In this our first blog on poets and poetry for the 2024 Poetry Contest, scheduled in January, we begin at the beginning—at least as far as American poetry.
The Puritan flagship Arabella (or Arbella) sailed from England to America in the year 1630, ten years after the Pilgrim landing. John Winthrop, Thomas Dudley, and Simon Bradstreet were on board. They were all to become governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, after Matthew Craddock and John Endecott. (Hawthorne wrote a story about the second mentioned governor in a couple of short stories, most notably in “Endecott and the Red Cross.”) Also on board was the first poet of the New World, Anne Bradstreet. The poet is mentioned in Magnalia Christi Americana, the famous early history of America written by the Puritan Boston minister Cotton Mather. Mather praises Bradstreet, saying that her poetry gave her readers “grateful entertainment,” and that they stand as “a monument for her memory beyond the stateliest marbles.” Anne married Simon Bradstreet, who was a later successor of her father Thomas Dudley to the post. The following poem by Anne Bradstreet, “Upon a Fit of Sickness” shows the Christian themes which her poetry typically contains. In her work, the poet talks about the brevity or shortness of life and the Christian’s victory in death.
Upon a Fit of Sickness (1632)
by Anne Bradstreet
Twice ten years old not fully told since
nature gave me breath,
My race is run, my thread is spun, lo! here
is fatal Death.
All men must dye, and so must I, this cannot
For Adam's sake, this word God spake, when he
so high provoke'd.
Yet live I shall, this life's but small, in
place of highest bliss,
Where I shall have all I can crave, no life is
like to this.
For what's this life but care and strife? since
first we came from womb,
Our strength doth waste, our time doth hast and
then we go to th' Tomb.
O Bubble blast, how long can'st last? that
always art a breaking,
No sooner blown, but dead and gone ev'n as a
word that's speaking,
O whil'st I live this grace me give, I doing good
Then death's arrest I shall count best because
it's thy degree.
Bestow much cost, there's nothing lost to make
O great's the gain, though got with pain, comes
by profession pure.
The race is run, the field is won, the victory's
mine, I see,
For ever know thou envious foe the foyle belongs