A Dialogue between Old England and New Concerning Their Present Troubles

Image: Nineteenth century depiction of Anne Bradstreet by Edmund H. Garrett. No portrait made during her lifetime exists.
What does Bradstreet’s poem suggest about the relationship between religion and politics in Old England? How does New England propose to handle that relationship? What does it suggest to you that Bradstreet—a woman—wrote this poem?
How are the concerns about social change in this poem similar to or different from those in Fannie Lou Hamer‘s speech?

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Raised by early converts to Puritanism, Anne Dudley Bradstreet(1612–1672) and her husband, Simon, were among those on board the Arbella when it landed in Massachusetts in 1630. As her husband and her father labored to establish new institutions and laws for the godly commonwealth the Puritans aspired to create, she labored in the “little commonwealth” of home and family. With her husband often away from home for weeks at a time, Bradstreet ably managed their household’s physical and spiritual needs.

Bradstreet had received an excellent education in theology, history, and literature, and her interest in the world of letters continued throughout her life. In her free time, she wrote poetry. The majority of her works are deeply personal, reflecting on her religious experiences and her family relationships. Some, however, were written as cultural or political commentary. In the late 1640s, Bradstreet arranged to have a selection of her poems published anonymously (the volume was attributed simply to “a gentlewoman”) under the provocative title, The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung up in America. The “Dialogue Between Old England and New” was among the most prominently partisan of the works included in that volume, highlighting the religious and political history of England as keyed towards the Puritan (or Parliamentarian) cause, rather than that of the Crown.

—Sarah A. Morgan Smith

Source: The Poems of Mrs. Anne Bradstreet (1612–1672) Together with her Prose Remains, With an Introduction by Charles Eliot Norton (The Duodecimos, 1897).

           Alas, dear mother, fairest queen and best,

With honor, wealth, and peace happy and blessed,

What ails you hang your head, and cross your arms,

And sit in the dust to sigh these sad alarms?

What deluge of new woes thus overwhelm

The glories of your ever-famous realm?

What means this wailing tone, this mournful guise?

Ah, tell your daughter; she may sympathize.

Old England.

Art ignorant indeed of these my woes,

Or must my forced tongue these griefs disclose,

And must myself dissect my tattered state,

Which amazed Christendom stands wondering at?

And you a child, a limb, and does not feel

My weakened fainting body now to reel?

This physic-purging potion I have taken

Will bring consumption or an ague[1] quaking,

Unless some cordial you fetch from high,

Which present help may ease my malady.

If I decease, do think you shall survive?

Or by my wasting state do think to thrive?

Then weigh our case, if it be not justly sad.

Let me lament alone, while you are glad.

New England.

And thus, alas, your state you much deplore

In general terms, but will not say wherefore.

What medicine shall I seek to cure this woe,

If the wound’s so dangerous, I may not know?

. . .

Your humble child entreats you show your grief.

Though arms nor purse she has for your relief—

Such is her poverty,—yet shall be found

A suppliant for your help, as she is bound.

Old England.

I must confess some of those sores you name

My beauteous body at this present maim,

But foreign foe nor feigned friend I fear,

For they have work enough, you know, elsewhere.

. . .

For wants, sure some I feel, but more I fear;

And for the pestilence, who knows how near?

Famine and plague, two sisters of the sword,

Destruction to a land does soon afford.

They’re for my punishments ordained on high,

Unless your tears prevent it speedily.

But yet I answer not what you demand

To show the grievance of my troubled land.

Before I tell the effect I’ll show the cause,

Which are my sins—the breach of sacred laws:

Idolatry, supplanter of a nation,

With foolish superstitious adoration,

Are liked and countenanced by men of might,

The gospel is trod down and has no right.

Church offices are sold and bought for gain

That pope had hope to find Rome here again.

For oaths and blasphemies did ever ear

From Beelzebub himself such language hear?

What scorning of the saints of the most high!

What injuries did daily on them lie!

What false reports, what nicknames did they take,

Not for their own, but for their Master’s sake!

