Sunday, February 15, 2009
"Mistress Bradstreet" by Charlotte Gordon
Anne Bradstreet was America's first poet. But a case can be made that she also was the first to articulate the immigrant experience in America. She was the child of a new class of people in Elizabethan England--the managing, business class--and had a privileged childhood in England that gave her an education beyond anything available to women. She used it fully. Transported to the wilderness of Massachusetts in 1630, and living as a frontier wife who bore many children, she never lost her love of reading and study in the classical and religious texts of the day. When her first poems were published in England in 1650, they caused a sensation. The idea that America was a different, and maybe better, place was rampant in the turmoil of the English civil war. Anne's contribution was to articulate what it meant to have one foot in the old world and one in the new. She never forgot that she was English, and she never doubted that she was a new thing--an "American." That tension, so central to the immigrant experience throughout American history, was first captured in her elegant poems. No matter how it is expressed, it represents the same today--the tug and pull between coming from somewhere else, and now finding, not just a place, but a role, in a new society.