by Helen Campbell
Introduction | Chapters: 1| 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 |
Chapter 11. A First Edition.
Though the manuscript of the first edition of Anne Bradstreet's poems was nearly if not entirely complete before the removal to Andover, some years were still to pass before it left her hands entirely, though her brother-in-law, knowing her self-distrustful nature, may have refused to give it up when possession had once been obtained. But no event in her life save her marriage, could have had quite the same significance to the shy and shrinking woman, who doubted herself and her work alike, considering any real satisfaction in it a temptation of the adversary. Authorship even to-day has its excitements and agitations, for the maker of the book if not for its readers. And it is hardly possible to measure the interest, the profound absorption in the book, which had been written chiefly in secret in hours stolen from sleep, to ensure no trenching on daylight duties. We are helpless to form just judgment of what the little volume meant to the generation in which it appeared, simply because the growth of the critical faculty has developed to an abnormal degree, and we demand in the lightest work, qualities that would have made an earlier poet immortal.
This is an age of versification. The old times—when a successful couplet had the same prominence and discussion as a walking match to-day; when one poet thought his two lines a satisfactory morning's work, and another said of him that when such labor ended, straw was laid before the door and the knocker tied up—are over, once for all. Now and then a poet stops to polish, but for the most part spontaneity, fluency, gush, are the qualities demanded, and whatever finish may be given, must be dominated by these more apparent facts. Delicate fancies still abound, and are more and more the portion of the many; but Fancy fills the place once held for Imagination, a statelier and nobler dame, deaf to common voices and disdaining common paths. Every country paper, every petty periodical, holds verse that in the Queen Anne period in literature would have given the author permanent place and name. All can rhyme, and many can rhyme melodiously. The power of words fitly set has made itself known, and a word has come to be judged like a note in music—as a potential element of harmony—a sound that in its own place may mean any emotion of joy or sorrow, hate or love. Whether a thought is behind these alluring rhythms, with their sensuous swing or their rush of sound, is immaterial so long as the ear has satisfaction; thus Swinburne and his school fill the place of Spenser and the elder poets, and many an “idle singer of an empty day” jostles aside the masters, who can wait, knowing that sooner or later, return to them is certain.
Schools have their power for a time, and expression held in their moulds forgets that any other form is possible. But the throng who copied Herrick are forgotten, their involved absurdities and conceits having died with the time that gave them birth. The romantic school had its day, and its power and charm are uncomprehended by the reader of this generation. And the Lake poets, firmly as they held the popular mind, have no place now, save in the pages where a school was forgotten and nature and stronger forces asserted their power.
No poet has enduring place whose work has not been the voice of the national thought and life in which he has had part. Theology, politics, great questions of right, all the problems of human life in any age may have, in turn, moulded the epic of the period; but, from Homer down, the poet has spoken the deepest thought of the time, and where he failed in this has failed to be heard beyond his time. With American poets, it has taken long for anything distinctively American to be born. With the early singers, there was simply a reproduction of the mannerisms and limitations of the school for which Pope had set all the copies. Why not, when it was simply a case of unchangeable identity, the Englishman being no less an Englishman because he had suddenly been put down on the American side of the Atlantic? Then, for a generation or so, he was too busy contending with natural forces, and asserting his claims to life and place on the new continent, to have much leisure for verse-making, though here and there, in the stress of grinding days, a weak and uncertain voice sounded at times. Anne Bradstreet's, as we know, was the first, and half assured, half dismayed at her own presumption, she waited long, till convinced as other authors have since been, by the “urgency of friends,” that her words must have wider spread than manuscript could give them. Now and again it is asserted that the manuscript for the first edition was taken to London without her knowledge and printed in the same way, but there is hardly the slightest ground for such conclusion, while the elaborate dedication and the many friendly tributes included, indicate the fullest knowledge and preparation. All those whose opinion she most valued are represented in the opening pages of the volume.
Evidently they felt it necessary to justify this extraordinary departure from the proper sphere of woman, a sphere as sharply defined and limited by every father, husband and brother, as their own was left uncriticised and unrestrained. Nathaniel Ward forgot his phillipics against the “squirrel's brains” of women, and hastened to speak his delight in the little book, and Woodbridge and John Rogers and sundry others whose initials alone are affixed to their prose or poetical tributes and endorsements, all banded together to sustain this first venture. The title page follows the fashion of the time, and is practically an abstract of what follows.
* * * * *
THE TENTH MUSE,
LATELY SPRUNG UP IN AMERICA,
Severall Poems, compiled with great variety of Wit and
Learning, full of Delight, wherein especially is contained a
Compleat discourse, and Description of
THE FOUR—( AGES OF MAN,
( SEASONS OF THE YEAR.
Together with an Exact Epitomie of the Four
THE ( PERSIAN,
Also, a Dialogue between Old England and New, concerning
the Late Troubles; with divers other pleasant and serious
BY A GENTLEWOMAN IN THOSE PARTS.
