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America’s First Poet

quill as used by poets in the 1600s

You never know what you might find in your family tree.

Passionate about genealogical research as I sense the gratitude that I owe to my ancestors, I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to find among them a celebrated poet! I discovered that my tenth great-grandmother is Anne Bradstreet, who is called America’s first poet. Whether birth records can be trusted or not and, so, “nature” certified, I know that she was part of my ancestry, shaping the “nurture” of my family experience. … Shaping me? Even if I had never written a poem, poor or otherwise, I’ve always known that poetry — the poetic way of seeing and hearing life — is in my blood. Perhaps, in a way, it is. Literally.

In 1632, at the age of 19, my great-grandmother suffered a gripping illness in frontier New England and wrote a poem about it.

Upon a Fit of Sickness

O Bubble blast, how long can’st last?

That always art a breaking,

No sooner blown, but dead and gone,

Ev’n as a word that’s speaking.

O whil’st I live, this grace me give,

I doing good may be,

Then death’s arrest I shall count best,

because it’s thy decree.

When I was 19, I also suffered a frightening illness, but I don’t remember writing about it then. Not poetically or otherwise. If I had, I would have expressed a similar love of life and loathing of leaving. But, at that age, I would not have had the resignation to God’s will that my Puritan ancestor expressed. Although I am now a Christian writing poems that express my faith, I highly doubt that any poem of mine will last as long as those of Anne Bradstreet.

the poet Anne Bradstreet
My 10th Great-Grandmother

Although her title of “America’s First Poet” could be disputed (for the first poet was surely the first human who stepped upon these continents and breathed a sigh of marvel at the wonders here), Anne Dudley Bradstreet was the first colonial settler, male or female, to ever have published a book of poetry in England. The first Puritan literary writer, my ancestor was also the first female poet to be notably published in the English language. This accomplished “New World” poet is unquestionably considered to be one of the most important poets of early America.

She was also a wife who was passionately in love with her husband and a loving mother of eight children. Anne had great devotion and attachment to her family, committed herself to her Christian faith, was deeply moved by the beauty of the natural world, and diligently expressed herself through the written word. Maybe apples don’t fall far from trees, even if it’s 350 years later and I am but an amateur poet, as well as someone that her Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor husband and Harvard-founding father (also my ancestors, remember) would have considered a pagan papist probably condemned to hell.

I do wonder, though, if Anne might not have known a deeper faith and felt freer to enjoy the beauties of the Earth and the delights of married love without the fear of heresy had she been a Catholic of today like me. Her biographers and scholars say that she struggled against the constraints of Puritan Christianity. I wish that she had known and openly embraced the purging fire of the Sacred Heart and the holy sacrament of bread and wine that is the body and blood of our self-giving God. I wish that she had known how Christ agrees that all of Creation is beautifully sacred, and that union with Him can be richly fulfilled through self-giving love for particular human beings. I think that she did know, in the way of poets, pondering truth in her heart.

To My Dear and Loving Husband

If ever two were one, then surely we.

If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.

If ever wife was happy in a man,

Compare with me, ye women, if you can.

I  prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,

Or all the riches that the East doth hold.

My love is such that rivers cannot quench,

Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.

Thy love is such I can no way repay;

The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.

Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,

That when we live no more, we may live ever.*

Through Anne’s Dudley ancestry, I’m also supposedly descended from William The Conqueror and Charlemagne through a well-known mistress of King John (again, if birth records can be trusted). But I’m much happier and satisfied with my antecedent, Anne. Her tender heart, strength of perseverance, feminine bold brilliance, and beautiful words of wisdom are happily with me — a far removed grandchild — through the gift of her writing.

© 2021 Christina Chase


*Read more about her! Find out how this poem made Anne Bradstreet “a cultural icon for speaking out.”

Read what is considered grandma Anne Bradstreet’s best poem, Contemplations HERE. (I am no scholar of poetry. I confess that I have not read it all, yet!)

Feature Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

Christina Chase View All

Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.

13 thoughts on “America’s First Poet Leave a comment

  1. Christina I enjoyed this poem so much (you have no idea)
    I’ll read up on her again after dinner.
    Fondly,
    Joan

    Sent from my iPhone

    Like

  2. What a refreshing poem, and an ancestor to prize! Do you not think that anyone who can write with such conviction about earthly love did not experience the love of the Sacred Heart? After all, the devotion is a relative latecomer to Catholic life, not ‘necessary to salvation’ to everybody, however much it nurtures you.

    Will

    Like

    • I agree that Anne Bradstreet (and anyone who knows real love) did experience and receive the love of the Sacred Heart, which is, after all, God’s love, the divine love that brought all of us into being. For many years now (since beginning genealogical research in earnest), I have been praying for the souls of my ancestors as well as adding my prayers to theirs. I believe that Anne is within the bliss of the Sacred Heart of Jesus right now. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. How thrilling is that!! Anne Bradstreet is truly a wonder. That poem of hers that I’ve read the most, to her husband, is such a joy. I am so vicariously excited that you have this connection to her. ❤

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    • I know, isn’t it the coolest? 😀 Having only a high school diploma, and not educating myself in poetry as much as I should have, I admit that I didn’t know about Anne Bradstreet before I discovered her in my ancestry. That she was a known poet was thrilling enough for me, but the more that I read about her the more that I grew fond of her, developing real affection and sense of kinship. If I could meet anyone that lived in the last 500 years, it would be her! (By the way, if anyone devoted as much time to genealogical research as I have, they would find “famous” people in their trees too!)

      Sharing a little insight of Anne’s, which made me feel some of her maternal wisdom: “Diverse children have their different natures: some are like flesh which nothing but salt will keep from putrefaction; some again like tender fruits that are best preserved with sugar. Those parents are wise that can fit their nurture according to their nature.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Christina, enjoyed your article. It’s amazing that you are related to Anne Bradstreet. Anne Bradstreet was a Calvinist, so her view of life is from that perspective. Though being a Non-Catholic myself and who is more of a Calvinist than I would like to admit, I do think that if Anne Bradstreet would have come to a deeper faith she would have seen more of the beauty of nature all around her and maybe more of the beauty of God. But unfortunately Calvinism presents a dark side of God, more of His sovereignty than His love. The beauty of Catholicism, which is attractive, is the Catholic idea of God’s personal love for everyone. In fact, it’s the Divine Dance within the Trinity and the Divine Romance God is calling each of us to experience with Him, in my opinion, makes some of the Catholic beliefs very appealing. Sadly this is missing in Calvinism and within Protestantism in general. I’m sure being a poet, which would mean she was also very sensitive and felt things deeply. she may have struggled with her Calvinism. A deeper faith would have helped her to see more of God’s beauty. Again, enjoyed your article.

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    • Thank you for highlighting some of the Puritans’ Calvinist beliefs and wonderfully describing some of the beauty of Catholicism! It better illustrates the differences between my faith and that of my ancestors. (I’m also a direct descendent of Rev. John Cotton.) You and I have conversed before about God’s personal love for us and the “Divine Dance” in an article that I wrote about mystics, and I love how you incorporate that here! (It also reminds me to explore one of the mystics that you previously mentioned!) Yes, Anne Bradstreet did struggle with those Calvinist beliefs. I’m grateful that she was able to express her soul-knowledge of God’s love and beauty through her devotion to both her family and her poetry.
      Thank you for reflecting with me!

      Like

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