Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.
Vol. I. The Transplanting of Culture: 16071650
ANNE BRADSTREET, the chief poetess of Colonial America, was probably born at Northampton, about 1612, and died in Boston, September 16, 1672. She was a daughter of Governor Thomas Dudley, and married the future Governor Bradstreet in 1628. With him she went to New England (1630), and in the intervals of household duties involved in the rearing of eight children, became a devoted author, who won for herself from her compatriots the admiring designation, “The Tenth Muse.” Her poems were published under a title which gives a tabular view of their contents, to wit: “The Tenth Muse, lately Sprung up in America, or Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight, Wherein especially is Contained a Complete Discourse and Description of the Four Elements, Constitutions, Ages of Man, Seasons of the Year, together with an exact Epitome of the Four Monarchies, viz., The Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, Roman. Also a Dialogue between Old England and New, concerning the late troubles. With divers other pleasant and serious Poems, By a Gentlewoman in those parts” (London, 1650). A second, this time American, edition appeared at Boston six years after her death, with additions, among which is Contemplations, her best poem. Her complete works were edited by J. H. Ellis (1867), and for the Society of the Duodecimos, 1897, with an introduction by Professor Charles Eliot Norton, one of Mrs. Bradstreet’s descendants.
Mrs. Bradstreet’s verses are in the main a storehouse of curious information, the most curious thing about them being the admiration they excited. Cotton Mather said they “would outlast the stateliest marble.” Other contemporaries “weltered in delight” or were “sunk in a sea of bliss” at their perusal. They were at least the best of her land and generation. They show an indomitable assertion of a woman’s right to thought and learning. The Four Monarchies is based on Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World, but she drew her chief poetic inspiration from Sylvester’s translation of the French epic of Creation by Du Bartas. As one of the first American writers to devote herself to literature for its own sake, she deserves an honored place in the history of New England culture. Nor is it certain that her genuine talents have received just recognition from posterity. She is not a Tenth Muse or a Sappho, but her works are no more disappointing than those of belauded contemporary British poetesses like “the Matchless Orinda” (Mrs. Katharine Phillips). It is quite true that much of her poetry is hopelessly ponderous and dull, in the style of her favorite English master, Joshua Sylvester. It is true also that at first she seems to have no eye for the beauties of nature, and that she gives us no entertaining realistic pictures of primitive New England life. But it is equally true that her work shows improvement, that in all probability Spenser became her master instead of Sylvester, and that in the stanzas entitled, Contemplations she showed a feeling both for nature and for style. Her verses to her husband and her children are heartfelt and simple, and her prose Observations show her to have been possessed of a mind not lacking in clearness and depth. She tells us plainly that she found the ways of the New World trying to a woman of gentle rearing, and she shows, perhaps unconsciously, that she could not bring herself to contemplate God entirely on his sterner side. In fine, her writings show her to have been a gifted woman, in whom it is quite possible for latter-day readers to take a respectful interest.
TO sing of wars, of captains, and of kings,Of cities founded, commonwealths begun,For my mean pen are too superior things:Or how they all, or each, their dates have run,Let poets and historians set these forth,My obscure lines shall not so dim their worth.But when my wondering eyes and envious heartGreat Bartas’ sugared lines do but read o’er,Fool I do grudge the Muses did not part’Twixt him and me that ever fluent store:—A Bartas can do what a Bartas will,But simple I according to my skill.From school-boys’ tongue no rhetoric we expect,Not yet a sweet consort from broken strings,Nor perfect beauty where ’s a main defect:My foolish, broken, blemished Muse so sings:And this to mend, alas, no art is able,’Cause nature made it so irreparable.Nor can I, like that fluent, sweet-tongued GreekWho lisped at first, in future time speak plain;By art he gladly found what he did seek—A full requital of his striving pain;Art can do much, but this maxim ’s most sure:A weak or wounded brain admits no cure.I am obnoxious to each carping tongueWho says my hand a needle better fits;A poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong;For such despite they cast on female wits;If what I do prove well, it won’t advance—They ’ll say it ’s stolen, or else it was by chance.But sure the antique Greeks were far more mild,Else of our sex why feignéd they those nine,And Poesy made Calliope’s own child?So ’mongst the rest they placed the Arts Divine;But this weak knot they will full soon untie—The Greeks did naught but play the fools and lie.Let Greeks be Greeks, and women what they areMen have precedency, and still excel,It is but vain unjustly to wage war:Men can do best, and women know it well;Preëminence in all and each is yours—Yet grant some small acknowledgment of ours.And oh, ye high flown quills that soar the skies,And ever with your prey still catch your praise,If e’er you deign these lowly lines your eyes,Give thyme or parsley wreath; I ask no bays,This mean and unrefined ore of mineWill make you glistering gold, but more to shine.
