Ann Eliza Bleecker

Photo of Ann Eliza Bleeker
Ann Eliza Bleecker

Bleecker was born in October 1752 in New York City. Being raised among the aristocracy of New York City, she developed a love for poetry as a young girl and gained a reputation for her precocious aptitude for her verse early in life. Although she never published them, she showed her poems to her closest friends and relatives, often being asked to recite them.

After marrying lawyer John James Bleecker, the newlyweds moved to Poughkeepsie, New York. Her husband gave up the practice of law and took up agriculture instead after they moved to his country estate in Tomhannock that overlooked a beautiful garden and the Tomhannock River. On this estate, she gave birth to two daughters, Margaretta in 1771 and Abella in 1776.

In the summer of 1777, British forces from Canada under General John Burgoyne invaded New York. John Bleecker joined the New York Militia and Ann Eliza Bleecker, hearing news that the enemy was close to the village and destroying everything they passed, fled southward with 6-year-old Margaretta, infant Abella, and one servant. Abella died of dysentery during this time. Soon after, her mother and sister also died. These deaths dwindled her close circle of female friends and devastated her.

Bleecker’s poetry accurately communicates the beauty of the New York countryside, from her short-lived blissful time spent in her husband’s estate. It also depicts with shuddering precision the horrific impact of war, human misery, suffering, and loss.

Written in the Retreat from Burgoyne

Was it for this, with thee a pleasing load,
I sadly wander’d thro’ the hostile wood;
When I thought fortune’s spite could do no more,
To see thee perish on a foreign shore?

Oh my lov’d babe! my treasure’s left behind,
Ne’er sunk a cloud of grief upon my mind;
Rich in my children—on my arms I bore
My living treasures from the scalper’s pow’r:
When I sat down to rest beneath some shade,
On the soft grass how innocent she play’d,
While her sweet sister, from the fragrant wild,
Collects the flow’rs to please my precious child;
Unconscious of her danger, laughing roves,
Nor dreads the painted savage in the groves.

Soon as the spires of Albany appear’d,
With fallacies my rising grief I cheer’d;
‘Resign’d I bear,’ said I, ‘heaven’s just reproof,
‘Content to dwell beneath a stranger’s roof;
‘Content my babes should eat dependent bread,
‘Or by the labour of my hands be fed:
‘What tho’ my houses, lands, and goods are gone,
‘My babes remain—these I can call my own.’
But soon my lov’d Abella hung her head,
From her soft cheek the bright carnation fled;
Her smooth transparent skin too plainly shew’d
How fierce thro’ every vein the fever glow’d.
—In bitter anguish o’er her limbs I hung,
I wept and sigh’d, but sorrow chain’d my tongue;
At length her languid eyes clos’d from the day,
The idol of my soul was torn away;
Her spirit fled and left me ghastly clay!

Then—then my soul rejected all relief,
Comfort I wish’d not for, I lov’d my grief:
‘Hear, my Abella!’ cried I, ‘hear me mourn,
‘For one short moment, oh! my child return;
‘Let my complaint detain thee from the skies,
‘Though troops of angels urge thee on to rise.’

All night I mourn’d—and when the rising day
Gilt her sad chest with his benignest ray,
My friends press round me with officious care,
Bid me suppress my sighs, nor drop a tear;
Of resignation talk’d—passions subdu’d,
Of souls serene and christian fortitude;
Bade me be calm, nor murmur at my loss,
But unrepining bear each heavy cross.

‘Go!’ cried I raging, ‘stoick bosoms go!
‘Whose hearts vibrate not to the sound of woe;
‘Go from the sweet society of men,
‘Seek some unfeeling tyger’s savage den,
‘There calm—alone—of resignation preach,
‘My Christ’s examples better precepts teach.’
Where the cold limbs of gentle Laz’rus lay
I find him weeping o’er the humid clay;
His spirit groan’d, while the beholders said
(With gushing eyes) ‘see how he lov’d the dead!’
And when his thoughts on great Jerus’lem turn’d,
Oh! how pathetic o’er her fall he mourn’d!
And sad Gethsemene’s nocturnal shade
The anguish of my weeping Lord survey’d:
Yes, ’tis my boast to harbour in my breast
The sensibilities by God exprest;
Nor shall the mollifying hand of time,
Which wipes off common sorrows, cancel mine.

Poetry Analysis

Bleecker would send her fiction and poetry in letters to friends and relatives but never wrote with posterity in mind. With no aspirations for publication, her work depicts authenticity and honesty of her opinions on the American Revolution. Her poems illustrate a new American style of writing by describing the beauty of the New York countryside, but the real depth and enduring nature to her poetry come from the way she conveys the dreadful impacts of war and suffering as well as the suffering that occurs during a revolution.

Evident from the poem above, her style tends to be exaggerated and dramatic in order to convey the emotion she feels. She convinces her reader to have the same attitude towards her subject through her passionate descriptions of the traumatic incidents during her journey.

The descriptions of the daughter she lost during her family’s retreat are especially moving. Much of Bleecker’s work is fueled by her grief. “Written in the Retreat from Burgoyne” focuses on the continued sorrow she feels over the death of her young daughter, Abella. The lines “Comfort I wish’d not for, I lov’d my grief: /’Hear, my Abella!’ cried I, ‘hear me mourn,” describe her indulgence in her own mourning over the loss. She goes on to criticize those who encouraged her to suppress her grief, accusing them of being too unemotional. She writes, “’Go!’ cried I raging, ‘stoick bosoms go! /’Whose hearts vibrate not to the sound of woe;” claiming that anyone who believes her reaction is over-emotional lacks sensitivity to the suffering of others. According to this poem, her way of coping with the grief is to allow herself to weep and wallow in her grief. She also alludes to religion by reminding her reader, as well as those who criticize her reaction to the loss, that Christ also mourned for the dead: “’My Christ’s examples better precepts teach.’
Where the cold limbs of gentle Laz’rus lay.” Bleecker cleverly adds validity to her emotion in this way since no reader would argue the actions of Christ during this time. Her indulgence in her melancholy is radically moving and a common theme throughout much of her poetry, including “Lines to Grief,” “Hymn,” and “A Prospect of Death.”