Anne Dudley Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672) was a Puritan poet whose work portrays a deeply felt experience of American colonial life. She was the daughter and wife of Massachusetts governors.
Anne Dudley, born about 1612 probably in Northampton, England, grew up in the cultivated household of the Earl of Lincoln, where her father, Thomas Dudley, was steward. Tutored by her father and availing herself of the extensive library, she was highly educated. Her later work reveals familiarity with Plutarch, Du Bartas, Sir Walter Raleigh, Quarles, Sidney, Spenser, perhaps Shakespeare, and, of course, the Bible. At 16, she writes, she experienced conversion.
Shortly thereafter she married Simon Bradstreet, then 20 years old; orphaned at 14, he had been her father's protégé. He graduated from Emmanuel College and, like the Dudleys, had strong Nonconformist convictions. In 1630 the Bradstreets sailed to America aboard the Arbella with Dudley and the Winthrop company. The Bradstreets lived in Salem, Boston, Cambridge, and Ipswich, and settled finally on a farm in North Andover, Mass.
Bradstreet was a devoted wife and the mother of eight children. Her husband became a judge and legislator, later royal councilor and governor. His duties required that he be away from home frequently. Their wilderness life was hard; Indian attack was a constant threat, and Bradstreet suffered poor health. Yet, she managed to use her experience and religious belief in creating a small but distinguished body of poetry.
In 1647 Bradstreet's brother-in-law, the Reverend John Woodbridge, took some of her poetry to England, where, without her knowledge, he had it published in 1650 under the title The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America…. For the most part the book consists of four long poems, which may actually be considered one long poem, traditional in subject matter and set, rather mechanically, in heroic couplets. "The Four Elements, " "The Four Humours in Man's Constitution, " "The Four Ages of Man, " and "The Four Seasons of the Year" are allegorical pieces, heavily influenced by Joshua Sylvester's translation of Du Bartas's Divine Weeks and Works.
Bradstreet herself added to and corrected her next volume, Several Poems…, published posthumously in Boston in 1678. In this volume she deals more with her New England life, her family and natural surroundings. It includes "Contemplations, " the fine, long reflective poem on death and resurrection in nature, as well as the dramatic poem "The Flesh and the Spirit, " the lively words of "The Author to Her Book, " and moving verses addressed to her husband and children. Her prose "Meditations" and some of her more confessional pieces remained in manuscript until 1867, when John H. Ellis published her complete works.
Most critics consider Bradstreet America's first authentic poet, especially strong in her later work. In her own day she was praised by Cotton Mather in his Magnalia, by Nathaniel Ward, and others.
The Works of Anne Bradstreet was edited by Jeannine Hensley, with an interesting foreword by poet Adrienne Rich (1967). John Berryman, Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1956), is a moving biographical tribute. Samuel Eliot Morison's chapter on Anne Bradstreet in Builders of the Bay Colony (1930; rev. ed. 1958) is a colorful introduction to her life and work. A readable study of Mrs. Bradstreet's writings is Josephine K. Piercy, Anne Bradstreet (1965).