[From “The Four Monarchies.”]
NUMA Pompilius next chose they king,Held for his piety some sacred thing.To Janus he that famous temple built,Kept shut in peace, set ope when blood was spilt;Religious rites and customs instituted,And priests and flamens likewise he deputed,Their augurs strange, their gestures and attire,And vestal maids to keep the holy fire.The nymph Aegeria this to him told,So to delude the people he was bold.Forty-three years he ruled with generous praise,Accounted for a god in after days.
Of the Four Ages of Man.
LO, now four other act upon the stage,Childhood and Youth, the Manly and Old Age:The first son unto phlegm, grandchild to water,Unstable, supple, cold and moist ’s his nature.The second, frolic, claims his pedigreeFrom blood and air, for hot and moist is he.The third of fire and choler is compos’d,Vindicative and quarrelsome dispos’d.The last of earth and heavy melancholy,Solid, hating all lightness and all folly.Childhood was cloth’d in white and green to showHis spring was intermixed with some snow:Upon his head nature a garland setOf Primrose, Daisy and the Violet.Such cold mean flowers the spring puts forth betime,Before the sun hath throughly heat the clime.His hobby striding did not ride but run,And in his hand an hour-glass new begun,In danger every moment of a fall,And when ’t is broke then ends his life and all:But if he hold till it have run its last,Then may he live out threescore years or past.Next Youth came up in gorgeous attire(As that fond age doth most of all desire),His suit of crimson and his scarf of green,His pride in ’s countenance was quickly seen;Garland of roses, pinks and gillyflowersSeemed on ’s head to grow bedew’d with showers.His face as fresh as is Aurora fair,When blushing she first ’gins to light the air.No wooden horse, but one of mettle tried,He seems to fly or swim, and not to ride.Then prancing on the stage, about he wheels,But as he went death waited at his heels.The next came up in a much graver sort,As one that cared for a good report,His sword by ’s side, and choler in his eyes,But neither us’d as yet, for he was wise;Of Autumn’s fruits a basket on his arm,His golden god in ’s purse, which was his charm.And last of all to act upon this stageLeaning upon his staff came up Old Age,Under his arm a sheaf of wheat he bore,An harvest of the best, what needs he more?In ’s other hand a glass ev’n almost run,Thus writ about: “This out, then am I done.”
In Honor of That High and Mighty Princess Queen Elizabeth of Happy Memory.
ALTHOUGH, great queen, thou now in silence lie,Yet thy loud herald, fame, doth to the skyThy wondrous worth proclaim in every clime,And so hath vowed while there is world or time.So great ’s thy glory and thine excellenceThe sound thereof rapts every human sense,That men account it no impietyTo say thou wert a fleshly deity.Thousands bring offerings, though out of date,Thy world of honors to accumulate;’Mongst hundred hecatombs of roaring verse,Mine bleating stands before thy royal hearse.Thou never didst nor canst thou now disdainTo accept the tribute of a loyal brain:Thy clemency did erst esteem as muchThe acclamations of the poor as rich,Which makes me deem my rudeness is no wrong,Though I resound thy praises ’mongst the throng.
The Poem.NO phenix pen, nor Spenser’s poetry,No[r] Speed’s nor Camden’s learned history,Eliza’s works, wars, praise, can e’er compact;The world’s the theatre where she did act.No memories nor volumes can containThe eleven olympiads of her happy reign,Who was so good, so just, so learned, so wise,From all the kings on earth she won the prize.Nor say I more than duly is her due;Millions will testify that this is true.She hath wiped off the aspersion of her sex,That women wisdom lack to play the rex.
A Love-Letter to Her Husband.
[From the Edition of 1678.]
