoyed the few poems of hers I’d encountered in recent years, but now that I know more of her life story, the poems are that much richer. Anne Bradstreet was a wise, well-educated, tender, and courageous woman. She wrote beautiful poetry often based on her life experiences, and like the Psalmists, even when expressing her deepest grief, she remains steadfast in her trust in the sovereignty of God.

Married to Simon Bradstreet at the age of sixteen, the former Anne Dudley came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony with her husband of two years in 1630 because of the political persecution Puritans were experiencing in England. Simon Bradstreet eventually served as governor of the colony, as had his father-in-law (Anne’s father, Thomas Dudley) before him. Though to her dismay Anne did not become a mother quickly, eventually she and Simon had eight children, four sons and four daughters. She was a wise mother who knew that she needed to treat her children with individual care. She said:

Diverse children have their different natures: some are like flesh which nothing but salt will keep from putrefaction, some again like tender fruits that are best preserved with sugar. Those parents are wise that can fit their nurture to their nature.

In hours stolen from sleep and other refreshment, and often while her husband was traveling on colony business, Anne wrote poetry. Unbeknownst to Anne, her brother-in-law, with her husband’s help, took a manuscript of her works to London where it was published in 1650 with the rather pretentious title of The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung up in America. Except for the Bay Psalm Book, this was the first published poetry written by an American colonist. Anne was embarrassed, especially with the errors in that printing, and began revising and rewriting. She also wrote a witty little poem about the book’s publication called “The Author to Her Book.” After her death at the age of 60 a new volume, including her later poems which were by far her best works, was published with the simpler title of Several Poems.

Wilson says that feminists try to claim Mrs. Bradstreet as one of their own, but a plain reading of her work shows her to be a godly, submissive, loving wife and daughter. She was well content in her role as helpmate to the love of her life and mother to her beloved children (four cocks and four hens, as she refers to them in one of her poems.) Here’s a bit of what she said in one of her letters to her husband while he was “Absent upon Public Employment”:

My head, my heart, mine eyes, my life, nay more,
My joy, my magazine of earthly store,
If two be one, as surely thou and I,
How stayest thou there, whilst I at Ipswich lie?

If you want to be inspired by a lovely, highly intelligent, devoted woman from the past, read some of the works of Anne Bradstreet. Much of her poetry is available online. You can also pick up a copy of The Works of Anne Bradstreet edited by Jeannine Hensley from ABE Books. I really enjoyed Doug Wilson’s little biography. (Though I did take issue with him on a few points such as his views on the Half-Way Covenant.) Watch out for some other bios out there though, as modern folks try to put a contemporary spin on this godly Puritan woman. Though I’d love to be able to sit down and chat with this dear woman who was born nearly four centuries ago, I’m thankful she left behind her poems and letters which give a peek into her mind and heart.
2 Responses
  1. Anna Says:

    How funny-we love Anne Bradstreet, but I've never read a biography of her. Thanks for the great tips!


  2. Grace Halsey Says:

    I'm so glad you liked the book! I had ordered it a while ago and am expecting it any day.

    Thank you also for your posts on homeschooling. We have started preschool again (really started in January) and am interested in all you have to share.

    We are also rejoicing with you that Kara is expecting! What a blessing!