Anne Bradstreet, an American Poet with a Heart

Subject: Literature
Pages: 6
Words: 1697
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: College


Anne Bradstreet was an extraordinary person and an outstanding poet. Her first collection, The Ten Muses, published in 1650, contains up to a hundred poems on historical and political subjects, including the Puritan rebellion led by Cromwell, and descriptions of the Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. Other themes of Anne’s poems are reflections on the balance between heavenly and earthly life, the troubles of childhood, the fear of death during childbirth, love-poems. In Prologue, the introduction to the collection, the author expresses her irritation with the masculine world, which constantly asserts its sovereign rights over all arts, starting with those started by the ancient Greeks. This paper argues that Anne Bradstreet’s poems reflect the values and culture of New and Old England condensed into a harmonious combination.

Anne Bradstreet as a Social and Historical Phenomenon

The poetess was born in Old England but moved to the New World with her husband and parents to face all the hardships of life in a Puritan colony. Anne Bradstreet lived during the Elizabethan era when women from the elite class gained greater recognition of their role in society and their opportunities. Despite this, Anne spent a lot of poetic energy to prove that her life will not be limited by any distorted perception of widespread dogmas designed to protect social values. With her life and work, Bradstreet demonstrated a woman’s independence from those thoughts and demands of society that she rejected.

Therefore, Anne Bradstreet’s poetic work declared independence precisely in this dimension. In the poems Prologue, and The Author to Her Book, she openly declares her place in the poetic world, and emphasizes that her work, which is the result of the efforts of her soul, cannot be condemned for the sole reason that she is a woman (Bradstreet 213, 230). Importantly, such images were not the product of the author’s imagination, because most women who contributed to public life in ‘purely male’ professions heard open disapproval of their actions from men who did not restrain themselves in ‘righteous’ indignation and emotional accusations.

Among literary critics, the figure of Anne Bradstreet is recognizable and significant. Modern scientists recognize her influence not only as an artist, but also as a citizen and point to the poet’s contribution to historical and political interpretations. Hall notes that Anne Bradstreet was unfairly condemned not only because of the style of her work but also because of her “social and historical position” (1). Hall emphasizes that, despite this denigration of the poet’s role as an artist in the historical genre, schoolchildren still study her Quaternions (1). Therefore, the scientist not only recognizes Bradstreet’s independent and sincere personality, she also emphasizes the modern tendency to level the figure of the poetess to a purely social phenomenon, while Louisa Hall considers the poetess to be a historical phenomenon. Hall emphasizes that modern critics widely recognize that the poetess developed simple but expressive in her revelations and vibrant style. The scientist supports the poet in her resistance to unfair criticism.

Anne Bradstreet’s Poetical Style

The author’s poetic style deserves special attention due to its saturation and accuracy of wording and metaphorical turns. Alice Henton says that in Anne Bradstreet’s early poems, she works “within established tropes and traditions to destabilize gender frameworks and posit a poetic landscape dominated by feminine symbols” (302). This is true, especially for the poems Prologue and The Author to Her Book analyzed further. Henton also claims that “rather than creating an alternative to a Puritan identity, Bradstreet creates an alternative Puritan identity, one that lays the groundwork for numerous American women writers” (302). This assertion should be seen as another compliment to Bradstreet, who managed to perform the very thing which was mentioned. She turned Puritan masculinity into Puritan femininity, which had a free spirit and an unrestrained nature. Given that Bradstreet lived and wrote in the mid-17th century, she was the first and one-of-a-kind feminist Puritan poet.

Prologue Poem Analysis

Indeed, in her Poem Prologue, Anne Bradstreet introduces powerful symbols of femininity. First, she ironically appeals to the well-known misogynistic stance that women were created as weak and feeble-minded by nature. She writes: “My foolish, broken, blemished Muse so sings, / And this to mend, alas, no art is able, / ‘Cause nature made it so irreparable” (Bradstreet 213:16-18). Then she mercilessly criticizes men, using an ancient Greek metaphor: “Nor can I, like that fluent sweet-tongued Greek/ Who lisped at first, in future times speak plain. / By art he gladly found what he did seek, / A full requital of his striving pain” (Bradstreet 213:19-21). Importantly, as a feminist Puritan, Anne Bradstreet not only criticizes the man, but also seeks common ground with them, implying that both men and women feel pain, and for the poets, both male and female, this pain serves as a fuel for their creativity.

However, she juxtaposes men, who only drink from the springs of art, with women and herself who create and give birth to these springs. Therefore, the poem is rather loud and explicit in condemning criticism from men who have no real poetic talent or true understanding of art. Moreover, Anne questions the very possibility of talented and fulfilling male poetic creativity in the lines “But sure the antique Greeks were far more mild/ Else of our sex, why feigned they those nine/ And poesy made Calliope’s own child,” comparing art poetry with a child, which, according to ancient ideas, only had a mother – Calliope (Bradstreet 213:31-33). Bradstreet also compares men to “quills that soar the skies, / And ever with your prey still catch your praise” (Bradstreet 213:43-45). Using the metaphor of a bird of prey, the poet addresses men’s greed for recognition and publicity.

