Anne Bradstreet’s Poetic Message of Hope

Hope in the face of death seems to be an impossible concept to adequately convey to a reader. After all, death itself seems to be the epitome of hopelessness and despair. However, Anne Bradstreet conveys in her poetry this very idea. Bradstreet lived in a Puritan community in America where people lived very hard lives and struggled greatly. In such conditions, death was a possibility that loomed over people on a daily basis. As such, it is a topic that Bradstreet chose for many of her poems. She endeavors to bring hope to her fellow settlers, even in the face of death, by widening their field of vision to include eternity that is promised to them by God. In her poems “Contemplations,” “Before the Birth of One of her Children,” and “As Weary Pilgrim,” Bradstreet uses nature to illustrate where to keep one’s focus in life and shows how to remain hopeful when death is an inevitable and ever-present fact of life.

While Bradstreet praises nature in her poetry, she acknowledges its insufficiency while using it for a higher purpose. In her poem “Contemplations,” she speaks highly of nature and the beauty it possesses. She praises nature’s ability for rejuvenation in the eighteenth stanza by saying, “If winter come and greenness then do fade, / A spring returns, and they more youthful made” (Bradstreet 124-125). She seems envious of this trait and reveres it. She then observes that man falls short in these terms: “But man grows old, lies down, remains where once he’s laid” (Bradstreet 126). Man falls victim to time and age without the ability to regenerate. With this realization, she is addressing a subject that would have been very prevalent in her time: death. Life in America was hard for people in the communities in which Bradstreet found herself, and these harsh conditions led to very high death rates. This accounts for Bradstreet’s admiration for nature’s regenerative powers and takes it a step further by asking a question: “Shall I then praise the heavens, the trees, the earth / Because their beauty and their strength last longer?” (Bradstreet 134-135). She quickly silences this thought by observing that, despite the longevity of trees, the earth, and all other forms in nature, these things will eventually die and “man was made for endless immortality” (Bradstreet 140). She is showing that despite the places where man falls short, namely in strength and longevity, he will receive his reward in the eternal world and because of that, man is superior. This would have been a message of hope for the people of Bradstreet’s time that were struggling. This idea that they would be rewarded in the next life was a comforting notion and one that was rooted in Puritan beliefs. However, rendering nature insignificant seems to be contradictory to the rest of the poem, which spends a good amount of time praising nature.

Despite her seemingly contradictory statements about nature’s worthiness of adulation, she is justified in her use of nature as her focus and her praise of nature’s beauty and superior appearance because she speaks about nature as a reflection and illustration of religious ideals. She opens the poem with praise for the beauty of the trees during autumn. She takes it a step further in stating, “If so much excellence abide below, / How excellent is He that dwells on high…” (Bradstreet 9-10). She sees nature as a reflection of God himself. Not only is it a reflection; Bradstreet also proves that observations of nature can be used to illustrate religious concepts. For example, she observes a fish swimming and infers that he is striving for the goal of reaching the ocean. As she did with her previous description of nature, she takes the illustration further and relates it to something of greater value. In the same way the fish is struggling, a person struggles through the hardships of life with the promise of eternal life at the end of the journey. Nature alone is not worthy of worship, but when viewed as God’s creation and a reflection of him, it is to be revered because it is meant to point to him. She is conveying the importance of keeping the focus on God in all things and to strive for the ultimate goal of eternity throughout life rather than earthly goals. In the words of Kopacz, she is saying, “Earthly achievement and status, memorials and records, are meaningless in the perspective of eternity. Only salvation can triumph over time” (Kopacz). As she refocuses her audience, she is telling them through her use of nature that God and salvation in him should be focused on in life because it is the only thing that lasts throughout eternity.

