Anne Bradstreet, from "A Dialogue Between Old England and New, Concerning their Present Troubles, Anno 1642"

[Click on image to enlarge] For a woman in the early seventeenth century to write and see her work published was a remarkable achievement, whatever the circumstances. But for a woman dwelling in the New World to achieve literary success in this era would seem almost impossible. Daily life in the colonial settlements was a constant struggle; books were few; learned women were regarded with suspicion, and sometimes accused of madness. Nevertheless, the first poet of any quality to emerge from the American colonies was a woman, Anne Bradstreet.

In 1630, at the age of 18, Anne Bradstreet left England with her family to join the new Puritan colony in Massachusetts. As she later recalled in a letter to her children, "I found a new world and new manners, at which my heart rose [i.e., in in horror]. But after I was convinced it was the way of God, I submitted to it and joined the church at Boston." For the next 42 years she lived, raised a family, and wrote in Massachusetts, never returning to the land of her birth. In 1650, certain members of her family contrived without her knowledge to have her poems published in England, where they appeared as The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung up in America.

[Click on image to enlarge] Bradstreet makes little attempt in her poetry to convey the material realities of American life to her English readers (she makes no mention, for instance, of the Native Americans). Instead, she represents "New England" as a reformed and Godly society from which England has much to learn. In "A Dialogue Between Old England and New, Concerning their Present Troubles, Anno 1642," the daughter country does not shrink from telling "Old England" some hard truths about the spiritual blindness and corruption that have led her over the precipice into Civil War. "New England" is, if anything, a little smug in responding to her mother's woes. Yet Bradstreet's work appears to have been popular in Commonwealth England. Many English Puritans must have welcomed the prospect that their troubled and long-divided nation could indeed be made "New" after the fashion of the American colonies.

 

NEW ENGLAND


Alas, dear mother, fairest queen and best,
With honor, wealth, and peace happy and blessed,
What ails thee hang thy head and cross thine arms,
And sit i'the dust to sigh these sad alarms?
What deluge of new woes thus overwhelm
The glories of thy ever-famous realm?
What means this wailing tone, this mournful guise?
Ah, tell thy daughter, she may sympathize.

OLD ENGLAND


Art ignorant indeed of these my woes?
Or must my forced tongue these griefs disclose?
And must myself dissect my tattered state,
Which 'mazed Christendom stands wondering at?
And thou a child, a limb, and dost not feel
My fainting, weakened body now to reel?
This physic purging potion I have taken
Will bring consumption, or an ague quaking,
Unless some cordial thou fetch from high
Which present help may ease my malady.
If I decease, dost think thou shalt survive?
Or by my wasting state dost think to thrive?
Then weigh our case, if't be not justly sad,
Let me lament alone, while thou art glad.

NEW ENGLAND


And thus, alas, your state you much deplore
In general terms, but will not say wherefore.
What medicine shall I seek to cure this woe,
If th' wound so dangerous I may not know?

 * * *

OLD ENGLAND


Well, to the matter then, there's grown of late
'Twixt king and peers a Question of State >> note 1
Which is the chief, the Law or else the King?
One said, it's he, the other, no such thing.
'Tis said my better part in Parliament,
To ease my groaning land, showed their intent
To crush the proud, and right to each man deal.
To help the Church, and stay >> note 2 the commonweal.
So many obstacles came in their way
As puts me to a stand what I should say;
Old customs, new prerogatives stood on,
Had they not held Law fast all had been gone;
Which by their prudence stood them in such stead
They took high Strafford lower by the head, >> note 3
And to their Laud >> note 4 be't spoke, they held i'th tower
All England's Metropolitan that hour.
This done, an Act they would have passed fain, >> note 5
No prelate should his bishopric retain;
Here tugged they hard, indeed, for all men saw
This must be done by Gospel, not by Law.
Next the militia they urged sore; >> note 6
This was denied (I need not say wherefore).
The king, displeased, at York himself absents;
They humbly beg return, show their intents.
The writing, printing, posting to and fro,
Shows all was done, I'll therefore let it go.
But now I come to speak of my disaster:
Contention grown, 'twixt subjects and their master,
They worded it so long, they fell to blows
That thousands lay on heaps, here bleed my woes.
I that no wars so many years have known
Am now destroyed and slaughtered by mine own.
But could the field alone this strife decide,
One battle, two, or three I might abide,
But these may be beginnings of more woe.
Who knows, but this may be my overthrow.
Of pity me in this sad perturbation,
My plundered towns, my houses' devastation,
My weeping virgins, and my young men slain,
My wealthy trading fallen, my dearth of grain.
The feed-times come, but ploughman hath no hope
Because he knows not who shall in his crop.
The poor they want their pay, their children bread,
Their woeful mothers' tears unpitied.
If any pity in thy heart remain
Or any childlike love thou dost retain
For my relief do what there lies in thee
And recompense that good I've done to thee.

NEW ENGLAND


Dear mother, cease complaints and wipe your eyes.
Shake off your dust, cheer up, and now arise,
You are my mother-nurse, and I, your flesh,
Your sunken bowels gladly would refresh.
Your griefs I pity, but soon hope to see
Out of your troubles much good fruit to be;
To see those latter days of hoped-for good,
Though now beclouded all with tears and blood. . . .

For sure the day of your redemption's nigh;
The scales shall fall from your long-blinded eyes,
And Him you shall adore who now despise.
The fullness of the nations in shall flow,
And Jew and Gentile to one worship go.
Then follows days of happiness and rest,
Whose lot doth fall to live therein is blessed.
No Canaanite shall then be found i'th'land,
And holiness on horse's bells shall stand.
If this make way thereto, then sigh no more.
But if at all, thou didst not see't before. >> note 7
Farewell dear mother, rightest cause prevail,
And in a while you'll tell another tale.

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