Happy Mother’s Day to all homeschool moms everywhere! The early American poet Anne Bradstreet (1612–1672) was the mother of eight (!) children, and she memorialized all of them in a wonderful long “ornithological” poem in 1659. It’s our homeschool poem-of-the-week for the second week of May:
In Reference to Her Children
I had eight birds hatcht in one nest,
Four Cocks were there, and Hens the rest.
I nurst them up with pain and care,
No cost nor labour did I spare
Till at the last they felt their wing,
Mounted the Trees and learned to sing.
Chief of the Brood then took his flight
To Regions far and left me quite.
My mournful chirps I after send
Till he return, or I do end.
Leave not thy nest, thy Dame and Sire,
Fly back and sing amidst this Quire.
My second bird did take her flight
And with her mate flew out of sight.
Southward they both their course did bend,
And Seasons twain they there did spend,
Till after blown by Southern gales
They Norward steer’d with fillèd sails.
A prettier bird was no where seen,
Along the Beach, among the treen.
I have a third of colour white
On whom I plac’d no small delight,
Coupled with mate loving and true,
Hath also bid her Dame adieu.
And where Aurora first appears,
She now hath percht to spend her years.
One to the Academy flew
To chat among that learned crew.
Ambition moves still in his breast
That he might chant above the rest,
Striving for more than to do well,
That nightingales he might excell.
My fifth, whose down is yet scarce gone,
Is ’mongst the shrubs and bushes flown
And as his wings increase in strength
On higher boughs he’ll perch at length.
My other three still with me nest
Until they’re grown, then as the rest,
Or here or there, they’ll take their flight,
As is ordain’d, so shall they light.
If birds could weep, then would my tears
Let others know what are my fears
Lest this my brood some harm should catch
And be surpris’d for want of watch
Whilst pecking corn and void of care
They fall un’wares in Fowler’s snare;
Or whilst on trees they sit and sing
Some untoward boy at them do fling,
Or whilst allur’d with bell and glass
The net be spread and caught, alas;
Or lest by Lime-twigs they be foil’d;
Or by some greedy hawks be spoil’d.
O would, my young, ye saw my breast
And knew what thoughts there sadly rest.
Great was my pain when I you bred,
Great was my care when I you fed.
Long did I keep you soft and warm
And with my wings kept off all harm.
My cares are more, and fears, than ever,
My throbs such now as ’fore were never.
Alas, my birds, you wisdom want
Of perils you are ignorant.
Oft times in grass, on trees, in flight,
Sore accidents on you may light.
O to your safety have an eye,
So happy may you live and die.
Mean while, my days in tunes I’ll spend
Till my weak lays with me shall end.
In shady woods I’ll sit and sing
And things that past, to mind I’ll bring.
Once young and pleasant, as are you,
But former toys (no joys) adieu!
My age I will not once lament
But sing, my time so near is spent,
And from the top bough take my flight
Into a country beyond sight
Where old ones instantly grow young
And there with seraphims set song.
No seasons cold, nor storms they see
But spring lasts to eternity.
When each of you shall in your nest
Among your young ones take your rest,
In chirping languages oft them tell
You had a Dame that lov’d you well,
That did what could be done for young
And nurst you up till you were strong
And ’fore she once would let you fly
She shew’d you joy and misery,
Taught what was good, and what was ill,
What would save life, and what would kill.
Thus gone, amongst you I may live,
And dead, yet speak and counsel give.
Farewell, my birds, farewell, adieu,
I happy am, if well with you.
Anne Bradstreet’s first book of poems was The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, and it was published in London in 1650. (And by the way, if Bradstreet was the Tenth, who were the first Nine?) The New York Historical Society’s library has a copy of the rare first edition The Tenth Muse, and you can read about it, and about Anne Bradstreet’s life, in this post by one of the library’s rare book catalogers:
Actually, the volume’s full title, in good seventeenth-century style, is: The Tenth Muse Lately sprung up in America. Or Several Poems, compiled with great variety of Wit and Learning, full of delight. Wherein especially is contained a complete discourse and description of the Four Elements, Constitutions, Ages of Man, Seasons of the Year. Together with an Exact Epitomie of the Four Monarchies, viz., The Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, Roman. Also a Dialogue between Old England and New, concerning the late troubles. With divers other pleasant and serious Poems. By a Gentlewoman in those parts. See if your students can take one of their own modern books and fill out its title in this classic, expansive style.
What wonderful words and poetical productions have you been studying in your homeschool this Leo Term? 😊
❡ I happy am, if well with you: If a special line or turn of phrase happens to strike you in one of our weekly poems, just copy it onto your homeschool bulletin board for a few days and invite your students to speak it aloud — that’s all it takes to begin a new poetical friendship and learn a few lovely words that will stay with you for life.
❡ Literary lives: The website of the Poetry Foundation includes biographical notes and examples of the work of many important poets (including Anne Bradstreet) that are suitable for high school students and homeschool teachers. ✒️
❡ Here, said the year: This post is one of our regular homeschool poems-of-the-week. Print your own River Houses Poetry Calendar to follow along with us as we visit fifty of our favorite friends over the course of the year, and add your name to our River Houses mailing list to get posts like these delivered right to your mailbox every week. 🗞