Bradstreet was born Anne Dudley in Northampton, England, 1612. She was the daughter of Thomas Dudley, a steward of the Earl of Lincoln, and Dorothy Yorke. Due to her family's position she grew up in cultured circumstances and was a well-educated woman for her time, being tutored in history, several languages and literature. At the age of sixteen she married Simon Bradstreet. Both Anne's father and husband were later to serve as governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Anne and Simon, along with Anne's parents, immigrated to America aboard the Arbella as part of the Winthrop Fleet of Puritan emigrants in 1630.
Anne Bradstreet first touched American soil on June 14, 1630 at what is now Pioneer Village (Salem, Massachusetts) with Simon, her parents and other voyagers, part of the Migration to New England (1620-1640). Their stay was very brief due to the illness and starvation of Gov. John Endecott and other residents of the village. Most moved immediately south along the coast to Charlestown, Massachusetts for another short stay before moving south along the Charles River to found "the City on the Hill," Boston, Massachusetts.
The Bradstreet family soon moved again, this time to what is now Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1632, Anne had her first child, Samuel, in Newe Towne, as it was then called.
Both Anne's father and her husband were instrumental in the founding of Harvard in 1636. Two of her sons were graduates, Samuel (Class of 1653) and Simon (Class of 1660). In October 1997, the Harvard community dedicated a gate in memory of her as America's first published poet (see last paragraph below). The Bradstreet Gate is located next to Canaday Hall, the newest dormitory in Harvard Yard.
Despite poor health, she had eight children and achieved a comfortable social standing. Having previously been afflicted with smallpox, Anne would once again fall prey to illness as paralysis overtook her joints in later years.
In the early 1640s, Simon once again pressed his wife, pregnant with her sixth child, to move for the sixth time, from Ipswich to Andover Parish. North Andover is that original town founded in 1646 by the Stevens, Osgood, Johnson, Farnum, Barker and Bradstreet families among others. Anne and her family resided in the Old Center of North Andover. They never lived in what is now known as "Andover" to the south.
In 1650, Rev. John Woodbridge had The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America composed by "A Gentlewoman from Those Parts" published in London, making Anne the first female poet ever published in both England and the New World.
On July 10, 1666, their North Andover family home burned (see "Works" below) in a fire that left the Bradstreets homeless and with few personal belongings. By then, Anne's health was slowly failing. She suffered from tuberculosis and had to deal with the loss of cherished relatives. But her will remained strong and as a reflection of her religious devotion and knowledge of Biblical scriptures, she found peace in the firm belief that her daughter-in-law Mercy and her grandchildren were in heaven.
Anne Bradstreet died on September 16, 1672 in North Andover, Massachusetts at the age of 60. The precise location of her grave is uncertain but many historians believe her body is in the Old Burying Ground at Academy Road and Osgood Street in North Andover.
This area of the Merrimack Valley is now described as the Valley of the Poets.
A marker in the North Andover cemetery commemorates the 350th anniversary (2000) of the publishing of "The Tenth Muse" in London in 1650. That site and the Bradstreet Gate at Harvard may be the only two places in America honoring her memory.
Bradstreet's education gave her advantages to write with authority about politics, history, medicine, and theology. Her personal library of books was said to have numbered over 800, before many were destroyed when her home burned down. This event itself inspired a poem entitled "Upon the Burning of Our House July 10th, 1666". She rejects the anger and grief that this worldly tragedy has caused her and instead looks toward God and the assurance of heaven as consolation, saying:
"And when I could no longer look,
I blest His grace that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so 'twas just.
It was his own; it was not mine.
Far be it that I should repine."
As a younger poet Bradstreet wrote five quaternions, epic poems of four parts each that explore the diverse yet complementary natures of their subject. Much of Bradstreet's poetry is based on observation of the world around her, focusing heavily on domestic and religious themes, and was considered by Cotton Mather a monument to her memory beyond the stateliest marble Long considered primarily of historical interest, she won critical acceptance in the 20th century as a writer of enduring verse, particularly for her sequence of religious poems "Contemplations", which was written for her family and not published until the mid-19th century. Bradstreet's work was deeply influenced by the poet Guillaume de Salluste du Bartas, who was favored by 17th-century readers.
