We are just a few weeks now from welcoming our first child. I've grumbled a fair bit through this pregnancy but I know I have much to be grateful for. So much that women in other places, or women in earlier times, have never had. I came across this poem from the seventeenth century, “Before the birth of one of her children,” by Anne Bradstreet, which brought home to me that once, looking forward to a birth meant an equal chance of facing death.
Bradstreet was born in England in 1612; she married at 16, and at 18 she and her husband migrated to America. In Massachussetts she became one of the first writers, and the first female writer, of English verse. Though none of it was very original in style, it has a deeply personal quality that seems to make the tired conventions fresh and poignant. And there's something compelling about the sheer rarity of a woman's voice and pen in that age. I'm very moved by this poem - and comforted to know that in the end she survived not only this birth but seven others. She died at 60, America's first published poet.
All things within this fading world hath end,
Adversity doth still our joys attend;
No ties so strong, no friends so dear and sweet,
But with death’s parting blow are sure to meet.
The sentence past is most irrevocable,
A common thing, yet oh, inevitable.
How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend,
How soon’t may be thy lot to lose thy friend,
We both are ignorant, yet love bids me
These farewell lines to recommend to thee,
That when the knot’s untied that made us one,
I may seem thine, who in effect am none.
And if I see not half my days that’s due,
What nature would, God grant to yours and you;
The many faults that well you know I have
Let be interred in my oblivious grave;
If any worth or virtue were in me,
Let that live freshly in thy memory
And when thou feel’st no grief, as I no harmes,
Yet love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms,
And when thy loss shall be repaid with gains
Look to my little babes, my dear remains.
And if thou love thyself, or loved’st me,
These O protect from stepdame’s injury.
And if chance to thine eyes shall bring this verse,
With some sad sighs honor my absent hearse;
And kiss this paper for thy dear love’s sake,
Who with salt tears this last farewell did take.