Anne Bradstreet was born Anne Dudley in 1612 in Northamptonshire, England. She married Simon Bradstreet, a graduate of Cambridge University, at the age of sixteen. Two years later, Bradstreet, along with her husband and parents, immigrated to the American colonies with the Winthrop Puritan group, and the family settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts. There, Bradstreet and her husband raised eight children, and she became one of the first poets to write English verse in the American colonies. It was during this time that Bradstreet penned many of the poems that would be taken to England by her brother-in-law, purportedly without her knowledge, and published in 1650 under the title The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America.
The Tenth Muse was the only collection of Bradstreet’s poetry to appear during her lifetime. In 1644, the family moved to Andover, Massachusetts, where Bradstreet lived until her death in 1672. In 1678, the first American edition of The Tenth Muse was published posthumously and expanded as Several Poems Compiled with Great Wit and Learning. Bradstreet’s most highly regarded work, a sequence of religious poems titled Contemplations, was not published until the middle of the nineteenth century.
Bradstreet’s poetics belong to the Elizabethan literary tradition that includes Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney. She was also strongly influenced by the sixteenth-century French poet Guillaume de Salluste, seigneur du Bartas. Her early work, which is imitative and conventional in both form and content, is largely unremarkable, and her poetry was long considered primarily of historical interest. She has, however, won critical acceptance in the twentieth century for her later verse, which is less derivative and often deeply personal. In 1956, the poet John Berryman paid tribute to her in Homage to Mistress Bradstreet, a long poem that incorporates many phrases from her writings.