In the last lines, she says that she does not need laurels, but instead asks for a wreath of thyme and parsley, drawing an analogy between laurel leaves and their use in cooking. No less interesting, the author uses the metaphors of unrefined ore for her poetry and glistering gold for the poetry of ‘Greek’ men. It is noteworthy that, despite the devastating criticism, the poem is filled with a sense of guilt, as if Anne was a mother responsible for the unsightly nature of the men who criticize her.

Critics speak of the authors’ humility, which was the tribute to tradition. This was given without much emotion or could have been an emotionally disturbed and painful duty (Schweitzer 291). Considering some rather morbid and humiliating metaphors, like the ‘Greek who lisped at first,’ ‘poesy made Calliope’s own child,’ and ‘these lowly lines,’ Anne was not at peace with the self-humiliation tradition. The idea of a woman as a role model of a mother, a personification of the Virgin Mary who has no right to emotions other than compassion and characteristics other than chastity, was universally imposed by male Puritans. The author uses all possible poetic techniques to get rid of the oppressive feeling that she is the bearer of this role, but almost unsuccessfully.

Some critics even say that Anne Bradstreet was a ‘private’ poet and that she could not find proper self-assertion in her role along with the roles of mother and wife. Requa says that Bradstreet was never considered too bold or publicly criticized like Anne Hutchinson (3). The scholar cites John Woodbridge, the author of Introduction to the Tenth Muse, and Anne’s brother-in-law. He as well showed humility required by the Puritan genre and said that Anne was writing poetry only in her free time, thus diligently performing the duties of wife and mother, and never intended to publish them (3). This sentence sounds wild, but such were the realities of the time that to be praised, one should have humiliated oneself.

The Author of Her Book Poem Analysis

In her preface to the collection, Anne, just like in the Prologue, uses the technique of self-deprecation and aggression regarding this necessity. But behind the veil of these confrontational feelings, the author expresses her sincere love for her book and hopes that it will find a response in the reader. She compares the book to a newborn “Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain, / Who after birth didst by my side remain” (Bradstreet 230:1-2). Bradstreet is concerned about how her ‘child’ will be perceived by the public. The author vividly describes the feeling of irrational shame “At thy return my blushing was not small, / My rambling brat (in print) should mother call” (Bradstreet 230:7-8). Bradstreet also expresses hope that the book will “take thy way where yet thou art not known” (Bradstreet 230:21). Importantly, the author includes this preface of her own to assert the role of her book in her life, which she places on the same level as a living child.

Anne Bradstreet’s art is a unique poetic phenomenon, as she was the first to recognize the possibility of self-understanding by women of Puritanism and self-determination in even the harshest medieval realities. Anne Bradstreet had a generally positive outlook on life and her role in it and saw Christian tradition and faith as promises of even greater refined spiritual pleasures in the afterlife. Anne had a happy marriage, she was in love with her husband, and everyday life was also joyfully perceived by her as a reward. On a personal level, as a Puritan, she felt only slight anxiety that she found more comfort in her love for her husband and children than for the divine.


Thus, it was argued that Anne Bradstreet’s poems reflect the values and culture of New and Old England. This culture was based on Puritanism, and the opposition between secular and Christian-Puritan worldviews is visible in the author’s poetry. New England society was even more conservative than Old England, which was already undergoing slight democratic changes. Therefore, even Anne’s belonging to the elite class and the confident position of her husband and family among the local elites did not give her the right to social independence. In the poetic works of the poetess one can trace both the attraction to the Old World – through the appeal to ancient metaphors, and self-realization in the New World, regardless of pain and anxiety.

Works Cited

Bradstreet, Anne. “The Author to Her Book.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 10th ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2022, pp. 230–230.

Bradstreet, Anne. “The Prologue.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 10th ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2022, pp. 213–214.

Hall, Louisa. “The Influence of Anne Bradstreet’s Innovative Errors.” Early American Literature, vol. 48, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1–27. EBSCOhost. Web.

Henton, Alice. “‘Once Masculines. Now Ferninines Awhile’: Gendered Imagery and the Significance of Anne Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse.” New England Quarterly, vol. 85, no. 2, 2012, pp. 302–25. EBSCOhost. Web.

Requa, Kenneth A. “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetic Voices.” Early American Literature, vol. 9, no. 1, 1974, pp. 3–18.

Schweitzer, Ivy. “Anne Bradstreet Wrestles with the Renaissance.” Early American Literature, vol. 23, no. 3, 1988, p. 291. EBSCOhost. Web.