Printed at London for Stephen Bowtell at the signe of the
Bible in Popes Head-Alley, 1650.
* * * * *
Whether Anne herself wrote the preface is uncertain. It is apologetic enough for one of her supporters, but has some indications that she chose the first word should be her own.
Had I opportunity but to borrow some of the Author's wit, 'tis possible I might so trim this curious work with such quaint expressions, as that the Preface might bespeak thy further Perusal; but I fear 'twill be a shame for a Man that can speak so little, to be seen in the title-page of this Woman's Book, lest by comparing the one with the other, the Reader should pass his sentence that it is the gift of women not only to speak most, but to speak best; I shall leave therefore to commend that, which with any ingenious Reader will too much commend the Author, unless men turn more peevish than women, to envy the excellency of the inferiour Sex. I doubt not but the Reader will quickly find more than I can say, and the worst effect of his reading will be unbelief, which will make him question whether it be a woman's work and aske, “Is it possible?”
If any do, take this as an answer from him that dares avow it: It is the Work of a Woman, honoured, and esteemed where she lives, for her gracious demeanour, her eminent parts, her pious conversation, her courteous disposition, her exact diligence in her place, and discreet managing of her Family occasions, and more than so, these Poems are the fruit but of some few houres, curtailed from her sleep and other refreshments. I dare adde but little lest I keep thee too long; if thou wilt not believe the worth of these things (in their kind) when a man sayes it, yet believe it from a woman when thou seest it. This only I shall annex, I fear the displeasure of no person in the publishing of these Poems but the Author, without whose knowledg, and contrary to her expectation, I have presumed to bring to publick view, what she resolved in such a manner should never see the Sun; but I found that diverse had gotten some Scattered Papers, and affected them well, were likely to have sent forth broken pieces, to the Authors predjudice, which I thought to prevent, as well as to pleasure those that earnestly desired the view of the whole.
Nathaniel Ward speaks next and with his usual conviction that his word is all that is necessary to stamp a thing as precisely what he considers it to be.
Mercury shew'd Appollo, Bartas Book,
Minerva this, and wish't him well to look,
And tell uprightly which did which excell,
He view'd and view'd, and vow'd he could not tel.
They bid him Hemisphear his mouldy nose,
With's crack't leering glasses, for it would pose
The best brains he had in's old pudding-pan,
Sex weigh'd, which best, the Woman or the Man?
He peer'd and por'd &glar'd, &said for wore,
I'me even as wise now, as I was before;
They both 'gan laugh, and said it was no mar'l
The Auth'ress was a right Du Bartas Girle,
Good sooth quoth the old Don, tell ye me so,
I muse whither at length these Girls will go;
It half revives my chil frost-bitten blood,
To see a Woman once, do aught that's good;
And chode by Chaucer's Book, and Homer's Furrs,
Let Men look to't, least Women wear the Spurrs.
John Woodbridge takes up the strain in lines of much easier verse, in which he pays her brotherly tribute, and is followed by his brother, Benjamin, who had been her neighbor in Andover.
UPON THE AUTHOR; BY A KNOWN FRIEND.
Now I believe Tradition, which doth call
The Muses, Virtues, Graces, Females all;
Only they are not nine, eleven nor three;
Our Auth'ress proves them but one unity.
Mankind take up some blushes on the score;
Monopolize perfection no more;
In your own Arts confess yourself out-done,
The Moon hath totally eclips'd the Sun,
Not with her Sable Mantle muffling him;
But her bright silver makes his gold look dim;
Just as his beams force our pale lamps to wink,
And earthly Fires, within their ashes shrink.
IN PRAISE OF THE AUTHOR, MISTRESS ANNE
Virtues true and lively Pattern, Wife of the
Worshipfull Simon Bradstreet Esq: At present
residing in the Occidental
parts of the World in America,
What golden splendent Star is this so bright,
One thousand Miles twice told, both day and night,
(From the Orient first sprung) now from the West
That shines; swift-winged Phoebus, and the rest
Of all Jove's fiery flames surmounting far
As doth each Planet, every falling Star;
By whose divine and lucid light most clear,
Nature's dark secret mysteryes appear;
Heavens, Earths, admired wonders, noble acts
Of Kings and Princes most heroick facts,
And what e're else in darkness seemed to dye,
Revives all things so obvious now to th' eye,
That he who these its glittering rayes views o're,
Shall see what's done in all the world before.
Three other friends add their testimony before we come to the dedication.
UPON THE AUTHOR.
'Twere extream folly should I dare attempt,
To praise this Author's worth with complement;
None but herself must dare commend her parts,
Whose sublime brain's the Synopsis of Arts.
Nature and Skill, here both in one agree,
To frame this Master-piece of Poetry:
False Fame, belye their Sex no more, it can
Surpass, or parrallel the best of Man.
