Saturday, February 18, 2012

Nay Masculines

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I didn't realize, until recently, that the first American poet was a woman. Anne Bradstreet's book of poems, The Tenth Muse, published in England in 1650, made her the first published American woman writer. She immigrated to America with her family in 1630, on the Arabella, one of the first ships to bring Puritans to New England.

Not only does her work reflect the struggle for survival in the harsh living conditions of the New World, but also of a well-educated and intuitive woman surrounded by Puritan ideology.

Her writing style is deceptively simple, but speaks of a free-thinking woman of high intelligence, airing her views in a restricted society with ease.  Bradstreet's rich vocabulary, and lyrical, yet logical quality, is a pleasure to read.

I love the description on the cover of a chapbook, published after her death: "Compiled with great variety of wit and learning, full of delight ... with diverse other pleasant & serious poems, by a Gentlewoman in New England."

One of her early pieces dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I, alludes to the role of women and their capabilities with a sly wit that emerges in many of her poems. Say it, Annie baby ...

Now say have women worth? or have they none?
Or had they some, but with our queen is't gone?
Nay Masculines, you have thus taxt us long,
But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong,
Let such as say our Sex if void of Reason,
Know tis a Slander now, but once was Treason.

Another poem touches on the subject of the definition of the Puritan roles of men and women, with the understanding of the likelihood that her poetical accomplishments would not be accepted:

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits
A Poet's Pen I should all scorn thus wrong
For such despite they cast on female wits.
If what I do prove well, it won't advance
They'll say it's stol'n, or else it was by chance.

Even though Bradstreet's feminism was held in check by her religious values, I appreciate the conflict expressed in her poetry, and the finding of her voice in a patriarchal society.  I am touched by the surprisingly modern thoughts contained in her Puritan style, as a woman, and as a writer. She and I are simpatico. 


  1. It never fails to amaze me how thoughts from, in this case, almost 400 years ago bear very little difference from thoughts of today.

  2. women have long been frustrated by men's unwillingness to see their intelligence.

  3. I did not know this. Of course my reasoning is, if YOU didn't know, then why on earth would I? You being the only poet I know (sort of anyway).
    I'm with mybabyjohn/Delores, universals.

  4. Nothing much has changed, has it! Nag, nag, nag.

  5. Thank you, Dr. L...that should help my overall grade average...giggle...

  6. She was obviously one tough and outspoken lady - but then weren't they all, those early pioneers?

  7. Yes, Weaver, we who descend from early Americans come from hardy stock.

  8. I appreciate Anne Bradstreet's free-thinking style. She is most definitely a pleasure to read. Thank you for sharing this Tess. "Now say have women worth?" A great question for the GOP, this week.

  9. I appreciate Anne Bradstreet's free-thinking style. She is most definitely a pleasure to read. Thank you for sharing this Tess. "Now say have women worth?" A great question for the GOP, this week.

  10. I didn't realize that she was the first!

  11. I had the same thought as Linda - this is quite a timely post given the GOP shenanigans this week :)

  12. She certainly sounds ahead of her time. I wonder what she'd think of today's feminism?

  13. Amazing to think that her work is just as relevant for some women, today, in the so-called modern world.

  14. I don't know whether to laugh or cry that we're debating the same issues today!

  15. excellent post. love this information. esp love the first two lines in the second excerpt you quoted. thanks.

  16. Just wondering if it was "serious" poetry she wrote rather than "furious?" Those effs for esses are a challenge sometimes. How fascinating. What a find. Thanks for sharing! Glad to read your blogginess again and glad you feel refreshed and ready to do more! Love your poems too, but these "articles" are great since you always find something riveting to talk about!

  17. Hey, Jane, I think you're right...although I love "furious"...giggle...

  18. correction:

    She emigrated to America with her family in 1630, on the Arabella, one of the first ships to bring Puritans to New England.

    She immigrated to America.... she emigrated from England

  19. A gift, Tess. Thank you.

    Do you ever find a subject and immediately imagine the book you wish there was on it? I don't mean the books one could write one's self! All the research and work involved - however rewarding it may prove, it is not what one craves. It is not remotely the same pleasure as sinking into a well-drawn book like a bath.

    In a case like this, I wish there were on her some volume of collected poems coupled with a biography, sympathetic yet tart with feminist touches - the whole thing equal parts historical study (and not neglecting the wider scope of the times in which she lived!) and literary criticism.

    Also, "Nay Masculines" is a smashing band name.

  20. Dogimo, absolutely...and I adore "nay masculines"...I plan on using it soon...

  21. It's always such a pleasure to visit here.


  22. I don't know about hardy stock Tess! First accounts of Jamestown are more akin to Dandy's in the Wilderness!..Hehehehehe. Interesting that The Tempest was based around Disatrous events of the period too!
    Great post!

  23. Jeffery, tell me about your ancestors...convicts in the wilderness, perhaps?

  24. I love her strength but I wonder what happened to her. She may have been burned at the stake, considering the times.

  25. My apologies Tess! I meant No Offense. I'll say no more..

  26. Fhe foundf like Fhakefpeare'f fifter!

  27. Jeffery, none taken...seriously, I'm sure your lineage is did your ancestors come to arrive in Victoria?

  28. Bruce, she suffered a slow battle with TB and died at the age of 60 in North Andover, MA.

  29. What an amazing story! Finding her voice in the 1600's, she must have been a force to be dealt with! She was quite a woman in her day. Thanks for sharing this, great post.

  30. Just a perfect antidote to the current conflict in Congress over birth control, religious liberty and health insurance.

    I had no idea that she was our first American poet. That's wild.

  31. She is wonderful, isn't she. A woman well ahead of her time. Thank you for sharing her.

  32. Oh Tess...what a delightful post!
    I am sad to say I have never heardof *Mistress Anne*...but now, I know and can pass this along to friends - both male and female.

    Wasn't she a wonder!!!! Brava to her for her strong, witty words - and Brava to you for posting this!!!!


    ♥ Robin ♥

  33. What a marvelous thing to know... and her "furious" poetry (I love that, too) has no less fury than many woman writers who followed her. And no less fury than some are having today.

    I do so love your blog, Tess. Sometimes I simply enjoy it. Sometimes I think. Sometimes I learn. It is ever a surprise.

  34. I teach Anne Bradstreet at the beginning of my course every year. Her courageous spirit never fails to amaze me, and I am always humbled by the first lines of "To My Dear and Loving Husband." They are simple, direct, and pure.

    If ever two were one, then surely we
    If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee.

  35. When my husband and I celebrated 30 years of marital bless, this lovely poem, by Anne Bradstreet, was just one of my gifts to him:

    To My Dear and Loving Husband

    If ever two were one, then surely we.
    If ever man were lov'd 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 recompence.
    Thy love is such I can no way repay,
    The heaven reward thee manifold I pray.
    Then while we live, in love let's presevere,
    That when we live no more, we may live ever.

    My husband says it was one the best gifts he has ever received.

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Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)