Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) was the first poet to be published in the American colonies. She and her family arrived in what would become Boston on the Arabella in 1630. Both her father, Thomas Dudley, and her husband, Simon Bradstreet, would serve as governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but she would make a name for herself with her poetry, which was first published in 1650 in a collection entitled The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America. The collection was supposedly published both in North America and England without her knowledge, though it’s possible that Bradstreet simply downplayed her publication ambitions to which ameliorated the criticism regarding whether or not women could or should write. Another edition of her poems was published posthumously in 1678. Her most famous poems include the epic “The Four Monarchies,” “"Upon the Burning of Our House July 10th, 1666” in which she laments the loss of her library, and the intimate “To My Dear and Loving Husband.”
Phillis Wheatley (c.1752-1784) was the first published African-American female poet. Born in West Africa, she was sold into slavery and eventually was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston. The Wheatley family taught her not only to read and write in English, but also Greek and Latin, and later supported her literary ability. However, many doubted that her work was her own, and she was even interviewed by 18 Boston gentlemen, including John Hancock and Thomas Hutchinson, who signed an attestation clause verifying that she wrote her poems herself. Her Poems on Various subjects, Religious and Moral was published in 1773, and her most famous poems include "On Being Brought from Africa to America,” “To His Excellency General Washington,” and “To S. M. a young African Painter, on seeing his Works” dedicated to Scipio Moorhead, an enslaved African-American artist in Boston.
|Title page of Poems on Various subjects, |
Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) remains a mysterious figure in the Massachusetts literary world. While a prolific poet, hardly any of her poems were published during her lifetime. She lived much of her life as a recluse, and only after her death were her poems discovered by her sister, Lavinia. The first collection of her poetry to be published appeared in 1890 under the simple name Poems. Despite being unknown during her life, she is now one of the most popular and famous of the commonwealth’s legendary poets.
Robert Frost (1874-1963) lived throughout New England during his lifetime. He would live at various times in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, for which he served as the state’s poet laureate. His poetry often used rural New England life to illustrate his social and philosophical themes and was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature many times. His legacy includes the Robert Frost Trail near Amherst and the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College, where he taught from 1916 to 1938. His famous poems include “Fire and Ice,” “The Road Not Taken,” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
|Chapter 359 of the Acts and Resolves of 1998, which created |
an annual Robert Frost Day on the fourth Saturday of October.l
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) was a poet and short-story writer born in Worcester. She travelled often, particularly to Brazil, where she lived for 15 years. She avoided personal and confessional themes in her poetry and labels such as “female poet” or “lesbian poet” as she wanted to be considered based on the quality of her writing, not on her gender or sexual orientation. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1956 for Poetry for Poems: North & South - A Cold Spring. Her most famous poems include “First Death in Nova Scotia,” “In the Waiting Room,” and “The Fish.”
Want to learn more about poetry both historical and contemporary in Massachusetts? Check out Mass Poetry (masspoetry.org).