ANOTHER TO MRS. ANNE BRADSTREET,
Author of this Poem.
I've read your Poem (Lady) and admire,
Your Sex to such a pitch should e're aspire;
Go on to write, continue to relate,
New Historyes, of Monarchy and State:
And what the Romans to their Poets gave,
Be sure such honour, and esteem you'l have.
ANNA BRADSTREET. DEER NEAT AN BARTAS.
So Bartas like thy fine spun Poems been,
That Bartas name will prove an Epicene.
ANNA BRADSTREET. ARTES BRED NEAT AN.
There follows, what can only be defined as a gushing tribute from John Rogers, also metrical, though this was not included until the second edition.
“Twice I have drunk the nectar of your lines,” he informs her, adding that, left “thus weltring in delight,” he is scarcely capable of doing justice either to his own feelings, or the work which has excited them, and with this we come at last to the dedication in which Anne herself bears witness to her obligations to her father.
To her most Honoured Father, Thomas Dudley, Esq;
these humbly presented,
Dear Sir of late delighted with the sight
Of your four Sisters cloth'd in black and white.
Of fairer Dames the Sun n'er Saw the face,
Though made a pedestal for Adams Race;
Their worth so shines in these rich lines you show
Their paralels to finde I scarely know
To climbe their Climes, I have nor strength nor skill
To mount so high requires an Eagle's quill;
Yet view thereof did cause my thoughts to soar,
My lowly pen might wait upon these four
I bring my four times four, now meanly clad
To do their homage, unto yours, full glad;
Who for their Age, their worth and quality
Might seem of yours to claim precedency;
But by my humble hand, thus rudely pen'd
They are, your bounden handmaids to attend
These same are they, from whom we being have
These are of all, the Life, the Muse, the Grave;
These are the hot, the cold, the moist, the dry,
That sink, that swim, that fill, that upwards fly,
Of these consists our bodies, Clothes and Food,
The World, the useful, hurtful, and the good,
Sweet harmony they keep, yet jar oft times
Their discord doth appear, by these harsh rimes
Yours did contest for wealth, for Arts, for Age,
My first do shew their good, and then their rage.
My other foures do intermixed tell
Each others faults, and where themselves excel;
How hot and dry contend with moist and cold,
How Air and Earth no correspondence hold,
And yet in equal tempers, how they 'gree
How divers natures make one Unity
Something of all (though mean) I did intend
But fear'd you'ld judge Du Bartas was my friend.
I honour him, but dare not wear his wealth
My goods are true (though poor) I love no stealth
But if I did I durst not send them you
Who must reward a Thief, but with his due.
I shall not need, mine innocence to clear
These ragged lines will do 't when they appear;
On what they are, your mild aspect I crave
Accept my best, my worst vouchsafe a Grave.
From her that to your self, more duty owes
Then water in the boundess Ocean flows.
March 20, 1642.
The reference in the second line, to “your four Sisters, clothed in black and white,” is to a poem which the good governor is said to have written in his later days, “on the Four Parts of the World,” but which a happy fate has spared us, the manuscript having been lost or destroyed, after his death. His daughter's verse is often as dreary, but both dedication and prologue admit her obligations to du Bartas, and that her verse was modeled upon his was very plain to Nathaniel Ward, who called her a “right du Bartas girl,” with the feeling that such imitation was infinitely more creditable to her than any originality which she herself carefully disclaims in the
To sing of Wars, of Captains, and of Kings,
Of cities founded, Commonwealths begun,
For my mean pen are too superior things:
Or how they all, or each their dates have run
Let Poets and Historians set these forth,
My obscure Lines shall not so dim their worth.
But when my wondring eyes and envious heart
Great Bartas sugared lines, do but read o'er
Fool I do grudg the Muses did not part
'Twixt him and me that overfluent store;
A Bartas can do what a Bartas will
But simple I according to my skill.
From school-boyes' tongues no rhet'rick we expect
Nor yet a sweet Consort from broken strings,
Nor perfect beauty, where's a main defect;
My foolish, broken, blemish'd Muse so sings
And this to mend, alas, no Art is able,
'Cause nature, made it so irreparable.
Nor can I, like that fluent sweet-tongu'd Greek,
Who lisp'd at first, in future times speak plain
By Art he gladly found what he did seek
A full requital of his, striving pain
Art can do much, but this maxima's most sure
A weak or wounded brain admits no cure.
I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits,
A Poet's pen all Scorn I should thus wrong,
For such despite they cast on Female wits;
If what I do prove well, it won't advance,
They'l say it's stolen, or else it was by chance.
But sure the Antique Greeks were far more mild
Else of our Sexe, why feigned they those Nine
And poesy made, Calliope's own child;
So 'mongst the rest they placed the Arts' Divine,
But this weak knot, they will full soon untie,
The Greeks did nought, but play the fools &lye.