Nearly a century later, Martha Wadsworth Brewster, a notable 18th-century American poet and writer, in her principal work, Poems on Diverse Subjects, was influenced and pays homage to Bradstreet's verse.
Despite the traditional attitude toward women of the time, she clearly valued knowledge and intellect; she was a free thinker and some consider her an early feminist; unlike the more radical Anne Hutchinson, however, Bradstreet's feminism does not reflect heterodox, antinomian views.
In 1647 Bradstreet's brother-in-law, Rev. John Woodbridge, sailed to England, carrying her manuscript of poetry. Although Anne later said that she did not know Woodbridge was going to publish her manuscript, in her self-deprecatory poem, "The Author to Her Book", she wrote Woodbridge a letter while he was in London, indicating her knowledge of the publication plan. Anne had little choice, however— as a woman poet, it was important for her to downplay her ambitions as an author. Otherwise, she would have faced criticism for being "unwomanly. Anne's first work was published in London as "The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, by a Gentlewoman of those Parts"
The purpose of the publication appears to have been an attempt by devout Puritan men (i.e. Thomas Dudley, Simon Bradstreet, John Woodbridge) to show that a godly and educated woman could elevate the position held by a wife and mother, without necessarily placing her in competition with men. Very few men of that time agreed with that belief. Mistress Bradstreet endured and ignored much gender bias during her life in the New World.
Bradstreet's poems are associated mostly with Romanticism. She tends to present Romanticism in the form of idealism,individualism, and the discussion of an exotic place. In Bradstreet's poem "To My Dear and Loving Husband" a very passionate love is portrayed throughout this poetic work, where she introduces a love poem that is lyrical but also has a religious element of prayer. She presents individualism in her poetic works due to her choice of material rather than just her style. Also in Bradstreet's poem "To My Dear and Loving Husband" the individualistic notion it implies is in which the way she compares herself to others. Her poetry pictures her Puritan way of thinking and is greatly known to be elegant and romantic. Anne Bradstreet expresses Romanticism in her poetry not necessarily in the sense of her own choice of subject but in the way of her own feelings.
Use of Metaphors
Anne Bradstreet uses a variety of metaphors throughout her poetic works. For instance, in Bradstreet's poem "To My Dear and Loving Husband" she uses several poetic features and one being the use of metaphors. In the middle quatrain of "To My Dear and Loving Husband" Bradstreet states:
"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 recompence."
This part of the peom above lets out the logical argument and starts to become truly heartfelt with the use of religious imagery and metaphors. The subject of this poem is her claimed love for her husband as she praises him and asks the heavens to repay him for his love. Bradstreet wrote this poem as a response to her husband's absence.
"A Letter to Her Husband, Absent Upon Public Employment" is another one of Anne Bradstreet's poems written with several poetic devices, one being her use of metaphors. In this poem she addresses her husband by an arrangement of metaphors, and the main one being the sun. She states "I, like the earth this season, mourn in black." She likens herself to the earth in winter, as she expresses a death "in black" the receding light and feeling "chilled" without him to warm her when she states "My chilled limbs now numbed lie forlorn." She goes on to talk about her children as reminders and she quotes "those fruits which through thy heat I bore." With her husband "southward gone" she discovers the short winter days to be long and tedious. Bradstreet continues to express her sun metaphor into the future as to when he returns, the season will be summer as she quotes "I wish my Sun may never set, but burn/ Within the Cancer of my glowing breast."
The role of women is a common theme found in Bradstreet's poems. Living in a Puritan society, Bradstreet did not approve of the stereotypical idea that women were inferior to men during the 1600's. Women were expected to spend all their time cooking, cleaning, taking care of their children, and attending to their husband's every need. In her poem In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess Queen Elizabeth of Happy Memory, Bradstreet questions this belief.
