Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses
In Reference to her Children
terms: metaphor > extended
metaphor or "conceit"
concerning poet's family as nest of birds
Stained-glass representation of Bradstreet
in St. Botolph's Church, Boston, Lincolnshire,
In Reference to her Children
I had eight birds hatched in one nest,
Four Cocks were there, and Hens the rest.
I nursed them up with pain and care, [nurst
No 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 Dame and Sire,
[Dame and Sire = mother & father]
Fly back and sing amidst this Quire.
[Quire = Choir]
My second bird did take her flight
And with her mate flew out of sight.
Southward they both their course did bend,
[bend = take, incline]
And Seasons twain they there did spend,
[twain = two]
Till after blown by Southern gales
They Norward steer'd with filled sails.
[Norward = Northward]
A prettier bird was nowhere seen,
Along the Beach, among the treen.
[treen = trees]
I have a third of colour white
On whom I placed no small delight,
Coupled with mate loving and true,
Hath also bid her Dame adieu.
[bid her Dame adieu = told her mother goodbye]
And where Aurora first appears,
[Aurora = dawn; i.e., the east]
She now hath perched to spend her years.
One to the Academy flew
[Academy = college]
To chat among that learned crew.
Ambition moves still in his breast
That he might chant above the rest,
[chant = sing]
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
['mongst = among]
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,
[Or = either]
As is ordained, so shall they light.
[light = land]
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
[watch = care, vigilance]
Whilst pecking corn and void of care
They fall unaware in Fowler's snare;
[Fowler = bird-catcher; snare = trap]
Or whilst on trees they sit and sing
Some untoward boy at them do fling,
[i.e. throw something at them]
Or whilst allured with bell and glass
The net be spread and caught, alas;
[net for catching birds]
Or lest by Lime-twigs they be foil'd;
[twigs lined with lime to hold birds]
Or by some greedy hawks be spoiled.
[spoiled = killed or injured early]
O would, my young, ye saw my breast
[O, if, my young, you could see into my heart]
And knew what thoughts there sadly rest.
Great was my pain when I you bred,
Great was my care 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,
[more = greater]
My throbs such now as before were never.
Alas, my birds, you wisdom want
[wisdom as in experience]
Of perils you are ignorant.
Oft times in grass, on trees, in flight,
Sore accidents on you may light.
[sore = wounding; light = land]
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.
[lays = songs, melodies]
In shady woods I'll sit and sing
And things that past, to mind I'll bring. [past
Once young and pleasant, as are you,
But former toys (no joys) adieu!
[toys = fancies, fantasies; adieu = farewell]
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.
[seraphims = angels; there = heaven]
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 languages oft them tell
You had a Dame that lov'd you well,
[Dame = mother]
That did what could be done for young
And nurst you up till you were strong [nurst
And 'fore she once would let you fly
['fore = before]
She showed you joy and misery,
[shew'd = showed]
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.