Let Greeks be Greeks, and women what they are
Men have precedency and still excel,
It is but vain unjustly to wage warre:
Men can do best, and women know it well
Preheminence in all and each is yours;
Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours.
And oh ye high flown quills that soar the Skies,
And ever with your prey still catch your praise,
If e're you daigne these lowly lines your eyes
Give Thyme or Parsley wreath, I ask no bayes,
This mean and unrefined ure of mine
Will make you glistening gold, but more to shine.
With the most ambitious of the longer poems—“The Four Monarchies”— and one from which her readers of that day probably derived the most satisfaction, we need not feel compelled to linger. To them its charm lay in its usefulness. There were on sinful fancies; no trifling waste of words, but a good, straightforward narrative of things it was well to know, and Tyler's comment upon it will be echoed by every one who turns the apallingly matter-of-fact pages: “Very likely, they gave to her their choicest praise, and called her, for this work, a painful poet; in which compliment every modern reader will most cordially join.”
Of much more attractive order is the comparatively short poem, one of the series of quaternions in which she seems to have delighted. “The Four Elements” is a wordy war, in which four personages, Fire, Earth, Air and Water, contend for the precedence, glorifying their own deeds and position and reproaching the others for their shortcomings and general worthlessness with the fluency and fury of seventeenth century theological debate. There are passages, however, of real poetic strength and vividness, and the poem is one of the most favorable specimens of her early work. The four have met and at once begin the controversy.
The Fire, Air, Earth and Water did contest
Which was the strongest, noblest and the best,
Who was of greatest use and might'est force;
In placide Terms they thought now to discourse,
That in due order each her turn should speak;
But enmity this amity did break
All would be chief, and all scorn'd to be under
Whence issued winds &rains, lightning &thunder.
The quaking earth did groan, the Sky looked black,
The Fire, the forced Air, in sunder crack;
The sea did threat the heav'ns, the heavn's the earth,
All looked like a Chaos or new birth;
Fire broyled Earth, &scorched Earth it choaked
Both by their darings, water so provoked
That roaring in it came, and with its source
Soon made the Combatants abate their force;
The rumbling, hissing, puffing was so great
The worlds confusion, it did seem to threat
Till gentle Air, Contention so abated
That betwixt hot and cold, she arbitrated
The others difference, being less did cease
All storms now laid, and they in perfect peace
That Fire should first begin, the rest consent,
The noblest and most active Element.
Fire rises, with the warmth one would expect, and recounts her services to mankind, ending with the triumphant assurance, that, willing or not, all things must in the end be subject to her power.
What is my worth (both ye) and all men know,
In little time I can but little show,
But what I am, let learned Grecians say
What I can do well skil'd Mechanicks may;
The benefit all living by me finde,
All sorts of Artists, here declare your mind,
What tool was ever fram'd, but by my might?
Ye Martilisk, what weapons for your fight
To try your valor by, but it must feel
My force? Your Sword, &Gun, your Lance of steel
Your Cannon's bootless and your powder too
Without mine aid, (alas) what can they do;
The adverse walls not shak'd, the Mines not blown
And in despight the City keeps her own;
But I with one Granado or Petard
Set ope those gates, that 'fore so strong were bar'd
Ye Husband-men, your Coulters made by me
Your Hooes your Mattocks, &what ere you see
Subdue the Earth, and fit it for your Grain
That so it might in time requite your pain;
Though strong-limb'd Vulcan forg'd it by his skill
I made it flexible unto his will;
Ye Cooks, your Kitchen implements I frame
Your Spits, Pots, Jacks, what else I need not name
Your dayly food I wholsome make, I warm
Your shrinking Limbs, which winter's cold doth harm
Ye Paracelsians too in vain's your skill
In Chymistry, unless I help you Still.
And you Philosophers, if e're you made
A transmutation it was through mine aid,
Ye silver Smiths, your Ure I do refine
What mingled lay with Earth I cause to shine,
But let me leave these things, my fame aspires
To match on high with the Celestial fires;
The Sun an Orb of fire was held of old,
Our Sages new another tale have told;
But be he what they will, yet his aspect
A burning fiery heat we find reflect
And of the self same nature is with mine
Cold sister Earth, no witness needs but thine;
How doth his warmth, refresh thy frozen back
And trim thee brave, in green, after thy black.
Both man and beast rejoyce at his approach,
And birds do sing, to see his glittering Coach
And though nought, but Salamanders live in fire
And fly Pyrausta call'd, all else expire,
Yet men and beasts Astronomers will tell
Fixed in heavenly Constellations dwell,
My Planets of both Sexes whose degree
Poor Heathen judg'd worthy a Diety;
There's Orion arm'd attended by his dog;
The Theban stout Alcides with his Club;
The valiant Persens, who Medusa slew,
The horse that kil'd Beleuphon, then flew.
