31 Days for the Ladies: Anne Bradstreet

31 Days Big

Gentle Reader,

Remember what you were like at 17? What things did you enjoy? What were you worried about? What did you want to be when you grew up?

On June 30, 1630, the passengers of the Arbella disembarked at Salem Plantation. Three thousand miles and 62 grueling days had brought them to this desolate spot. All traces of what they recognized as true civilization were long gone. Cave-like dugouts and “English wigwams” clustered together in a crude village formation. Discomfort the norm and disease expected.

It is not hard to imagine that the recently-married Anne Bradstreet would have been dismayed at the sight of her new home. Scurvy, starvation, homesickness and constant hunger drove many back to England. Anne stayed. Salem Plantation was overcrowded, so several of the colonists, including the Bradstreets, moved to Charles Town and then to Newtown (now Newton, a suburb of Boston). There she came down with a lingering illness.

As a Puritan, Anne was steeped in Calvinism, and so saw this illness as predetermined discipline from God. This experience moved her to pen some her first lines of poetry in Upon a Fit of Sickness:

“Twice ten years old not fully told
since nature give me breath,
My race is run, my thread spun,
lo, here is fatal death.
All men must die, and so must I;
this cannot be revoked.
For Adam’s sake this word God spake
when he so high provoked.
Yet live I shall, this life’s but small,
in place of highest bliss,
Where I shall have all I can crave,
no life is like to this.”

Even by Puritan standards the lines are highly impersonal, but this attempt at expression unleashed a creative storm within the poet. Life in the fledgling colonies was often a brutal affair. Everything, from food to clothes to shoes to the very homes they lived in, had to be produced by the colonists themselves. Women did not sit idly in rockers and knit the day away. Their work was hard and unending. For Anne to crave out time for writing in the midst of her work and while caring for eight children is remarkable.

More remarkable is the support she received from not only her family, but the community at large. The Puritans were a highly self-disciplined lot who constantly examined every task or action in light of it’s value in the kingdom of God. The fact that her poems were published by her brother and read by others stands as a testament to their importance.

Anne is often classified as the first “American” poet. Upon the warm reception of the first volume of poetry, The Tenth Muse, she dared to step outside of the then-accepted conventions of the art. Her words became more personal. She described life in the New World: the heartbreak of being far from family, the fear of childbirth, a fire that destroyed her home. She knew loss intimately and wrestled with it on the page.

Even in that wrestling, she never ended in despair. Always her eyes were drawn to beauty and hope, as found in the first stanza of Contemplations:

“Sometime now past in the Autumnal Tide,
When Ph{oe}bus wanted but one hour to bed,
The trees all richly clad, yet void of pride,
Were gilded o’re by his rich golden head.
Their leaves and fruits seem’d painted but was true
Of green, of red, of yellow, mixed hew,
Rapt were my senses at this delectable view.”

At the risk of being branded a heretic, Anne allowed her readers to see a deeper wrestling, a wrestling with faith. She was tempted to atheism and wrote that she often argued with herself. Belief did not come easy; she made a conscious decision each day to accept the truth of Scripture and its testimony about God and salvation. She wondered if the Catholic Church had it right after all, but ultimately rejected what she termed the “vain fooleries” and “lying miracles.” She battled a strong materialistic streak but came to the conclusion that God Himself was better than anything else.

In short, Anne Bradstreet was a real, imperfect woman. Though she lived four centuries ago, she dealt with the same questions and insecurities we do today. She exposed herself, her struggles, on the page for all to see. She put down in words what many were afraid to express. In doing so, she left behind a testimony of tenacity and grace.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all entries in the 31 Days for the Ladies series, go here.

Sources

Michelle DeRusha, 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014), 77-83.

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2 thoughts on “31 Days for the Ladies: Anne Bradstreet

  1. Marie, I found your blog via a review on amazon. So refreshing to me, a 57 year old who can see parts of her own story and those of her children in yours. I dearly want to read more but the font you chose to use is very light and hard for me to read. Could you possibly consider making it slightly bolder?? I am desperately looking for writers who hold to Jesus not only as the way and the life , but also see in Him, the Truth. So please consider my request! Thank you.

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    1. Hi, Sue!

      Thank you so much for stopping by and for your words of encouragement! Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do about the font issue. I’m doing everything I can with what’s available to me for free. However, if you hit the “control” key (CTRL) and the plus sign on your keyboard, that should give you the ability to “zoom in” on the text. Hope that helps!

      Like

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