Anne Bradstreet

(1612 – 16 September 1672 / Northampton, England)

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In Reference to her Children


I had eight birds hatched in one nest,
Four cocks there were, and hens the rest.
I nursed them up with pain and care,
Nor 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 dam and sire,
Fly back and sing amidst this choir.
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 steered with filled sails.
A prettier bird was no where seen,
Along the beach among the treen.
I have a third of colour white,
On whom I placed no small delight;
Coupled with mate loving and true,
Hath also bid her dam adieu;
And where Aurora first appears,
She now hath perched 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 excel.
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 ordained, 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 surprised 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 allured with bell and glass,
The net be spread, and caught, alas.
Or lest by lime-twigs they be foiled,
Or by some greedy hawks be spoiled.
O would my young, ye saw my breast,
And knew what thoughts there sadly rest,
Great was my pain 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.
Meanwhile 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 language, oft them tell,
You had a dam that loved you well,
That did what could be done for young,
And nursed you up till you were strong,
And 'fore she once would let you fly,
She showed 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.

Submitted: Thursday, May 10, 2001
Edited: Thursday, November 17, 2011

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Comments about this poem (In Reference to her Children by Anne Bradstreet )

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  • Michael Harmon (11/17/2009 10:41:00 PM)

    I agree with Kevin. Bearing in mind this was written more than three hundred years ago, it is striking how understandable it remains, which is a remarkable achievement, I think, for any poet.
    Some quick research revealed a site (one of many) , www.annebradstreet.com/, where the following excerpts are from:

    Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) is one of the most important figures in the history of American Literature. She is considered by many to be the first American poet....

    Her style is deceptively simple, yet speaks of a woman of high intelligence and ideals who was very much in love, and had unconditional faith. While it was difficult for women to air their views in the 17th Century, Anne Bradstreet did so with ease, as her rich vocabulary and polyvalent knowledge brought a lyrical, yet logical quality to her work which made it pleasant for anyone to read. (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (11/17/2009 5:44:00 AM)

    This is a touching and heartfelt account of a mother's mixed feelings as she sees her offspring 'leave the nest'. She broods over her departed young as she brooded over them when they were at home, yet she understands the necessity of giving them their freedom. AB sustains the metaphor wonderfully without letting it obscure the feelings she is expressing by it. She does what good poets do by metaphor, she makes it say what could not be said so well without it. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (11/17/2009 1:19:00 AM)

    Mother's love is eternal though the birds love freedom and fly away leaving the mother! (Report) Reply

  • Anne Bradstreet (3/21/2007 12:02:00 PM)

    I would say this is her best poem, but that isn't saying much. cough*Anne is a hack*cough. I'm suprised that you said that lines 1-6 are your favorite, because those lines suck...And you're wrong, the poem is about suicide not mothers and daughters, idiot go to college. (Report) Reply

  • Danuta Glendenning (11/23/2006 4:26:00 PM)

    As a mother myself, this poem intrigued me. Lines 1 - 6 are my favorites.7-10 shows the first tear in the mother's heart. And then it continues as she feels resigned to her lot, accepting it as she hopes to live at least in the memories of her children and grand children in the lines 81 - 94. And so, as long as people still speak of you, or think of you, you are not gone. (Report) Reply

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