Anne Dudley Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672) was a puritanical poet whose work depicts a deeply felt experience of American colonial life. She was the daughter and wife of governors of Massachusetts.
Shortly later he married Simon Bradstreet, then twenty years old; orphaned at the age of 14, he had been his father’s protégé. He graduated from Emmanuel College and, like the Dudleys, had strong nonconformist beliefs. In 1630 the Bradstreets set sail for America aboard the Arbella with Dudley and the Winthrop company. The Bradstreets lived in Salem, Boston, Cambridge and Ipswich, and finally settled on a farm in North Andover, Mass.
Bradstreet was a devoted wife and mother of eight children. Her husband became judge and legislator, then royal advisor and governor. His duties required him to stay away from home often. Their wild life was harsh; the Indians’ attack was a constant threat, and Bradstreet suffered from poor health. Yet, he managed to use his experience and religious belief to create a small but distinct body of poetry.
In 1647 Bradstreet’s brother-in-law, the Reverend John Woodbridge, brought some of his poems to England,
Unbeknownst to him, he had it published in 1650 under the title La Decima Musa Lately Arisen in America…. For the most part the book is composed of four long poems, which can actually be considered one long poem, traditional in the subject matter and set, rather mechanically, in heroic pairings. “The Four Elements”, “The Four Moods in the Constitution of Man”, “The Four Ages of Man” and “The Four Seasons of the Year” are allegorical pieces, strongly influenced by Joshua Sylvester’s translation of “Weeks and Works of Du Bartas”.
Bradstreet herself added and corrected her next volume, Several Poems…, published posthumously in Boston in 1678. In this volume she deals more with her life in New England, her family and the natural environment. It includes “Contemplations,” the beautiful and long reflective poem about death and resurrection in nature, as well as the dramatic poem “The Flesh and the Spirit,” the vivid words of “The Author of Her Book,” and the moving verses addressed to her husband and children. Her prose “Meditations” and some of her most confessional works remained in manuscript until 1867, when John H. Ellis published his complete works.
Most critics consider Bradstreet America the first authentic poetess, particularly strong in her later work. In her day she was praised by Cotton Mather in her Magnalia, by Nathaniel Ward, and others.
More readings on Anne Dudley Bradstreet
The works of Anne Bradstreet was edited by Jeannine Hensley, with an interesting preface by the poetess Adrienne Rich (1967). John Berryman, Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1956), is a moving biographical tribute. Samuel Eliot Morison’s chapter on Anne Bradstreet in Builders of the Bay Colony (1930; rev. ed. 1958) is a colourful introduction to her life and work. A readable study of Mrs. Bradstreet’s writings is Josephine K. Piercy, Anne Bradstreet (1965).