In This Article Anne Bradstreet

  • Introduction
  • Primary Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Biographies
  • Publication History

American Literature Anne Bradstreet
by
Wendy Martin, Danielle Hinrichs
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0092

Introduction

In 1630, eighteen-year-old Anne Bradstreet joined her family, her new husband, and a large group of Puritan faithful on a harrowing three-month journey from Southampton, England, to New England. Bradstreet’s father and husband were prominent members of a Puritan community seeking freedom from persecution by the Church of England. Although she willingly joined her family, Bradstreet had reservations about leaving an English estate filled with books and opportunities to forge a new life in a wilderness that lacked adequate food, shelter, and safety. She later remarked, “[I] came into this country, where I found a new world and new manners, at which my heart rose. But after I was convinced it was the way of God, I submitted to it and joined the church at Boston” (Ellis 1867, p. 5, under Primary Works). Despite facing many illnesses, bearing eight children, and establishing herself within a hierarchical culture that considered women subservient to men, and men to God, Bradstreet became the first published author in the colonies. Her early poems engage historical and political themes and draw heavily from English and French literary sources. Most critics agree that her most powerful work comes in her later, more personal poems, where she speaks in a confident voice about her own experiences as a Puritan woman. In these poems, she conveys her love for her husband and her devastating grief at the loss of three young grandchildren. Two of her most acclaimed and highly anthologized poems demonstrate her pleasure in the world and her struggle to subordinate the natural world to the divine one. In “Verses upon the Burning of Our House, July 10, 1666,” Bradstreet conveys the tension between her worldly concerns and spiritual aspirations, seeking always to view affliction and tragedy as God’s beneficent corrections that lead the faithful to a permanent afterlife. In “Contemplations,” often considered Bradstreet’s finest poem, the poet sees in the natural world evidence of the divine and seeks to transcend the beauty of nature to embrace eternal joy. Within a restrictive culture that punished women for leaving the domestic sphere or questioning authority, Anne Bradstreet managed to assert a poetic voice, a powerful and eloquent voice that would inspire and influence American poets in her time and today.

Primary Works

Modern editions of Bradstreet’s works draw from two initial sources: the first edition of her work, submitted by Bradstreet’s brother-in-law Thomas Woodbridge and published in London (The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America; Bradstreet 1650), and the Boston edition (Severall Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight; Bradstreet 1678), published six years after Bradstreet’s death. There is evidence that Bradstreet made revisions to The Tenth Muse in preparation for a second edition, but because Severall Poems was published after her death, scholars have differing views on which version more accurately reflects the author’s intent. The 1650 edition of The Tenth Muse is still available as a facsimile in Bradstreet 1965. Most modern collections of Bradstreet’s work, however, draw their material from the 1678 edition of Severall Poems, which includes Bradstreet’s later, more personal poetry. Ellis 1867 and Hensley 2010 also include Bradstreet’s letter to her children and other writings posthumously left to her family, which are now contained in what is called the Andover manuscript. Whereas Ellis preserves original spellings, Hensley is updated for more accessibility for today’s readers and is, therefore, more appropriate for younger students. McElrath and Robb 1981 differs from the other works cited here in its preference for the 1650 edition of The Tenth Muse, although it does also include poems from the 1678 Severall Poems and the Andover manuscript.

  • Bradstreet, Anne. The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, or Severall Poems, Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight Wherein Especially Is Contained a Compleat Discourse and Description of the Four Elements, Constitutions, Ages of Man, Seasons of the Year: Together with an Exact Epitomie of the Four Monarchies, viz. the Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, Roman: Also a Dialogue between Old England and New, Concerning the Late Troubles: With Divers Other Pleasant and Serious Poems. London: Printed for Stephen Bowtell at the signe of the Bible in Popes Head-Alley, 1650.

    E-mail Citation »

    The first edition of Bradstreet’s poems was submitted for publication by Bradstreet’s brother-in-law Thomas Woodbridge (supposedly without her knowledge). It was from a manuscript that Bradstreet created for her father, and it contains her more secular, formal poetry. It is prefaced by commendatory material written by preeminent men who attest to her status as a Puritan woman and to her worthiness as a poet.

  • Bradstreet, Anne. Severall Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight: Wherein Especially Is Contained a Compleat Discourse, and Description of the Four Elements, Constitutions, Ages of Man, Seasons of the Year. Boston: Foster, 1678.

    E-mail Citation »

    This collection was published after Bradstreet’s death. Although there is some evidence that Bradstreet revised her poetry in anticipation of this second edition, an unknown editor selected and made changes for this publication; Jeannine Hensley has suggested that the editor was John Rogers. The collection includes revised poems from The Tenth Muse as well as eighteen new poems.

  • Bradstreet, Anne. The Tenth Muse (1650) and, from the Manuscripts, Meditations Divine and Morall Together with Letters and Occasional Pieces by Anne Bradstreet. Edited by Josephine K. Piercy. Gainesville, FL: Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1965.

    E-mail Citation »

    This edition includes a facsimile of the 1650 edition of The Tenth Muse and of the manuscripts left to her children after her death. The Tenth Muse facsimile shows the original typeset and spellings, and the manuscripts are in the poet’s and her son’s handwriting. There is a brief introduction by Piercy.

  • Ellis, John Harvard, ed. The Works of Anne Bradstreet, in Prose and Verse. Charlestown, MA: Cutter, 1867.

    E-mail Citation »

    Ellis works from the second edition of Bradstreet’s poetry (Severall Poems) and maintains the original spelling, punctuation, and typographical errors. The editor uses footnotes to indicate differences between the first and second edition and incorporates material from the Andover Manuscript, including Bradstreet’s letter to her children and “Meditations Divine and Moral.” This edition also includes a lengthy biographical introduction and survey of scholarship.

  • Hensley, Jeannine, ed. The Works of Anne Bradstreet. Boston: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010.

    E-mail Citation »

    Hensley works from the second edition of Bradstreet’s poetry (Severall Poems) but modernizes its spelling and punctuation. She includes all extant works in chronological order (including those from the Andover manuscript), a foreword by Adrienne Rich, and an introduction.

  • McElrath, Joseph R., and Allan P. Robb, eds. The Complete Works of Anne Bradstreet. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

    E-mail Citation »

    McElrath provides a general overview of the poet’s life and work and a survey of the scholarship through 1980. Unlike most other modern collections of Bradstreet’s poetry, this edition draws significantly from The Tenth Muse versions of Bradstreet’s poems. It provides documentation of manuscript changes in an extensive section on “Editorial Apparatus.”

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