I’m going to give you a sneak peek of the next few months. We will be taking the Puritans to the beach with us. That’s right. We are going to be talking about Puritan books you should be taking to the beach. Well, let’s get a jump on that. Let’s talk about a Puritan not from Old England, but a Puritan from New England, the poet Anne Bradstreet. She is, in fact, America’s first published poet, and she was a Puritan of Puritans. She was born in 1612 in Old England, and she died in 1672 in Massachusetts.
Anne Bradstreet is not a new name here at Five Minutes in Church History. We visited with her before. I’m quite partial to Anne Bradstreet because my wife, the other Dr. Nichols, has written a book on Anne Bradstreet. And this, of course, is a great book (no bias here). Consider the opening paragraphs of my wife’s book on Anne Bradstreet: “Just three years before her death, Anne Bradstreet penned verses whose tired couplets describe a longing for eternity and escape from the cares of this world. Comparing herself to a ‘weary pilgrim’ who has experienced such hardships as ‘burning sun,’ ‘stormy rains,’ ‘bryars and thornes’, ‘hungry wolves,’ and ‘rugged stones,’ she voices her desire to complete her spiritually and physically taxing pilgrimage.” My wife then quotes from one of Bradstreet’s poems:
A Pilgrim I, on earth, perplext
with sinns with cares and sorrows of vext
By age and pains brought to decay
and my Clay house mouldring away
My wife continues, “[Bradstreet] longs for the resurrection and eternity spent with Christ, for release from her physical limitations and sufferings, and for freedom from separation and loss.” And so again, Bradstreet:
Oh, how I long to be at rest
and soare on high among the blest.
This body shall in silence sleep
Mine eyes no more shall ever weep
No fainting fits shall me assaile
nor grinding paines my body fraile
With cares and fears ne’r cumbred be
Nor losses know, nor sorrowes see
My wife adds,
No doubt, Bradstreet had good reason to be weary. She had survived the ravages of smallpox and had throughout her life encountered numerous illnesses. She had experienced Old England at a time of brewing hostility toward the nonconformist Puritans under James I, Charles I, and the infamous Archbishop Laud. She had survived a potentially treacherous voyage to the New World and had borne up under the same harsh conditions in the Massachusetts Bay Colony that had snuffed out the lives of many of her fellow settlers. She had possessed for decades a firsthand view of the political and religious turmoil of a young colony experiencing growing pains that often embroiled her husband and father in conflict. And, later in life, she had experienced her own personal tragedies, including the burning of her house and the deaths of numerous family members.
Of course, this is not to mention that during these many hardships Bradstreet had reared eight children. And she had negotiated the precarious role of a woman writer, becoming the first published American poet. To be sure, Bradstreet had lived an eventful life—certainly privileged in many ways, but likewise, full of testing—And for this, she had good reason to relish eternal rest.
Well, that’s my wife, Heidi Nichols, on the Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet. And you would do rather well to track down Bradstreet’s poems. You can find them in books, and you can find them online. Take a Puritan poet to the beach with you this summer so that you can enjoy this voice from the past, this Pilgrim who had a long and vexing journey, Anne Bradstreet.
I want to share a quote from Alan McCray. As he was saying this, I think he was thinking of many people through church history, but he was especially thinking of his mentor and teacher, J. Gresham Machen. McCray wrote, “All through the history of the church, there has been a ceaseless struggle to maintain the truth.”