And you, poor soul, were jeered among the rest;

Your flying for the truth I made a jest.

For Sabbath-breaking and for drunkenness

Did ever land profaneness more express?

From crying bloods yet cleansed am not I,

Martyrs and others dying causelessly.

How many princely heads on blocks lay down

. . .

New England.

To all you’ve said, sad mother, I assent.

Your fearful sins great cause there is to lament.

My guilty hands (in part) hold up with you,

A sharer in your punishment’s my due.

But all you say amounts to this effect,

Not what you feel, but what you do expect.

Pray, in plain terms, what is your present grief?

Then let’s join heads and hands for your relief.

Old England.

Well, to the matter, then. There’s grown of late

’Twixt king and peers a question of state:

Which is the chief, the law, or else the king?

One said, it’s he; the other, no such thing.

It is said my better part in Parliament

To ease my groaning land show their intent

To crush the proud, and right to each man deal,

To help the church, and stay the commonweal.

So many obstacles comes in their way

As puts me to a stand what I should say.

Old customs, new prerogatives stood on.

Had they not held law fast, all had been gone,

Which by their prudence stood them in such stead

They took high Strafford lower by the head,

And to their Laud[2] be it spoke they held in the tower

All England’s metropolitan that hour.

This done, an act they would have passed fain

No prelate should his bishopric retain.

Here tugged they hard indeed, for all men saw

This must be done by Gospel, not by law.

. . .

But now I come to speak of my disaster.

Contention’s grown ’twixt subjects and their master,

They worded it so long they fell to blows,

That thousands lay on heaps. Here bleed my woes.

I that no wars so many years have known

Am now destroyed and slaughtered by mine own.

But could the field alone this strife decide,

One battle, two, or three I might abide,

But these may be beginnings of more woe—

Who knows but this may be my overthrow!

Oh, pity me in this sad perturbation,

My plundered towns, my houses’ devastation,

My weeping virgins, and my young men slain,

My wealthy trading fallen, my dearth of grain.

The seed-time’s come, but ploughman has no hope

Because he knows not who shall inn[3] his crop.

The poor they want their pay, their children bread,

Their woeful mothers’ tears unpitied.

If any pity in thy heart remain,

Or any child-like love you do retain,

For my relief do what there lies in you,

And recompense that good I ‘ve done to you.

New England.

Dear mother, cease complaints, and wipe your eyes,

Shake off your dust, cheer up, and now arise.

You are my mother, nurse, I once your flesh,

Your sunken bowels gladly would refresh.

Your griefs I pity, but soon hope to see

Out of your troubles much good fruit to be;

To see these latter days of hoped-for good

Though now beclouded all with tears and blood.

After dark popery the day did clear;

But now the sun in his brightness shall appear.

Blessed be the nobles of thy noble land

With ventured lives for truth’s defense that stand.

Blessed be your Commons, who for common good

And your infringed laws have boldly stood.

Blessed be your counties, who did aid you still

With hearts and states to testify their will.

Blessed be your preachers, who do cheer you on.

Oh, cry the sword of God and Gideon!

And shall I not on them wish Meroz’ curse

That help you not with prayers, with alms, and purse?

And for myself, let miseries abound

If mindless of your state I ever be found.

These are the days the church’s foes to crush,

To root out popelings, head, tail, branch, and rush.

Let’s bring Baal’s vestments forth to make a fire,

Their mitres, surplices, and all their attire,

Copes, rochets, croziers, and such empty trash,

And let their names consume, but let the flash

Light Christendom, and all the world to see

We hate Rome’s whore, with all her trumpery.

. . .

Out of all mists such glorious days will bring

That dazzled eyes, beholding, much shall wonder

At that your settled peace, your wealth, and splendor,

Your church and weal established in such manner

That all shall joy that you displayed your banner,

. . .

  1. 1. fever and chills
  2. 2. Archbishop William Laud (1573–1645) resented attempts by Puritans and others to reform the Anglican establishment and used his office to advocate laws intended to persecute religious dissenters whenever possible.
  3. 3. archaic; “put up” or harvest
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