PHŒBUS make haste, the day ’s too long, begone,The silent night ’s the fittest time for moan;But stay this once, unto my suit give ear,And tell my griefs in either Hemisphere:(And if the whirling of thy wheels don’t drown’dThe woful accents of my doleful sound),If in thy swift career thou canst make stay,I crave this boon, this errand by the way:Commend me to the man more lov’d than life,Show him the sorrows of his widow’d wife,My dumpish thoughts, my groans, my brackish tears,My sobs, my longing hopes, my doubting fears,And, if he love, how can he there abide?My interest ’s more than all the world beside.He that can tell the stars or Ocean sand,Or all the grass that in the meads do stand,The leaves in th’ woods, the hail or drops of rain,Or in a cornfield number every grain,Or every mote that in the sunshine hops,May count my sighs and number all my drops.Tell him, the countless steps that thou dost trace,That once a day thy spouse thou mayst embrace;And when thou canst not treat by loving mouth,Thy rays afar, salute her from the south.But for one month I see no day (poor soul)Like those far situate under the pole,Which day by day long wait for thy arise,O how they joy when thou dost light the skies.O Phœbus, hadst thou but thus long from thineRestrain’d the beams of thy beloved shine,At thy return, if so thou couldst or durst,Behold a Chaos blacker than the first.Tell him here ’s worse than a confused matter,His little world ’s a fathom under water,Naught but the fervor of his ardent beamsHath power to dry the torrent of these streams.Tell him I would say more, but cannot well,Opressed minds abruptest tales do tell.Now post with double speed, mark what I say,By all our loves conjure him not to stay.
[From the Edition of 1678.]
SOME time now past in the autumnal tide,When Phœbus wanted but one hour to bed,The trees all richly clad, yet void of pride,Were gilded o’er by his rich golden head.Their leaves and fruits seem’d painted, but was trueOf green, of red, of yellow, mixed hue,Rapt were my senses at this delectable view.I wist not what to wish, yet sure, thought I,If so much excellence abide below,How excellent is He that dwells on high!Whose power and beauty by his works we know;Sure he is goodness, wisdom, glory, light,That hath this underworld so richly dight:More heaven than earth was here, no winter and no night.Then on a stately oak I cast mine eye,Whose ruffling top the clouds seem’d to aspire;How long since thou wast in thine infancy?Thy strength, and stature, more thy years admire;Hath hundred winters past since thou wast born,Or thousand since thou brakest thy shell of horn?If so, all these as naught eternity doth scorn.Then higher on the glistering sun I gaz’d,Whose beams was shaded by the leavie tree;The more I look’d, the more I grew amaz’d,And softly said, What glory ’s like to thee?Soul of this world, this universe’s eye,No wonder, some made thee a deity:Had I not better known (alas), the same had I.Thou as a bridegroom from thy chamber rushes,And, as a strong man, joys to run a race;The morn doth usher thee, with smiles and blushes,The earth reflects her glances in thy face.Birds, insects, animals with vegetive,Thy heart from death and dulness doth revive.And in the darksome womb of fruitful nature dive.Thy swift annual, and diurnal course,Thy daily straight, and yearly oblique path,Thy pleasing fervor, and thy scorching force,All mortals here the feeling knowledge hath.Thy presence makes it day, thy absence night,Quaternal seasons caused by thy might:Hail creature, full of sweetness, beauty and delight.Art thou so full of glory, that no eyeHath strength, thy shining rays once to behold?And is thy splendid throne erect so high,As to approach it, can no earthly mould?How full of glory then must thy Creator be,Who gave this bright light lustre unto thee!Admir’d, ador’d forever, be that Majesty.Silent, alone, where none or saw or heard,In pathless paths I led my wandering feet;My humble eyes to lofty skies I reared,To sing some song my mazed Muse thought meet.My great Creator I would magnifyThat nature had thus decked liberally;But ah, and ah again, my imbecillity!I heard the merry grasshopper then sing,The black-clad cricket bear a second part,They kept one tune, and played on the same string,Seeming to glory in their little art.Shall creatures abject thus their voices raise?And in their kind resound their Maker’s praise:Whilst I, as mute, can warble forth no higher lays.
