In 1650, Master Stephen Bowtell, a London publisher and bookseller, published a book of poems titled THE TENTH MUSE Lately Sprung up in AMERICA, OR Severall Poems... The book is a milestone in English and American literature. For one thing, The Tenth Muse contained the first verses by an American that could stand beside England's poetry. But The Tenth Muse is important for more than its place of origin. It was the first volume of enduring English language poetry produced by a woman. The author was Anne Bradstreet.
Anne Bradstreet was a Puritan, the daughter of Thomas Dudley, who would serve as a governor of Massachussetts Bay Colony. When just sixteen, she wed Simon Bradstreet, and sailed with him for the New World. Life was hard, not only because the New World was untamed, but because she was often ill, lost her home in a fire, saw a daughter die at four, and was separated from her beloved husband for extended periods when duty took him to England. These experiences, viewed through the lens of faith, found their way into her finest poems.
Written in spite of bouts of illness, blows of personal tragedy, and the tedium of household chores (she reared four sons and four daughters) her poems nonetheless show originality and craftsmanship, their themes often religious, the spelling quaint, the meanings plain:
"Lord, be thou Pilott to the ship,
And send them prosperous gailes;
In storms and sickness, Lord, preserve.
Thy goodness never failes."
Anne's God was real and she cried out to him, "My Fathers God, be God of me and mine." In a short autobiography of her religious experiences she wrote, "Among all my experiences of God's gracious dealings with me, I have constantly observed this--that he has never suffered me long to sit loose from him, but by one affliction or other has made me look home and search what was amiss."
Christ was the center of her devotion: "...there is but one Christ, who is the Sun of Righteousness, in the midst of an innumerable company of saints and angels; those saints have their degrees even in this life, some are stars of the first magnitude, and some of lesser degree; and others (and indeed the most in number), but small and obscure, yet all receive their luster (be it more or less) from that glorious sun that enlightens all in all..."
On this day, September 16, 1672, the voice of the Tenth Muse was silenced by consumption. Her son wrote that she "wasted to skin and bone," was tortured by rheumatism and had a leaking sore that disfigured her arm. Sick and weary, she had looked forward to death. "Now I can wait, looking every day when my Savior shall call for me...O let me ever see you who are invisible, and I shall not be unwilling to come, though by so rough a messenger."
Anne Bradstreet was no Dante or Milton. Yet her poems, rich in Biblical allusions, rose above mere jingles and ditties. Their images anticipated the Romantic movement of a century later.
- Christian History Institute. Glimpses # 23. Worcester, Pennsylvania.
- Encyclopedia Americana, 1956.
- Gordon, Charlotte. Mistress Bradstreet; the untold story of America's first poet. Little, Brown, 2005.
- Hart, James D. The Oxford Companion to American Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965.
- Piercy, Josephine K. Anne Bradstreet. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1965.
- Pollard, Arthur. Webster's New World Companion to English and American Literature. New York: Popular Library, 1976.
- White, Elizabeth Wade. Anne Bradstreet; the tenth muse. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.
Last updated June 2007.
Photo Credit: Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)
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