I Hear America Singing: Anne Bradstreet

January 29, 2017

Anne Bradstreet immigrated from England to what was to become the United States in 1630, with her husband and other family and friends.  She was reluctant to leave the only home she knew, and their trip was difficult and dangerous.  What drove them to make the move was religious persecution and political turmoil in their home country.  They were fleeing known dangers and making a leap into the unknown, hoping to make new lives for themselves.  They did that, but not without great hardship and loss.  Bradstreet wrote about her homesickness (“A Dialogue between Old England and New England,” losing all their possessions (“Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666”), and about her fears, while pregnant, that she wouldn’t live to raise her child (“Before the Birth of One of her Children”).  She was the first woman writer in the colonies to be published.  Her work resonates over the centuries because it speaks to our shared human hopes and fears.  It resonates right now because it speaks to the complexities of the immigrant experience.

 

from VERSES UPON THE BURNING OF OUR HOUSE, JANUARY 10, 1666

 

When by the ruins oft I past

My sorrowing eyes aside did cast

And here and there the places spy

Where oft I sate and long did lie.

Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,

There lay that store I counted best.

My pleasant things in ashes lie

And them behold no more shall I.

Under thy roof no guest shall sit,

Nor at thy Table eat a bit.

No pleasant talk shall ‘ere be told

Nor things recounted done of old.

No Candle e’er shall shine in Thee,

Nor bridegroom‘s voice e’er heard shall be.

In silence ever shalt thou lie,

Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity.

 

 

BEFORE THE BIRTH OF ONE OF HER CHILDREN

 

All things within this fading world hath end,

Adversity doth still our joyes attend;

No ties so strong, no friends so dear and sweet,

But with death’s parting blow is sure to meet.

The sentence past is most irrevocable,

A common thing, yet oh inevitable.

How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend,

How soon’t may be thy Lot to lose thy friend,

We are both ignorant, yet love bids me

These farewell lines to recommend to thee,

That when that knot’s untied that made us one,

I may seem thine, who in effect am none.

And if I see not half my dayes that’s due,

What nature would, God grant to yours and you;

The many faults that well you know I have

Let be interr’d in my oblivious grave;

If any worth or virtue were in me,

Let that live freshly in thy memory

And when thou feel’st no grief, as I no harms,

Yet love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms.

And when thy loss shall be repaid with gains

Look to my little babes, my dear remains.

And if thou love thyself, or loved’st me,

These o protect from step Dames injury.

And if chance to thine eyes shall bring this verse,

With some sad sighs honour my absent Herse;

And kiss this paper for thy loves dear sake,

Who with salt tears this last Farewel did take.

 

 

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9 Comments

  • Reply A.J. Verdelle January 29, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    The first woman poet published in the colonies. After that daring, and searing, separation from home.
    To make a new home: that’s what many of us want. Thwarting that desire seems dastardly and inhumane,
    whether your belongings are burned or your acquisition of belongings stymied, disallowed.

    I feel guilty, Sharon, quietly consuming the poems you post. So here, I’ve admitted I’ve been here, reading.

  • Reply sharonbryanpoet January 29, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    Thanks, A.J. I’m happy to know you’re here, listening or talking. Coming up tomorrow: Phillis Wheatley’s even more searing separation from home.

  • Reply Mary Jane White January 29, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    Dear Sharon Bryan,

    Thank you for posting Anne Bradstreet, as an immigrant, at this uncertain time, writing of her losses, and in anticipation of a possible worst, reminding us how all our material things, and ourselves, remain fragile.

    Here’s another poem by another woman-refugee, Marina Tsvetaeva, fleeing her native Moscow to Berlin and onto Prague after she was no longer welcome or able to survive in Russia after the Revolution and the attendant famine which took her second daughter, a three-year-old, in part, because her husband, from whom she and the children had been separated for those years by the war-front, had chosen to fight for the losing side, The White Army, routed out of Russia into Turkey. The poem clearly expresses an emigrant (alien) experience of sensory overload and cultural dislocation, brilliantly, and with some of her sharpest invective.

    AN EMIGRANT

    Here among you: your lodgings, your lucre, your smoke,
    Your ladies, your Legislatures,
    Having not got used to you, having not been blunted by you
    Like a certain —
    Schumann scudding along with spring on the sly:
    From above! and beyond!
    Like a nightingale’s suspended tremolo —
    A certain one — is chosen.

    The most timorous one, and having stretched him on the rack —
    You lick his feet!
    Having lost his way among your hernias and love-handles
    God is left to wander among your lechers.
    Superfluous! Extravagant! Walk-out! Upstart! Uppity
    And not grown out of it . . . Unwilling to submit
    To the gallows . . . Among your riot of currencies and visas
    An exile from Vega — from a distant star.

    9 February 1923

    First published in Taos International Journal of Poetry and Art.

  • Reply sharonbryanpoet January 29, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    Thanks for this, Mary Jane. I think many people underestimate the dislocation of leaving one home for another, and the combination of desperation and courage that it takes. I’ve been unhappy enough with this country to have considered it a couple of times, but have finally been stopped by my inability to imagine that big a permanent change.

    • Reply Mary Jane White January 29, 2017 at 6:48 pm

      I remember considering it when Reagan was first elected.

      Specifically researching New Zealand. It seemed way too formidable to re-qualify as a barrister or a Queen’s counsel, or “silk,” silly to think of wearing a white, powdered wig.

      Now, sometimes, I read those “international postcards” about joining an expat community in Ecuador in some crumbling colonial village of even temperate weather with a full market of exotic fruits and vegetables, with reasonable health care, all affordable on a single, slender Social Security check.

      But you know, I just want to live in my own house . . .

      What must it feel like to pick up and move because you really have–no choice(s)?

      • Reply sharonbryanpoet January 29, 2017 at 6:58 pm

        Exactly. I came closest during the Bush 2 coup, but couldn’t quite make the leap. It’s one thing to fantasize and vent about it, but another to actually do it.

  • Reply Corey January 29, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    From Corey Merriman-Morris:

    Hi Sharon

    Thank you for sharing these poems and, yes, what a timely topic. We spent a heartening afternoon in downtown Boston protesting and enjoying the warm company and smiles of so many immigrants….at the same time, imagining/knowing what also dwells beneath those smiling faces.

    Here’s another contribution:

    On the Iranian Diaspora

    You’ve seen a child intent on carrying
    A cup brimful of water from the sink
    Step by careful step—to the kitchen table
    And then triumphantly sit down to drink.

    This is the task the exile undertakes;
    The heavy cup he balances is full
    Of reminiscence and desire – the depth
    In which he sees the world before the Fall.

    He walks a narrow corridor where strangers
    Jostle the vessel he cannot refill.
    He sees the liquid that his life depends on
    Lurch in his trembling hands, and spill, and spill.

    There is no table where he could set down
    His awkward, emptying charge; his stiff arms ache;
    As there is less to drink his thirst increases;
    It is a thirst which he will never slake.

    from A Kind of Love, Dick Davis, 1991

    Dick Davis, born in Portsmouth, England in 1945, has
    lived in Greece, Italy, Iran, and the United States. He
    has authored or edited numerous volumes of poetry and
    translations from Persian and Italian. He teaches Persian
    at Ohio State University. (information from 1991)

  • Reply sharonbryanpoet January 29, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    Corey, this is terrific. Thank you. I’m still struggling to get the formatting right–thought I had it, but apparently not.

  • Reply Patricia Clark January 30, 2017 at 10:57 am

    Lovely to see Anne Bradstreet here, Sharon! She’s a poet I have long admired. And what courage it took to leave England for the colonies.
    Thanks!

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