Most of the poems included in Anne Bradstreet's first collection, The Tenth Muse (1650), were quite conventional in style and form, and dealt with history and politics. In one poem, for instance, Anne Bradstreet wrote of the 1642 uprising of Puritans led by Cromwell. In another, she praises accomplishments of Queen Elizabeth.
The publishing success of The Tenth Muse seems to have given Anne Bradstreet more confidence in her writing. (She refers to this publication, and to her displeasure with being unable to make corrections to the poems herself before publication, in a later poem, "The Author to Her Book.") Her style and form became less conventional, and instead she wrote more personally and directly -- of her own experiences, of religion, of daily life, of her thoughts, of the New England landscape.
Anne Bradstreet was in most ways quite typically Puritan. Many poems reflect her struggle to accept the adversity of the Puritan colony, contrasting earthly losses with the eternal rewards of the good. In one poem, for instance, she writes of an actual event: when the family's house burned down. In another, she writes of her thoughts of her own possible death as she approaches the birth of one of her children. Anne Bradstreet contrasts the transitory nature of earthly treasure with eternal treasures, and seems to see these trials as lessons from God.
From "Before the Birth of One of Her Children":
"All things within this fading world hath end."
And from "Here Follows Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House July 10th, 1666":
"I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so 'twas just.
It was His own, it was not mine....
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above."
Anne Bradstreet also alludes to the role of women and to women's capabilities in many poems. She seems especially concerned to defend the presence of Reason in women. Among her earlier poems, the one extolling Queen Elizabeth includes these lines, revealing the sly wit that's in many of Anne Bradstreet's poems:
"Now say, have women worth? or have they none?
Or had they some, but with our queen is't gone?
Nay Masculines, you have thus taxt us long,
But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong,
Let such as say our Sex is void of Reason,
Know tis a Slander now, but once was Treason."
In another, she seems to refer to the opinion of some as to whether she should be spending time writing poetry:
"I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits."
She also refers to the likelihood that poetry by a woman will not be accepted:
"If what I do prove well, it won't advance,
They'll say it's stolen, or else it was by chance."
Anne Bradstreet largely accepts, however, the Puritan definition of proper roles of men and women, though asking for more acceptance of women's accomplishments. This, from the same poem as the previous quote:
"Let Greeks be Greeks, and Women what they are
Men have precedency and still excel;
It is but vain unjustly to wage war.
Men can do best, and women know it well,
Preeminence in all and each is yours;
Yet grant some small acknowledgment of ours."
In contrast, perhaps, to her acceptance of adversity in this world, and her hope of eternity in the next, Anne Bradstreet also seems to hope that her poems will bring a kind of earthly immortality. These excerpts are from two different poems:
"Thus gone, amongst you I may live,
And dead, yet speak and counsel give."
"If any worth or virtue live in me,
Let that live frankly in thy memory."