Anne Bradstreet was quite possibly one of America’s most learned and forbearing citizens ever. Surviving the three-month journey to The New World in 1630, she endured the challenges of life in New England with both stoicism and optimism, living in a loving marriage, bearing eight children, keeping house, and keeping herself company by studying during her husband’s many long absences on the business of leadership of the nascent country they had chosen as their own. She survived many illnesses as well as paralysis and rebuilt her life after her house burned to the ground with all her family’s possessions.

She was a poet to the bone. Her brother, recognizing this, copied her poems and took them to England where he had them published without her permission. The bulk of her work was published after her death at the age of 60; her reaction to the one publication she did know about came in the form of a mother’s lament. We offer this unsentimental poem as a reminder that mothering takes as many forms as offspring do and that women give birth in many ways.

 

An Author To Her Book

Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,

Who after birth did’st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad expos’d to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call.
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy Visage was so irksome in my sight,
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet.
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun Cloth, i’ th’ house I find.
In this array, ‘mongst Vulgars mayst thou roam.
In Critics’ hands, beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known.
If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none;
And for thy Mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.

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  • Elizabeth Hemmerdinger May 8, 2010 at 10:31 am

    I love this! Thanks for bringing it to our attention. There’s comfort in knowing that writer’s and mother’s remorse are not unusual states of mind.

    Reply
  • Gaea Yudron May 7, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Thank you for speaking about Bradstreet’s life and presenting her poem, which is such a striking example of the modesty and humble self deprecation that women expressed when presenting themselves in the past–and sometimes in the present. Her poem is a beautifully written tribute to the offspring of our creativity. And her life a testament to strength and the richness of the inner life.

    Reply