Some personal thoughts from the Poet Laureate
The phrase “walk the same land” also means something else to me. In addition to walking the same land that she did, through her poetry we can walk with Anne and know her experiences first hand.
I have this belief that when you read a poem – the moment the poem is read – it is an essential moment of meeting between you and the poet. You are meeting the poet, fresh, alive. Whether it is across a span of days, weeks, years or centuries since the poem was written, you meet the poet face to face in the poem.
"She walked the same land…" We can walk that land. When we read her poems, we live in the same moment as the living Anne. The eternal can be found in that moment of meeting. That is what happens when I read Anne Bradstreet.
As I learned more about her history, the more incredible Anne Dudley Bradstreet’s life story became. Anne's poetry tells her story. Anne's poetry tells us who she was.
[See the bottom of this page for more links to Anne's history.]
An Anne Dudley Bradstreet Timeline
1603 Queen Elizabeth dies, James VI of Scotland takes the throne of England as James 1st. We are now in post-Elizabethan England.
1612 Anne Dudley is born in the English Midlands, in Northampton, to Thomas and Dorothy Dudley.
1616 William Shakespeare dies. The same year, her father Thomas Dudley is hired as steward to manage the affairs of the Earl of Lincoln. Thomas moves his family 60 miles to Lincolnshire.
The Earl’s estate was a center of Puritan religion and thought in England. Dudley was already recognized for his Puritan virtues by the time he entered the Earl's service.
1618 Anne is six years old. While living at the estate of the Earl of Lincoln, Anne begins being tutored. She studies Greek, Latin, French, Hebrew. In her journals, she noted, "When I was about seven, I had at one time eight tutors, in languages, music, dancing." She has access to the large library at the estate, and the support and direction of her father. Her level of education is unusual for a girl in post-Elizabethan England, but not completely uncommon, as there was some precedent coming from the example of Queen Elizabeth herself.
As she comes of age, Anne is strongly influenced by Walter Raleigh’s “History of the World”, and especially the sixteenth century French poet Guillaume du Bartas, “The Divine Weekes and Workes”, a history of creation and of the world in verse.
1622 19 year old Simon Bradstreet is hired by Thomas Dudley as his assistant, under the Earl of Lincoln.
1625 Charles 1st, son of James 1st takes the throne. Where James the 1st was relatively tolerant of other religious groups, Charles re-institutes repressive policies against the Puritans. This convinces a number of Puritan ministers and their congregations to emigrate to North America.
1628 A remarkable year for Anne: At sixteen, she survives smallpox, experiences conversion, and marries Simon Bradstreet. Anne wrote later about her adolescence, “about 14 or 15, I found my heart more carnal, and sitting loose from God,” but her “vanity and the follies of youth”, as she described them, were repented.
She took her recovery from smallpox as a sign of God’s hand. Her thinking about this was mirrored in her poetry and her journals throughout her life, where the events of life indicated the guiding hand of God.
Although she prayed that God would “wean” her affections from an immoderate love for the things of this world, her attention remained on them during her life as metaphors to learn from. She said “For were earthly comforts permanent, who would look for heavenly?”. While she strove for the Puritan ideal of dedication to God and God’s will, it’s clear to me in her poetry that she also felt the pull of things of this world.
1630 In England Anne is 18. Anne and Simon Bradstreet, and her parents, join John Winthrop and a large group of Puritans to immigrate to New England. The “Winthrop Fleet” of 11 ships carries approximately 700 Puritans to Massachusetts. It is part of the Great Migration which brought 20,000 Puritans to New England between 1620 and 1640. The Dudleys and the Bradstreets sail on John Winthrop’s flagship, the “Arbella”. After surviving a difficult three-month crossing, they dock at Salem, Massachusetts on July 22, 1630.
1630 In America John Winthrop and the Puritans finally settle on the Shawmut peninsula.
Anne is one of the founders of Boston. Anne and Simon and their now growing family live in Boston, then move across the river to found New Towne, which is later renamed Cambridge. As a result, Anne is one of the founders of a 2nd great city in Massachusetts. When in Cambridge, the Dudleys and Bradstreets lived in what is now Harvard Square.
1634 Simon moves Anne and family again, to Ipswich.
Early 1640’s While Anne is pregnant with their 6th child, Simon moves the family from Ipswich to Andover, in what is present day North Andover, with the Stevens, Osgood, Johnson, Farnum, and Barker families, and starts a frontier settlement. During the coming years, Simon is often away from Anne in service to the colony’s government, including Simon serving as governor of the colony.
1650 Anne Bradstreet’s book of poetry “The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America” is published in London by her brother-in-law, John Woodbridge. Anne is 38. It is the first book of poetry published by anyone in English America.
1666 The Bradstreet home burns down in a fire. Anne and family escape with their lives, but lose their possessions. including their library of 800+ books. Anne writes a poem about it. Yes, for a poet, everything is material.
A side note: The Bradstreets had twice as many books in their library as Rev. John Harvard did when, in 1639, he donated his 400 book library to Harvard.
1672 Anne Bradstreet dies of consumption (tuberculosis) at age 60. Details of her illnesses and condition at time of death are recorded by her son, Simon. There is no record of where she was buried. However based on Simon’s note that his mother was buried 3 days after her death, with no other comment, it is most likely she was buried in the Old Burial Ground on Academy Road at North Andover.
1678 A second edition of her poems and writings titled “Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning” is published in Boston – one of the earliest volumes of poems printed in America.
It's worth nothing that neither of the original editions of her poems had Anne’s name on the cover page. Credits were given to “a Gentlewoman of Those parts” and “a Gentlewoman in New-England”.
Her poems and writings still speak to us today.