*******When I behold the heavens as in their prime,And then the earth (though old) still clad in green,The stones and trees, insensible of time,Nor age nor wrinkle on their front are seen;If winter come, and greenness then do fade,A Spring returns, and they more youthful made;But Man grows old, lies down, remains where once he ’s laid.By birth more noble than those creatures all,Yet seems by nature and by custom curs’d,No sooner born, but grief and care makes fallThat state obliterate he had at first:Nor youth, nor strength, nor wisdom spring again,Nor habitations long their names retain,But in oblivion to the final day remain.Shall I then praise the heavens, the trees, the earth,Because their beauty and their strength last longer?Shall I wish there or never to had birth,Because they ’re bigger and their bodies stronger?Nay, they shall darken, perish, fade, and die,And when unmade so ever shall they lie;But man was made for endless immortality.
*******The mariner that on smooth waves doth glideSings merrily, and steers his bark with ease,As if he had command of wind and tide,And now become great master of the seas;But suddenly a storm spoils all the sport,And makes him long for a more quiet port,Which ’gainst all adverse winds may serve for fort.So he that faileth in this world of pleasure,Feeding on sweets, that never bit of the sour,That ’s full of friends, of honor, and of treasure,Fond fool, he takes this earth e’en for heaven’s bower.But sad affliction comes, and makes him seeHere ’s neither honor, wealth, nor safety;Only above is found all with security.O Time, the fatal wrack of mortal things,That draws oblivion’s curtains over kings,Their sumptuous monuments, men know them not,Their names without a record are forgot,Their parts, their ports, their pomp ’s all laid in th’ dust,Nor wit nor gold, nor buildings ’scape time’s rust;But he whose name is grav’d in the white stoneShall last and shine when all of these are gone.
The Author to Her Book
THOU ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,Who after birth didst by my side remainTill snatched from thence by friends less wise than trueWho thee abroad exposed to public view,Made thee, in rags, halting, to the 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,Thy visage was so irksome in my sight;Yet being mine own, at length affection wouldThy 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 stretched 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 naught save homespun cloth i’ th’ house I find.In this array ’mongst vulgars mayst thou roam,In critics’ hands beware thou dost not come,And take thy way where yet thou art not known.If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;And for thy mother, she, alas, is poor,Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.
[From “Prose and Verse,” Addressed “To My Dear Children.” First Printed in 1867.]
IN a long fit of sickness which I had on my bed I often communed with my heart, and made my supplication to the Most High, who set me free from that affliction.
But as I grew up to be about fourteen or fifteen I found my heart more carnal, and, sitting loose from God, vanity and the follies of youth take hold of me.
About sixteen the Lord laid his hand sore upon me and smote me with the small-pox. When I was in my affliction, I besought the Lord, and confessed my pride and vanity, and he was entreated of me and again restored me. But I rendered not to him according to the benefit received.
After a short time I changed my condition and was married, and came into this country, where I found a new world and new manners, at which my heart rose. But after I was convinced it was the way of God, I submitted to it and was joined to the church at Boston.
For the Restoration of My Dear Husband from a Burning Ague, June, 1661.
[From the Same.]
WHEN fears and sorrows me beset,Then didst thou rid me out;When heart did faint and spirits quail,Thou comforts me about.Thou rais’st him up I feared to lose,Regav’st me him again;Distempers thou didst chase away,With strength didst him sustain.My thankful heart, with pen recordThe goodness of thy God:Let thy obedience testifyHe taught thee by his rod,And with his staff did thee support,That thou by both mayst learn,And ’twixt the good and evil wayAt last thou might’st discern.Praises to him who hath not leftMy soul as destitute,Nor turned his ear away from me,But granted hath my suit.
Meditations Divine and Moral.
[First Printed in 1867.]
IV. A SHIP that bears much sail, and little or no ballast, is easily overset; and that man, whose head hath great abilities, and his heart little or no grace, is in danger of foundering….
X. 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 according to their nature….
LXVIII. The gifts that God bestows on the sons of men, are not only abused, but most commonly employed for a clean contrary end than that which they were given for; as health, wealth, and honor, which might be so many steps to draw men to God in consideration of his bounty towards them, but have driven them the further from him, that they are ready to say, We are lords, we will come no more at thee. If outward blessings be not as wings to help us mount upwards, they will certainly prove clogs and weights that will pull us lower downward.