My Crab, my Scorpion, fishes you may see
The Maid with ballance, twain with horses three,
The Ram, the Bull, the Lion, and the Beagle,
The Bear, the Goat, the Raven, and the Eagle,
The Crown, the Whale, the Archer, Bernice Hare
The Hidra, Dolphin, Boys that water bear,
Nay more, then these, Rivers 'mongst stars are found
Eridanus, where Phaeton was drown'd.
Their magnitude, and height, should I recount
My Story to a volume would amount;
Out of a multitude these few I touch,
Your wisdome out of little gather much.
I'le here let pass, my choler, cause of wars
And influence of divers of those stars
When in Conjunction with the Sun do more
Augment his heat, which was too hot before.
The Summer ripening season I do claim,
And man from thirty unto fifty framed,
Of old when Sacrifices were Divine,
I of acceptance was the holy Signe,
'Mong all thy wonders which I might recount,
There's none more strange then Aetna's Sulphry mount
The choaking flames, that from Vesuvius flew
The over curious second Pliny flew,
And with the Ashes that it sometimes shed
Apulia's 'jacent parts were covered.
And though I be a servant to each man
Yet by my force, master, my masters can.
What famous Towns, to Cinders have I turned?
What lasting forts my Kindled wrath hath burned?
The Stately Seats of mighty Kings by me
In confused heaps, of ashes may you see.
Where's Ninus great wall'd Town, &Troy of old
Carthage, and hundred more in stories told
Which when they could not be o'ercome by foes
The Army, thro'ugh my help victorious rose
And Stately London, our great Britian's glory
My raging flame did make a mournful story,
But maugre all, that I, or foes could do
That Phoenix from her Bed, is risen New.
Old sacred Zion, I demolished thee
Lo great Diana's Temple was by me,
And more than bruitish London, for her lust
With neighbouring Towns, I did consume to dust
What shall I say of Lightning and of Thunder
Which Kings &mighty ones amaze with wonder,
Which make a Caesar, (Romes) the world's proud head,
Foolish Caligula creep under 's bed.
Of Meteors, Ignus fatuus and the rest,
But to leave those to th' wise, I judge it best.
The rich I oft made poor, the strong I maime,
Not sparing Life when I can take the same;
And in a word, the world I shall consume
And all therein, at that great day of Doom;
Not before then, shall cease, my raging ire
And then because no matter more for fire
Now Sisters pray proceed, each in your Course
As I, impart your usefulness and force.
Fully satisfied that nothing remains to be said, Fire takes her place among the sisterhood and waits scornfully for such poor plea as Earth may be able to make, surprised to find what power of braggadocio still remains and hastens to display itself.
The next in place Earth judg'd to be her due,
Sister (quoth shee) I come not short of you,
In wealth and use I do surpass you all,
And mother earth of old men did me call
Such is my fruitfulness, an Epithite,
Which none ere gave, or you could claim of sight
Among my praises this I count not least,
I am th' original of man and beast,
To tell what Sundry fruits my fat soil yields
In Vineyards, Gardens, Orchards &Corn-fields,
Their kinds, their tasts, their Colors &their smells
Would so pass time I could say nothing else.
The rich, the poor, wise, fool, and every sort
Of these so common things can make report.
To tell you of my countryes and my Regions,
Soon would they pass not hundreds but legions;
My cities famous, rich and populous,
Whose numbers now are grown innumerous,
I have not time to think of every part,
Yet let me name my Grecia, 'tis my heart.
For learning arms and arts I love it well,
But chiefly 'cause the Muses there did dwell.
Ile here skip ore my mountains reaching skyes,
Whether Pyrenean, or the Alpes, both lyes
On either side the country of the Gaules
Strong forts, from Spanish and Italian brawles,
And huge great Taurus longer then the rest,
Dividing great Armenia from the least;
And Hemus, whose steep sides none foot upon,
But farewell all for dear mount Helicon,
And wondrous high Olimpus, of such fame,
That heav'n itself was oft call'd by that name.
Parnapus sweet, I dote too much on thee,
Unless thou prove a better friend to me:
But Ile leap ore these hills, not touch a dale,
Nor will I stay, no not in Temple Vale,
He here let go my Lions of Numedia,
My Panthers and my Leopards of Libia,
The Behemoth and rare found Unicorn,
Poyson's sure antidote lyes in his horn,
And my Hiaena (imitates man's voice)
Out of great numbers I might pick my choice,
Thousands in woods &plains, both wild &tame,
But here or there, I list now none to name;
No, though the fawning Dog did urge me sore,
In his behalf to speak a word the more,
Whose trust and valour I might here commend;
But times too short and precious so to spend.
But hark you wealthy merchants, who for prize
Send forth your well man'd ships where sun doth rise,
After three years when men and meat is spent,
My rich Commodityes pay double rent.
Ye Galenists, my Drugs that come from thence,
Do cure your Patients, fill your purse with pence;
Besides the use of roots, of hearbs, and plants,
That with less cost near home supply your wants.
