Read an Excerpt
Great Poems by American Women
By SUSAN L. RATTINER
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1998 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ANNE BRADSTREET (1612?-1672)
The first colonial woman poet, Anne Bradstreet came to Massachusetts Bay in 1630. Her poetry was first published in London in 1650 under the title The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America and later in a posthumous edition. Both her father and her husband became governors of the colony. Much of her poetry reflects themes in her personal life-her relationship with her husband and her eight children. Bradstreet's poems also contain her religious outlook and perceptions.
To sing of Wars, of Captains, and of Kings,
Of Cities founded, Common-wealths begun,
For my mean pen are too superiour 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 sugar'd lines do but read o're,
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 tongue 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 maxime'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 Poets 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 stoln, 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 excell:
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 your glistring gold but more to shine.
The Author to Her Book
Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could:
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run's more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save homespun cloth i' th' house I find.
In this array 'mongst vulgars may'st thou roam.
In critic's hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.
To My Dear and Loving Husband
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved 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 than 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 let's so persevere
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
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 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 both are 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 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-dame'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.
MERCY OTIS WARREN (1728-1814)
Historian and poet Mercy Otis Warren, born in Barnstable, Massachusetts, had no formal schooling. Her brother, James Otis, who opposed the Stamp Act of 1765, and her husband, political leader James Warren, kept her in the forefront of politics. She wrote several plays, including the satires The Adulateur (1773) and The Group (1775). One of the earliest American feminists, Warren corresponded with Abigail Adams, arguing that women were not given the same educational opportunities as men. Warren published Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous (1790) and the three-volume A History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution (1805). She also corresponded with important political figures of the time such as John Adams, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Elbridge Gerry.
To an Amiable Friend Mourning the Death of an Excellent Father
Let deep dejection hide her pallid face,
And from thy breast each painful image rase;
Forbid thy lip to utter one complaint,
But view the glories of the rising saint,
Ripe for a crown, and waiting the reward
Of watching long the vineyard of the Lord.
The generous purpose of his zealous heart,
Truth to enforce, and knowledge to impart,
Insures his welcome on the unknown shore,
Where choirs of saints, and angel forms adore.
A seraph met him on the trackless way,
And strung his harp to join the heavenly lay.
Complain no more of Death's extensive power,
Whose sceptre wafts us to some blissful shore;
Where the rough billows that roll o'er the head,
That shake the frame, and fill the mind with dread,
Are hush'd in silence, and the soul serene
Looks back delighted on the closing scene.
Happy, thrice happy, that exalted mind,
Who, leaving earth and all its cares behind,
Has not a wish to ruffle or control
The equal temper of his tranquil soul,
Who, on a retrospect, is safe within;
No private passion, nor a darling sin,
Can check his hope, when death's insatiate pow'r,
Stands hovering on the last decisive hour.
Then weep no more, my friend, but all resigned,
Submit thy will to the Eternal Mind,
Who watches o'er the movements of the just,
And will again reanimate the dust!
Thy sire commands, suppress the rising sigh,
He wipes the tear from thy too filial eye,
And bids thee contemplate a soul set free,
Just safe escaped from life's tempestuous sea.
ANN ELIZA BLEECKER (1752-1783)
Ann Eliza Bleecker of New York City was born into one of the wealthiest aristocratic families in the colony. Her poems, including some about the Revolutionary War, were collected and published posthumously in 1793. Bleecker also wrote a novel in letter form, The History of Maria Kittle, which was the story of an American woman captured by Indians during the French and Indian War. Bleecker married at seventeen and settled in Tomhanick, New York, a village where her husband owned property. When Bleecker moved to Albany in 1777, she lost her youngest child to illness, and her husband was taken prisoner for several days in 1781. In 1783, and with failing health, Bleecker and her husband returned to Tomhanick, where she died at the age of thirty-one.
Return to Tomhanick
Hail, happy shades! though clad with heavy snows,
At sight of you with joy my bosom glows;
Ye arching pines, that bow with every breeze,
Ye poplars, elms, all hail! my well-known trees!
And now my peaceful mansion strikes my eye,
And now the tinkling rivulet I spy;
My little garden, Flora, hast thou kept,
And watch'd my pinks and lilies, while I wept?
Or has the grubbing swine, by furies led,
The enclosure broke, and on my flowrets fed?
