Anne Bradstreet: Two Poems on the Death of Her Grandchildren

AnneBradstreet-15_Today I received in the mail one of my favorite things, new books! One was a biography of Anne Bradstreet and the other was her collected works, largely poems. Anne Bradstreet came to New England aboard the famous ship Arbella in 1630. It’s the same boat John Wintrhop was on and delivered his famous sermon A Model of Christian Charity. In it he laid out the vision of them being “a city on a hill” that would model to England what a godly society would look like. Anne Bradstreet was the daughter of wife to Massachusetts governors and Puritans. Her poems reflect many Puritan themes, some expected and some contrary to common–though incorrect–assumptions of Puritans. One example would be the depth of passion and affection she writes to her husband in her poetry. I’ll have to save it for a later post, but despite the made up Puritans from 19th century novels, they were actually strong proponents of passion, intimacy, partnership, and deep affection in a marriage.

Anne was the first published American poet. She wrote with the values and beliefs of England in mind while living in and experiencing the unique challenges and blessings of New England’s wilderness. I look forward to reading her Works and several of her poems will probably land here. One of the first poems I found in my new book was about the death of a grandchild at all too early of an age (1 month and 1 day). Being an uncle to three babies that did not make it out of the womb, and working in a church where many of our families have lost children before they ever imagined, this and another poem she wrote immediately caught my attention. Anne had many difficulties getting pregnant and for years struggled with being childless. Eventually she and her husband would have a number of children, none of which died as children. She did however have more than one of her grandchildren die as a small child. Here are two short poems she wrote after the death of her young grandchildren.

In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Anne Bradstreet, Being Three Years and Seven Months Old
With troubled heart and trembling hand I write,
The heavens have changed to sorrow my delight.
How oft with disappointment have I met,
When I on fading things my hopes have set.
Experience might ‘fore this have made me wise,
To value things according to their price.
Was ever stable joy yet found below?
Or perfect bliss without mixture of woe?
I knew she was but as a withering flower,
That’s here today, perhaps gone in an hour;
Like as a bubble, or the brittle glass,
Or like a shadow turning as it was.
More fool then I to look on that was lent
As if mine own, when thus impermanent.
Farewell dear child, thou ne’er shall come to me,
But yet a while, and I shall go to thee;
Mean time my throbbing heart’s cheered up with this:
Thou with thy Savior art in endless bliss.

On My Dear Grandchild Simon Bradstreet, Being but a Month and One day old
No sooner came, but gone, and fall’n asleep,
Acquaintance short, yet parting caused us weep;
Three flowers, two scarcely blown, the last i’ th’bud,
Cropt by th’ Almighty’s hand; yet is He good.
With dreadful awe before Him let’s be mute,
Such was His will, but why, let’s not dispute,
With humble hearts and mouths put in the dust,
Let’s say He’s merciful as well as just.
He will return and make up all our losses,
And smile again after our bitter crosses
Go pretty babe, go rest with sisters twain;
Among the blest in endless joys remain.

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