But Mariners where got your ships and Sails,
And Oars to row, when both my Sisters fails
Your Tackling, Anchor, compass too is mine,
Which guides when sun, nor moon, nor stars do shine.
Ye mighty Kings, who for your lasting fames
Built Cities, Monuments, call'd by your names,
Were those compiled heaps of massy stones
That your ambition laid, ought but my bones?
Ye greedy misers, who do dig for gold
For gemms, for silver, Treasures which I hold,
Will not my goodly face your rage suffice
But you will see, what in my bowels lyes?
And ye Artificers, all Trades and forts
My bounty calls you forth to make reports,
If ought you have, to use, to wear, to eat,
But what I freely yield, upon your sweat?
And Cholerick Sister, thou for all thine ire
Well knowst my fuel, must maintain thy fire.
As I ingenuously with thanks confess,
My cold thy fruitfull heat doth crave no less;
But how my cold dry temper works upon
The melancholy Constitution;
How the Autumnal season I do sway,
And how I force the gray-head to obey,
I should here make a short, yet true narration.
But that thy method is mine imitation
Now must I shew mine adverse quality,
And how I oft work man's mortality;
He sometimes finds, maugre his toiling pain
Thistles and thorns where he expected grain.
My sap to plants and trees I must not grant,
The vine, the olive, and the fig tree want:
The Corn and Hay do fall before the're mown,
And buds from fruitfull trees as soon as blown;
Then dearth prevails, that nature to suffice
The Mother on her tender infant flyes;
The husband knows no wife, nor father sons.
But to all outrages their hunger runs:
Dreadful examples soon I might produce,
But to such Auditors 'twere of no use,
Again when Delvers dare in hope of gold
To ope those veins of Mine, audacious bold;
While they thus in mine entrails love to dive,
Before they know, they are inter'd alive.
Y' affrighted nights appal'd, how do ye shake,
When once you feel me your foundation quake?
Because in the Abysse of my dark womb
Your cities and yourselves I oft intomb:
O dreadful Sepulcher! that this is true
Dathan and all his company well knew,
So did that Roman far more stout than wise
Bur'ing himself alive for honours prize.
And since fair Italy full sadly knowes
What she hath lost by these remed'less woes.
Again what veins of poyson in me lye,
Some kill outright, and some do stupifye:
Nay into herbs and plants it sometimes creeps,
In heats &colds &gripes &drowzy sleeps;
Thus I occasion death to man and beast
When food they seek, &harm mistrust the least,
Much might I say of the hot Libian sand
Which rise like tumbling Billows on the Land
Wherein Cambyses Armie was o'rethrown
(but winder Sister, 'twas when you have blown)
I'le say no more, but this thing add I must
Remember Sons, your mould is of my dust
And after death whether interr'd or burn'd
As Earth at first so into Earth returned.
Water, in no whit dismayed by pretensions which have left no room for any future claimant, proceeds to prove her right to the championship, by a tirade which shows her powers quite equal to those of her sisters, considering that her work in the floods has evidenced itself quite as potent as anything Fire may claim in the future.
Scarce Earth had done, but th' angry water moved.
Sister (quoth she) it had full well behoved
Among your boastings to have praised me
Cause of your fruitfulness as you shall see:
This your neglect shews your ingratitude
And how your subtilty, would men delude
Not one of us (all knows) that's like to thee
Ever in craving from the other three;
But thou art bound to me above the rest,
Who am thy drink, thy blood, thy Sap, and best:
If I withhold what art thou? dead dry lump
Thou bearst nor grass or plant, nor tree nor stump,
Thy extream thirst is moistn'ed by my love
With springs below, and showres from above
Or else thy Sun-burnt face and gaping chops
Complain to th' heavens, if I withhold my drops
Thy Bear, thy Tiger and thy Lion stout,
When I am gone, their fierceness none needs doubt
Thy Camel hath no strength, thy Bull no force
Nor mettal's found in the courageous Horse
Hinds leave their calves, the Elephant the fens
The wolves and Savage beasts forsake their Dens
The lofty Eagle, and the stork fly low,
The Peacock and the Ostrich, share in woe,
The Pine, the Cedar, yea, and Daphne's Tree
Do cease to nourish in this misery,
Man wants his bread and wine, &pleasant fruits
He knows, such sweets, lies not in Earth's dry roots
Then seeks me out, in river and in well
His deadly malady I might expell:
If I supply, his heart and veins rejoyce,
If not, soon ends his life, as did his voyce;
That this is true, Earth thou can'st not deny
I call thine Egypt, this to verifie,
Which by my falling Nile, doth yield such store
That she can spare, when nations round are poor
When I run low, and not o'reflow her brinks
To meet with want, each woeful man bethinks;
And such I am in Rivers, showrs and springs
But what's the wealth, that my rich Ocean brings
Fishes so numberless, I there do hold
If thou should'st buy, it would exhaust thy gold:
There lives the oyly Whale, whom all men know
Such wealth but not such like, Earth thou maist show.
