The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America Analysis

Anne Dudley

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America is a collection of poems by Anne Bradstreet (née Dudley) which was published in London by an admiring brother-in-law. The volume begins with a number of short poems honoring Bradstreet by various New England worthies, followed by a respectful poem dedicated to her father Thomas Dudley, after which appear longer scholarly poems (“quaternions”) on the four elements (fire, earth, water, and air); the four humors (or bodily fluids); the four ages of life; the four seasons; and the four “monarchies” (a truncated world history up to the Romans). Following these come shorter verses such as “A Dialogue Between Old and New England: An elegy Upon Sir Philip Sidney” (the courtier and poet the Dudleys claimed as kinsman); a poem in praise of the French poet Guillaume Du Bartas (1544-1590), whom the Puritans held in high esteem; and poems, many of them dedicatory, on a variety of other subjects. Before her death, Bradstreet made emendations and added still more poems for a projected revised edition; some of these added poems are regarded as her finest. This new book, known as Several Poems, was published in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1678.

The Tenth Muse (the full title runs more than two dozen lines) is certainly not a title that Anne Bradstreet chose herself, for while she was realistically aware of her talent, she would have considered it pretentious to call herself “the tenth...

(The entire section is 588 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Undoubtedly, too much has been made of Nathaniel Ward’s (1578-1652) dismissal of Bradstreet as a “girl” in his introductory poem in The Tenth Muse. Forgotten are the facts that this eccentric curmudgeon is not speaking in his own voice here, that he was decades older than Anne Bradstreet, and that he personally did as much as he could to further her career.

It seems likely that, while Bradstreet had to contend with prejudice against her sex, she enjoyed loyal support from her family and a wide circle of friends. It is also possible that Puritan society was less repressive toward women—or at least some women—than has been thought. Although she enjoyed praise and assistance from some men, however, she bristles in her “Prologue” at those who will denigrate her accomplishments, believing that “a needle better fits a woman’s hand.”

It must be remembered that The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America was extremely popular, going through five reprintings in its first year. Indeed, a British bookman later mentions it in a list of best-sellers. The Tenth Muse was the only poetry collection in Edward Taylor’s personal library, and the famous Boston minister Cotton Mather (1663-1728) enthusiastically includes Anne Bradstreet—admittedly, his great-aunt—in the list of famous women poets of the world.

Anne Bradstreet wrote poetry because she wanted to, for no one writes as much and as skillfully for any other reason. If she wrote chiefly for family members, they could never have been the only audience she envisioned; indeed, before her death, she saw that she had an international one. It has been asserted often that she composed poetry to escape the harsh life of early New England, but the long hours she needed at her desk must certainly have represented a sacrifice rather than escape. In the midst of sickness, births, and myriad household duties in a harsh new land, she found the time to compose both the poems that her contemporaries admired and those that the modern age has found appealing.


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Bradstreet, Anne. The Complete Works of Anne Bradstreet. Edited by Joseph R. McElrath and Allan P. Robb. Boston: Twayne, 1981. This volume makes accessible to beginning and advanced students all the discovered poetry and writings of Bradstreet. Moreover, it offers a very brief summary of the various views taken toward the poet that have emerged over the years, finally taking its own balanced, moderately feminist position. A publishing history of the poetry and an account of all Bradstreet’s work is provided along with discussion of textual variations.

Piercy, Josephine K. Anne Bradstreet. New York: Twayne, 1965. Two prominent aspects of this older but widely available book are open to some questions: that Anne Bradstreet underwent a struggle of faith with orthodoxy and that she serves as a sort of pre-Romantic English poet. Neither of these readings detracts from the value of the study, which is sensitive and helpful to the general reader.

Rosenmeier, Rosamond. Anne Bradstreet Revisited. Boston: Twayne, 1991. This revisionist and feminist study offers an Anne Bradstreet for the modern time, an intellectual and theologian committed to an impelling and progressive Weltanschauung. Rosenmeier makes the too-often-ignored point that Puritanism was a house of many mansions.

Stanford, Ann. “Anne Bradstreet.” In Major Writers of Early American Literature, edited by Everett Emerson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1972. Although much work has been done on Bradstreet since this essay appeared, this work remains a valuable introduction. Stanford provides an overview of the author’s life, era, and poetry, emphasizing the meditational systems of devotion long popular in Europe among Catholics and Protestants alike that inform Bradstreet’s thought.

White, Elizabeth Wade. Anne Bradstreet: “The Tenth Muse.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1971. Solid scholarship in the fine tradition of historical criticism. White has deep knowledge of both the Old and New World in which Anne Bradstreet lived. An indispensable work with a splendid bibliography and a fine index.