America’s First Poet: Anne Bradstreet
By Robert Pinsky on 3.30.09
Bradstreet. Sometimes described as America’s first poet, also wrote the first book of poems to be published by a woman in England. A careless reading of this poem might condescend to it, or even dismiss it, as naive: a mistake. This kind of plainness and directness demand great skill, and Bradstreet knows what she is doing. As in Philip Sidney’s poems, “My True Love Hath My Heart and I Have His” (Essential Pleasures, page 230), the singing quality of the rhymes is never sing-song, and the unadorned quality of the language conveys sincerity.
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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 then 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 recompense. Thy love is such I can no way repay, The heavens reward thee manifold I pray. Then while we live, in love lets so persever, That when we live no more, we may live ever.
The sounds are artful. There is a kind of subterranean, largely unnoticed touch that gives a poem conviction: an example here is how the repeated “ever” at the beginning of the first two lines comes back as the last word, and clinching rhyme, of the poem. Bradstreet knew Greek and Latin, and with a range of models in many tongues, she brings fluent lyricism out of plain English.
topics: Essential Pleasures