"Now say, have women worth? or have they none? Or had they some, but with our queen is't gone? Nay Masculines, you have thus taxt us long, But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong, Let such as say our Sex is void of Reason, Know tis a Slander now, but once was Treason."
A reoccurring theme in Bradstreet's work is mortality. In many of her works, she talks about her own death and how it will affect her children and her wife. The reoccurrence of this mortality theme can be viewed as autobiographical. Because her work was not intended for the public, she was referring to her own medical problems and her belief that she would die. On top of her medical history of smallpox and partial paralysis, Bradstreet and her family dealt with a major house fire that left them homeless and devoid of all personal belongings . Therefore, the reader can actually understand Bradstreet's personal feelings and fears about death. She hoped her children would think of her fondly and honor her memory in her poem, “Before the Birth of One of Her Children.” "If any worth or virtue were in me, Let that live freshly in thy memory."
In The Prologue, Bradstreet demonstrates how society criticized women's accomplishments and that she should be doing other things such as sewing rather than writing poetry.
"I am obnoxious to each carping tongue Who 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 stol'n, or else it was by chance." Bradstreet also challenged Puritan beliefs by announcing her complete infatuation with her husband, Simon Bradstreet.
In To My Dear and Loving Husband, Bradstreet confesses her undying love for Simon saying "Thy love is such I can no way repay, The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray." She also proves her obsession in A Letter to Her Husband, Absent upon Public Employment. This was dangerous during her time because Puritans believed that this kind of love would only stray someone further from God.
Nature is also a recurring theme throughout Bradstreet's works. She is constantly displaying the close relationship between nature and God. Her belief that nature is a gift from the Divine shines through in most of her poems. In Contemplations, Bradstreet is captivated by the beauty of nature. The fourth stanza describes her amazement with the sun and how she understands why previous cultures celebrated a sun god. In the ninth stanza, Bradstreet illustrates an image of grasshoppers and crickets singing God's praises.
Anne Bradstreet wrote in a different format then other writes of her time. This mainly is due to the fact that she wrote her feelings in a book not knowing someone would read them. This makes for more real literature, and the total truth. In her poem " A letter to my Husband" she speaks about the loss of her husband when he is gone. The pain she feels she write with vivid examples such as nature. She doesn't hold anything back. "I like the earth this season morn in black, my sun is gone". Here Anne is expressing her feelings of missing her husband when he is away. She compares the feeling to that of mourning. A very serious tone for the poem.
"To my faults that well you know i have let be interred in my oblivious grave; if any worth of virtue were in me, let that live freshly in they memory". Anne expresses the feeling she has of wanting her children to remember her in a good light not in a bad light.
Bradstreet often uses a sarcastic tone in her poetry. In the first stanza of The Prologue, she claims "for my mean pen are too superior things" referring to society's belief that she is unfit to write about wars and the founding of cities because she is a woman. In stanza five Bradstreet continues to display irony by stating "who says my hand a needle better fits". This is another example of her sarcastic voice because society during this time expected women to perform household chores rather than write poetry.
Although Anne Bradstreet endured many hardships in her life, her poems were usually written in a hopeful and positive tone. Throughout her poem In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Anne Bradstreet, she mentions that even though she has lost her grand daughter in this world, she will one day be reunited with her in Heaven. In Upon the Burning of Our House, Bradstreet describes her house in flames but selflessly declares "there's wealth enough, I need no more." Although Bradstreet lost many of her material items she kept a positive attitude and remained strong through God.
Much like people make use of a diary, Anne Bradstreet used her poems for recording her feelings and important life events. She never intended for her work to be published. She wrote many letters to her husband which included To My Dear and Loving Husband and A Letter to Her Husband, Absent upon Public Employment. These letters revealed her unconditional love for Simon Bradstreet and how much she missed him while he was away. It is obvious that Bradstreet only meant for her husband to see.
Bradstreet also wrote a poem for her unborn child. In Before the Birth of One of Her Children, she warns her child of her own possible death and instructs him or her to watch over her other children if she does die. Bradstreet also wrote poems addressed to her children including To My Dear Children and letters to her deceased grandchildren Elizabeth, Anne, and Simon.