The Dolphin loving musick, Arians friend
The witty Barbel, whose craft doth her commend
With thousands more, which now I list not name
Thy silence of thy Beasts doth cause the same
My pearles that dangle at thy Darling's ears,
Not thou, but shel-fish yield, as Pliny clears,
Was ever gem so rich found in thy trunk
As Egypts wanton, Cleopatra drunk?
Or hast thou any colour can come nigh
The Roman purple, double Tirian dye?
Which Caesar's Consuls, Tribunes all adorn,
For it to search my waves they thought no Scorn,
Thy gallant rich perfuming Amber greece
I lightly cast ashore as frothy fleece:
With rowling grains of purest massie gold,
Which Spains Americans do gladly hold.
Earth thou hast not moe countrys vales &mounds
Then I have fountains, rivers lakes and ponds;
My sundry seas, black, white and Adriatique,
Ionian, Baltique, and the vast Atlantique,
Aegean, Caspian, golden rivers fire,
Asphaltis lake, where nought remains alive:
But I should go beyond thee in my boasts,
If I should name more seas than thou hast Coasts,
And be thy mountains ne'er so high and steep,
I soon can match them with my seas as deep.
To speak of kinds of waters I neglect,
My diverse fountains and their strange effect:
My wholsome bathes, together with their cures;
My water Syrens with their guilefull lures,
The uncertain cause of certain ebbs and flows,
Which wondring Aristotles wit n'er knows,
Nor will I speak of waters made by art,
Which can to life restore a fainting heart.
Nor fruitfull dews, nor drops distil'd from eyes,
Which pitty move, and oft deceive the wise:
Nor yet of salt and sugar, sweet and smart,
Both when we lift to water we convert.
Alas thy ships and oars could do no good
Did they but want my Ocean and my flood.
The wary merchant on his weary beast
Transfers his goods from south to north and east,
Unless I ease his toil, and do transport
The wealthy fraight unto his wished port,
These be my benefits, which may suffice:
I now must shew what ill there in me lies.
The flegmy Constitution I uphold,
All humours, tumours which are bred of cold:
O're childhood and ore winter I bear sway,
And Luna for my Regent I obey.
As I with showers oft times refresh the earth,
So oft in my excess I cause a dearth,
And with abundant wet so cool the ground,
By adding cold to cold no fruit proves found.
The Farmer and the Grasier do complain
Of rotten sheep, lean kine, and mildew'd grain.
And with my wasting floods and roaring torrent,
Their cattel hay and corn I sweep down current.
Nay many times my Ocean breaks his bounds,
And with astonishment the world confounds,
And swallows Countryes up, ne'er seen again,
And that an island makes which once was main:
Thus Britian fair ('tis thought) was cut from France
Scicily from Italy by the like chance,
And but one land was Africa and Spain
Untill proud Gibraltar did make them twain.
Some say I swallow'd up (sure tis a notion)
A mighty country in th' Atlantique Ocean.
I need not say much of my hail and Snow,
My ice and extream cold, which all men know,
Whereof the first so ominous I rain'd,
That Israel's enemies therewith were brain'd;
And of my chilling snows such plenty be,
That Caucasus high mounts are seldome free,
Mine ice doth glaze Europes great rivers o're,
Till sun release, their ships can sail no more,
All know that inundations I have made,
Wherein not men, but mountains seem'd to wade;
As when Achaia all under water stood,
That for two hundred years it n'er prov'd good.
Deucalions great Deluge with many moe,
But these are trifles to the flood of Noe,
Then wholly perish'd Earths ignoble race,
And to this day impairs her beauteous face,
That after times shall never feel like woe,
Her confirm'd sons behold my colour'd bow.
Much might I say of wracks, but that He spare,
And now give place unto our Sister Air.
There is a mild self-complacency, a sunny and contented assertion about “sister Air,” that must have proved singularly aggravating to the others, who, however, make no sign as to the final results, the implication being, that she is after all the one absolutely indispensable agent. But to end nowhere, each side fully convinced in its own mind that the point had been carried in its own favor, was so eminently in the spirit of the time, that there be no wonder at the silence as to the real victor, though it is surprising that Mistress Bradstreet let slip so excellent an opportunity for the moral so dear to the Puritan mind.
Content (quoth Air) to speak the last of you,
Yet am not ignorant first was my due:
I do suppose you'l yield without controul
I am the breath of every living soul.
Mortals, what one of you that loves not me
Abundantly more than my Sisters three?
And though you love fire, Earth and Water well
Yet Air beyond all these you know t' excell.
