InstructorsStudentsReviewersAuthorsBooksellers Contact Us
Access Author Profile Pages by:
 Resource Centers
Textbook Site for:
The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Anne Bradstreet

Anne Dudley Bradstreet is among the best known of early North American poets, the first in the British colonies to have a book of poetry published. She was born in England to Dorothy Yorke, whom Cotton Mather described as “a gentlewoman whose extract and estate were considerable,” and Thomas Dudley, steward to the Earl of Lincoln at Sempringham. As a child she had access to private tutors and the Earl’s library, a circumstance that allowed her educational opportunities unusual for women of her time. Her family was part of the nonconformist group of Puritans actively planning for the settlement of Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1628, Anne Dudley married Simon Bradstreet (also nonconformist), and in 1630 (with Winthrop’s group) she arrived with her husband and parents in Massachusetts. Many years later she wrote to her children of her first impressions of North America, where she “found a new world and new manners, at which [her] heart rose. But after [she] was convinced it was the way of God, [she] submitted to it and joined to the church at Boston.”

The Bradstreets soon left Boston for Newtown (now Cambridge), then Ipswich, and after 1644 they moved to North Andover, where Bradstreet remained until her death in 1672. While her husband and her father began long careers in public service to the new colony, she raised eight children and wrote poetry. The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America was published in London in 1650 at the insistence of John Woodbridge, Bradstreet’s brother-in-law. The poems had evidently circulated among various members of Bradstreet’s family. Taking a manuscript copy to London, Woodbridge inserted a preface to assure readers of the book’s authenticity:
...the worst effect of his [the reader’s] reading will be unbelief, which will make him question whether it be a woman’s work, and ask, is it possible? If any do, take this as an answer from him that dares avow it; it is the work of a woman, honored, and esteemed where she lives, for her gracious demeanor, her eminent parts, her pious conversation, her courteous disposition, her exact diligence in her place, and discreet managing of her family occasions, and more than so, these poems are the fruit but of some few hours, curtailed from her sleep and other refreshments.
Woodbridge’s care to point out that Bradstreet’s poems were not written in neglect of family duties says much about Renaissance suspicions regarding literary women.

The 1650 edition of Bradstreet’s poems contains her early conventional verse: quaternions, elegies, and dialogues that reveal more about the literary influences upon her writing (Quarles, DuBartas, Sylvester, Sidney, Spenser, Thomas Dudley) than about her responses to a new environment. Despite opposition from “carping tongues” who said her “hand a needle better fits” than a pen, Bradstreet continued to write. A Boston edition of her poems appeared posthumously in 1678, with a substantial quantity of new material, much of it her finest work.

This later work, from which most of the selections included here are taken, develops from the conventional public verse of the first edition to more private themes of family, love, nature, sorrow, faith, and resignation. However varied the subject matter, Bradstreet’s poetry consistently reflects the Puritan spiritual and communal vision that informed her life. Further, the assertiveness about women’s abilities in public pieces such as “The Prologue” grows into an uninhibited use of images drawn from women’s experiences, particularly her own. In her mature poems, as in the prose meditations she left to her children, Bradstreet “avoided encroaching upon other’s conceptions, because [she] would leave [them] nothing but [her] own.” The poet’s voice becomes distinct and individual, revealing tensions between conventional literary subject matter and her own experience, between rebellion against and acquiescence to her frontier circumstances, between her love of this world and her concern for the afterlife of Puritan doctrine. While Bradstreet’s didactic motives frequently remain, they become less overt. She intends no moralizing in verse, but simply to react to her own experiences. With those personal reactions, she occasionally makes the Puritan aesthetic within which she worked satisfy a larger aesthetic, one more accessible to modern readers. As the first widely recognized woman poet in a North American literature not known for its attention to women writers, Anne Bradstreet is a model for future generations.

Pattie Cowell
Colorado State University

In the Heath Anthology
In Honour of Queen Elizabeth (1643)
The Prologue [To Her Book] (1650)
Upon the Burning of Our House July 10th, 1666 (1666)
A Letter to Her Husband, Absent Upon Public Employment (1678)
Before the Birth of One of Her Children (1678)
In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Elizabeth Bradstreet, Who Deceased August, 1665, Being a Year and Half Old (1678)
On My Dear Grandchild Simon Bradstreet, Who Died on 16 November, 1669, Being but a Month, and One Day Old (1678)
The Author to Her Book (1678)
The Flesh and the Spirit (1678)
To Her Father with Some Verses (1678)
To My Dear and Loving Husband (1678)
To My Dear Children (1867)

Other Works
The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America (1650)
from Meditations Divine and Moral (1678)
Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning (1678)

Cultural Objects
IMAGE filePuritan Gravestones and Attitudes Toward Death

Would you like to add a Cultural Object?

There are no pedagogical assignments or approaches for this author.


"A Dialogue between Old England and New" (1630)
Excerpted from Old South Leaflets, vol. 7, and offered by the Hanover Historical Texts Project.

"Let's save the last touchstone of Anne Bradstreet"
An article about the status of Bradstreet's material legacy (grave, home).

Anne Bradstreet: Selected Bibliography
Extensive list of secondary resources.

Selected Poetry of Anne Bradstreet
11 poems available for reading online.

Secondary Sources

Pattie Cowell and Ann Stanford, eds., Critical Essays on Anne Bradstreet, 1983

Raymond A. Craig, A Concordance to the Complete Works of Anne Bradstreet, 2000

Wendy Martin, An American Triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, 1984

Rosamond Rosenmeier, Anne Bradstreet Revisited, 1991

Ann Stanford, Anne Bradstreet: The Worldly Puritan, 1974

Elizabeth Wade White, Anne Bradstreet: The Tenth Muse, 1971

(Representative Poetry Online)
(Women Writer's Project)