Ah me! that spot with blooms so lately grac'd,
With storms and driving snows, is now defaced;
Sharp icicles from every bush depend,
And frosts all dazzling o'er the beds extend:
Yet soon fair spring shall give another scene,
And yellow cowslips gild the level green;
My little orchard sprouting at each bough,
Fragrant with clustering blossoms deep shall glow:
Ah! then 't is sweet the tufted grass to tread,
But sweeter slumbering is the balmy shade;
The rapid humming-bird, with ruby breast,
Seeks the parterre with early blue-bells drest,
Drinks deep the honeysuckle dew, or drives
The labouring bee to her domestic hives:
Then shines the lupine bright with morning gems,
And sleepy poppies nod upon their stems,
The humble violet, and the dulcet rose,
The stately lily then, and tulip blows.
Farewell, my Plutarch! farewell, pen and muse!
Nature exults—shall I her call refuse?
Apollo fervid glitters in my face,
And threatens with his beam each feeble grace:
Yet still around the lovely plants I toil,
And draw obnoxious herbage from the soil;
Or with the lime-twigs little birds surprise;
Or angle for the trout of many dyes.
But when the vernal breezes pass away,
And loftier Phoebus darts a fiercer ray,
The spiky corn then rattles all around,
And dashing cascades give a pleasing sound;
Shrill sings the locust with prolonged note,
The cricket chirps familiar in each cot.
The village children, rambling o'er yon hill,
With berries all their painted baskets fill.
They rob the squirrel's little walnut store,
And climb the half-exhausted tree for more;
Or else to fields of maze nocturnal hie,
Where hid, the elusive water-melons lie;
Sportive, they make incisions in the rind,
The riper from the immature to find;
Then load their tender shoulders with the prey,
And laughing, bear the bulky fruit away.
An Evening Prospect
Come, my Susan, quit your chamber,
Greet the opening bloom of May,
Let us up yon hillock clamber,
And around the scene survey.
See the sun is now descending,
And projects his shadows far,
And the bee her course is bending
Homeward through the humid air.
Mark the lizard just before us,
Singing her unvaried strain,
While the frog abrupt in chorus
Deepens through the marshy plain.
From yon grove the woodcock rises,
Mark her progress by her notes,
High in air her wing she poises,
Then like lightning down she shoots.
Now the whip-poor-will beginning,
Clamorous on a pointed rail,
Drowns the more melodious singing
Of the catbird, thrush, and quail.
Pensive Echo from the mountain
Still repeats the sylvan sounds;
And the crocus-bordered fountain
With the splendid fly abounds.
There the honey-suckle blooming,
Reddens the capricious wave;
Richer sweets, the air perfuming,
Spicy Ceylon never gave.
Cast your eyes beyond this meadow,
Painted by a hand divine,
And observe the ample shadow
Of that solemn ridge of pine.
Here a trickling rill depending,
Glitters through the artless bower
And the silver dew descending,
Doubly radiates every flower.
While I speak, the sun is vanish'd,
All the gilded clouds are fled;
Music from the groves is banish'd,
Noxious vapours round us spread.
Rural toil is now suspended,
Sleep invades the peasant's eyes;
Each diurnal task is ended,
While soft Luna climbs the skies
Queen of rest and meditation!
Through thy medium, I adore
Him—the Author of creation,
Infinite and boundless power!
He now fills thy urn with glory,
Transcript of immortal light;
Lord! my spirit bows before thee,
Lost in wonder and delight.
PHILLIS WHEATLEY (1753?-1784)
Born in Africa, Phillis Wheatley was brought to America on a slave ship in 1761. Servant for a wealthy Boston tailor and his wife, Wheatley was the first black American woman poet. Educated with the Wheatley's other children, she learned English quickly and mastered Greek and Latin as well. She began writing poetry when she was thirteen, and published her first book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773. After the death of her mistress, Wheatley was freed, and married a free black, John Peters, in 1778. Abolitionists often used Wheatley's poems to promote education for people of all races. Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley (1834) and Letters of Phillis Wheatley, the Negro Slave-Poet of Boston (1864) were published posthumously.
On Being Brought from Africa to America
'Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Savior too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their color is a diabolic dye."
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.
Excerpted from Great Poems by American Women by SUSAN L. RATTINER. Copyright © 1998 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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