America’s First Published Poet
During Women’s History Month
Walt Whitman Birthplace Association celebrates poet Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672), the first female poet published in Britain and America.
Anne Bradstreet was born into a prominent family. She was the daughter of Thomas Dudley (a cofounder of Harvard). Anne was raised in a culturally rich environment and was a well-educated woman of her time and was tutored in history, language and literature.
Bradstreet immigrated to the British colonies, specifically Massachusetts, in 1630 with her husband Simon Bradstreet. Anne Bradstreet’s education gave her a foundation to write with authority about politics, history, medicine and religion. It is estimated that her personal library held over 800 books.
In 1650, with the help of her brother-in-law Rev. John Woodbridge, Anne Bradstreet would become the first female published poet and writer in both England and the New World. Anne Bradstreet’s first work and book of poems was published in London as “The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, by a Gentlewoman of Those Parts.”
The book would be Bradstreet’s only work published during her lifetime. Anne was forced to pretend she had no knowledge of the book’s publication, as it was unacceptable and “unwomanly” for her to aspire to be an author. Anne has since been recognized as a free thinker who placed value in the pursuit of knowledge and intellect, and has even been considered an early feminist by some. Her book received positive reception from readers in both England and the colonies in America.
In 1678, her collection “Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning” was posthumously published in America, and included one of her most famous poems, “To My Dear and Loving Husband.”
While Anne was an early pioneer of literature and free speech for females to come around the world, her achievements are only commemorated by two places in America. First, in the North Andover cemetery, the town where Anne was believed to been laid to rest in Massachusetts, a marker was dedicated in 2000 to celebrate the 350th Anniversary of the publishing of “The Tenth Muse.” Additionally, at Harvard, where in October 1997, the Harvard community dedicated a gate honoring Anne Bradstreet as America’s first published poet. It has come to be known as The Bradstreet Gate and is located on the campus next to Canaday Hall.
The Walt Whitman Birthplace Association would like to hope that this page will be another place to commemorate Anne’s achievements not only for poetry, but for women. Anne’s efforts continue to influence women’s freedoms in literature and society.
To My Dear and Loving Husband
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.
Before the Birth of One of Her Children
by Anne Bradstreet
All things within this fading world hath end,
Adversity doth still our joys attend;
No ties so strong, no friends so dear and sweet,
But with death’s parting blow are sure to meet.
The sentence past is most irrevocable,
A common thing, yet oh, inevitable.
How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend,
How soon’t may be thy lot to lose thy friend,
We both are ignorant, yet love bids me
These farewell lines to recommend to thee,
That when the knot’s untied that made us one,
I may seem thine, who in effect am none.
And if I see not half my days that’s due,
What nature would, God grant to yours and you;
The many faults that well you know I have
Let be interred in my oblivious grave;
If any worth or virtue were in me,
Let that live freshly in thy memory
And when thou feel’st no grief, as I no harmes,
Yet love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms,
And when thy loss shall be repaid with gains
Look to my little babes, my dear remains.
And if thou love thyself, or loved’st me,
These O protect from stepdame’s injury.
And if chance to thine eyes shall bring this verse,
With some sad sighs honor my absent hearse;
And kiss this paper for thy dear love’s sake,
Who with salt tears this last farewell did take.