I ask the man condemn'd that's neer his death,
How gladly should his gold purchase his breath,
And all the wealth that ever earth did give,
How freely should it go so he might live:
No earth, thy witching trash were all but vain,
If my pure air thy sons did not sustain,
The famish'd thirsty man that craves supply,
His moving reason is, give least I dye,
So both he is to go though nature's spent
To bid adieu to his dear Element.
Nay what are words which do reveal the mind,
Speak who or what they will they are but wind.
Your drums your trumpets &your organs found,
What is't but forced air which doth rebound,
And such are ecchoes and report of th' gun
That tells afar th' exploit which it hath done,
Your songs and pleasant tunes they are the same,
And so's the notes which Nightingales do frame.
Ye forging Smiths, if bellows once were gone
Your red hot work more coldly would go on.
Ye Mariners, tis I that fill your sails,
And speed you to your port with wished gales.
When burning heat doth cause you faint, I cool,
And when I smile, your ocean's like a pool.
I help to ripe the corn, I turn the mill,
And with myself I every Vacuum fill.
The ruddy sweet sanguine is like to air,
And youth and spring, Sages to me compare,
My moist hot nature is so purely thin,
No place so subtilly made, but I get in.
I grow more pure and pure as I mount higher,
And when I'm thoroughly varifi'd turn fire:
So when I am condens'd, I turn to water,
Which may be done by holding down my vapour.
Thus I another body can assume,
And in a trice my own nature resume.
Some for this cause of late have been so bold
Me for no Element longer to hold,
Let such suspend their thoughts, and silent be,
For all Philosophers make one of me:
And what those Sages either spake or writ
Is more authentick then our modern wit.
Next of my fowles such multitudes there are,
Earths beasts and waters fish scarce can compare.
Th' Ostrich with her plumes th' Eagle with her eyn
The Phoenix too (if any be) are mine,
The Stork, the crane, the partridg, and the phesant
The Thrush, the wren, the lark a prey to th' pesant,
With thousands more which now I may omit
Without impeachment to my tale or wit.
As my fresh air preserves all things in life,
So when corrupt, mortality is rife;
Then Fevers, Pmples, Pox and Pestilence,
With divers more, work deadly consequence:
Whereof such multitudes have di'd and fled,
The living scarce had power to bury the dead;
Yea so contagious countryes have we known
That birds have not 'Scapt death as they have flown
Of murrain, cattle numberless did fall,
Men feared destruction epidemical.
Then of my tempests felt at sea and land,
Which neither ships nor houses could withstand,
What wofull wracks I've made may well appear,
If nought were known but that before Algere,
Where famous Charles the fifth more loss sustained
Then in his long hot war which Millain gain'd
Again what furious storms and Hurricanoes
Know western Isles, as Christophers Barbadoes;
Where neither houses, trees nor plants I spare,
But some fall down, and some fly up with air.
Earthquakes so hurtfull, and so fear'd of all,
Imprison'd I, am the original.
Then what prodigious sights I sometimes show,
As battles pitcht in th' air, as countryes know,
Their joyning fighting, forcing and retreat,
That earth appears in heaven, O wonder great!
Sometimes red flaming swords and blazing stars,
Portentous signs of famines, plagues and wars,
Which make the Monarchs fear their fates
By death or great mutation of their States.
I have said less than did my Sisters three,
But what's their wrath or force, the fame's in me.
To adde to all I've said was my intent,
But dare not go beyond my Element.
Here the contest ends, and though the second edition held slight alterations here and there, no further attempt was made to add to or take away from the verses, which are as a whole the best examples of the early work, their composition doubtless beguiling many weary hours of the first years in New England. “The four Humours of Man” follows, but holds only a few passages of any distinctive character, the poem, like her “Four Monarchies,” being only a paraphrase of her reading. In “The Four Seasons,” there was room for picturesque treatment of the new conditions that surrounded her, but she seems to have been content, merely to touch the conventional side of nature, and to leave her own impressions and feelings quite out of the question. The verses should have held New England as it showed itself to the colonists, with all the capricious charges that moved their wonder in the early days. There was everything, it would have seemed, to excite such poetical power as she possessed, to the utmost, for even the prose of more than one of her contemporaries gives hints of the feeling that stirred within them as they faced the strange conditions of the new home. Even when they were closely massed together, the silent spaces of the great wilderness shut them in, its mystery beguiling yet bewildering them, and the deep woods with their unfamiliar trees, the dark pines on the hill-side, all held the sense of banishment and even terror. There is small token of her own thoughts or feelings, in any lines of hers, till late in life, when she dropped once for all the methods that pleased her early years, and in both prose and poetry spoke her real mind with a force that fills one with regret at the waste of power in the dreary pages of the “Four Monarchies.” That she had keen susceptibility to natural beauty this later poem abundantly proves, but in most of them there is hardly a hint of what must have impressed itself upon her, though probably it was the more valued by her readers, for this very reason.
Introduction | Chapters: 1| 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 |
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