Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Poetry - Anne Bradstreet

I've been reading books by & about American women lately. I seem to be collecting them on the tbr shelves too. This anthology, The World Split Open, compiled by Louise Bernikow in 1974 (I have the 1984 Women's Press edition), is a collection of work by English & American poets. I rediscovered it when I was taking the photos for my Thursday Bookshelf posts & remembered reading it, sitting on the back porch of my friend P's house at Daylesford in the mid 80s.
So, as I'm reading American writers, I though I'd share some of the American poets in this anthology. Anne Bradstreet is considered to be the first American woman poet, although she was born in England in around 1612 & emigrated to Massachusetts with her husband in 1626. This poem, Before the birth of one of her children, is addressed to her husband in the event of her death in childbirth. Anne had eight children, so she must have faced these fears every time. It's such a poignant, loving poem & must have reflected the feelings of every woman who faced the dangers of childbirth until very recent times.
While I was looking up Anne, I discovered that, among her descendants, is another of the American writers I want to read, Sarah Orne Jewett. Maybe it's a sign...

All things within this fading world hath end,  
Adversity doth still our joys attend;
No ties so strong, no friends so dear and sweet,  
But with death’s parting blow is sure to meet.  
The sentence past is most irrevocable,  
A common thing, yet oh inevitable.
How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend,  
How soon’t may be thy Lot to lose thy friend,  
We are both ignorant, yet love bids me  
These farewell lines to recommend to thee,  
That when that knot’s untied that made us one,  
I may seem thine, who in effect am none.  
And if I see not half my days that’s due,
What nature would, God grant to yours and you;  
The many faults that well you know I have 
Let be interr’d in my oblivious grave;  
If any worth or virtue were in me,  
Let that live freshly in thy memory  
And when thou feel’st no grief, as I no harms,  
Yet love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms.
And when thy loss shall be repaid with gains  
Look to my little babes, my dear remains.  
And if thou love thyself, or loved’st me,
These O protect from step Dames injury.
And if chance to thine eyes shall bring this verse,
With some sad sighs honour my absent hearse;  
And kiss this paper for thy loves dear sake,
Who with salt tears this last Farewell did take.


  1. Oh I was just reading a social history of women in 17th century England, and there were several women who published little 'advice' books for their husbands or children in case they died in childbirth. And the most famous book author died giving birth to her first. How frightening, to watch your pregnancy develop, and know that it might be counting down the months to your death.

    Thank you for sharing this poem. I'll see if my library has the anthology!

    1. You're welcome, Eva. The anthology was a classic in its day so maybe your library will still have a copy.