Before the Birth of one of her Children, Anne Bradstreet

This week, I have been thinking a lot about America, no surprise with the US Elections and the tense wait for the result. And my current focus on poetry, has also, unsurprisingly, brought back my PhD which was on androgyny in 17th century women’s poetry. For many years, I used to always then say “yes, women did write poetry in the 17th century” which caused people a lot of surprise. Fortunately now most people have heard about at least one of “my women” who were Anne Bradstreet, Margaret Cavendish and Aphra Behn. It would be rude not to include at least one poem by each of my lovely women over the course of lockdown! So given the focus on the USA this week I think it is only fitting to start with humble, steely strong and inspiring Anne Bradstreet. Born in Leicestershire, she became a New England settler, she had 8 children and suffered considerable hardship, including her house burning down. And despite her Puritan upbringing she wrote a considerable amount of poetry. I once went to her home town in Massachusetts, one autumn, and on those sparkly, bright Autumn days in the UK I often think of that visit and her poetry. The poem for today is about the birth of one of her children and I can emphasis with some of the sentiments she expresses here.

Before the Birth of one of her Children

All things within this fading world hath end,
Adversity doth still our joys attend;
No ties so strong no friends so clear and sweet,
But with death’s parting blow is sure to meet.
The sentence past is most irrecoverable,
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 interred 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 griefs, as I no harms,
Yet Love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms:
And when they loss shall be repaid with gains
Look to my little babes my dear remains.
And if thou love thy self, or loved’st me
These O protect from stepdame’s 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 love’s dear sake,
Who with salt tears this last farewell did take.

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