She recognizes the difficulty of keeping one’s eyes on God and illustrates this struggle in her poem entitled “Before the Birth of One of her Children.” This poem was written upon the impending birth of one of Bradstreet’s children, and in it, she recognizes the possibility of dying in childbirth. She observes in the poems the far-reaching power of death by stating, “No ties so strong, no friends so dear and sweet, / But with death’s parting blow is sure to meet” (Bradstreet 3-4). With this statement and the previous examples of Bradstreet’s poetry, one would expect mention of the eternal life that waits after death. However, as Dempsey points out, “the speaker does not soften death’s reality with pious words about an expectation of heaven or by a repentance for sin” (Dempsey). The poem is void of any such promise. Instead, she laments leaving behind her husband and begs that he cherish her children if she should perish. She even goes on to say, “And if I see not half my days that’s due…” (Bradstreet 13). In other words, she is saying that if something does happen to her, she will have been cheated out of time on this earth. This is not the voice of someone who is looking toward the eternal life promised after death. This is a realistic and natural attitude to have, and she is illustrating here the difficulty when facing death to keep one’s eyes on such things. When faced with the possibility of leaving all that one has known, she shows that worrisome thoughts set in and fall upon those you will leave behind. This gives the poem a desperate tone that is devoid of hope. However, this is not the only view of death that Bradstreet gives. In her poem entitled “As Weary Pilgrim,” she talks about the toils of life and the relief and comfort to be found in life after death and states, “Such lasting joys shall there behold… Lord make me ready for that day / Then come, dear Bridegroom, come away” (Bradstreet 41-44). In her poetry, she illustrates the desperate struggle with one’s own death while showing the reader that relief can be found when focuses on the eternal life God promises.

Anne Bradstreet’s religious beliefs are strongly rooted in her poetry, and the poetry itself seeks to help people on their own spiritual journeys. She shows how man is superior to nature because of the promise of eternal life. Although it may seem in this life that nature itself is stronger and more majestic than man, it is of no value because man will receive his reward in the next life. Therefore, to understand this, one must always remain focused on God and the ultimate goal of eternity with him. She illustrates that very concept by connecting everything she sees in nature back to religious ideas. However, as Bradstreet realized, this is not always an easy to do. Her feelings about the possibility of her own death are also in her poetry, and they evoke a sense of hopelessness. She shows her own despair that occurs when she lets her eyes fall from God to earthly things alone, and in illustrating that struggle, she makes her message of hope even stronger. Her charge to keeps one’s eyes on God, and the illustration of her own struggle to do so in her poetry shows that there is hope to be found in the end, even for those, like herself, who may struggle to keep their eyes on that which is eternal.

Works Cited

Bradstreet, Anne. “Anne Bradstreet.” Beginnings to 1820, edited by Nina Baym, 8th ed., W. W. Norton and Company, 2012, pp. 207-38. 2 vols.

Dempsey, Francine. “Before The Birth Of One Of Her Children.” Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition (2002): 1-3. Literary Reference Center. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.

Kopacz, Paula. “Contemplations.” Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition (2002): 1-3. Literary Reference Center. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.

An Analysis of Bradstreet’s “A Letter to Her Husband, absent upon Publick Employment”

Anne Bradstreet is one of the most prominent literary figures of the colonial era of American history, and she is often cited as one of the primary sources of Puritan literature. Some of her work carried undertones of pre-First-Wave feminism because she subtly alluded to certain gender inequities, at least for those who can read between the lines. “A Letter to Her Husband, absent upon Publick Employment” is one of the staple examples of how she accomplished this, especially in a way that was still endearing to men who heard only what they wanted to hear.

In “A Letter to Her Husband, absent upon Publick Employment,” the speaker discusses the differences between her mind and her heart, as well as between her eyes and her life; what many men likely missed in their time was that she is alluding to her husband with each of these things. The reader only knows this because the speaker continues to call him her joy and her “magazine of earthly store” and then personify these things by suggesting that they are collectively one entity who is away from her. She characterizes this period of his absence as a winter, and she mourns it as though he were dead. In contrast, she goes on to characterize times of his presence as periods in which she feels no storm or cold, so she pleads that he return to her and end her “dead time.” She even mentions that looking at their children is difficult because they remind her of him.

Calling her husband her “magazine of earthly store” references the Biblical notion expressed in similar wording of inhabiting this sinful world before ascending to heaven in the afterlife. She uses this to mean that, apart from God himself, her husband is her everything. It is most important, though, that the reader understand that her husband is not dead, which is an easy misconception to make; rather, he is simply on a business trip. The first feminist undertone appears here implicitly in the simple fact that she is confined to the house, and the speaker goes on to describe her situation. She does not want to be there while her husband is not there, and she describes it as a winter period. She also says her limbs lie cold without him, painting this picture of a house that is not so much a home as it is a cold prison.

The speaker employs Zodiac imagery to describe the seasonal cycle mentioned earlier, and she references Zodiac signs throughout the poem. The sun occupies its highest point where the Capricorn constellation was in the summer, and in the winter, days are shorter and colder. The coldness now takes on a meaning that is as literal as it is figurative because it draws the reader’s mind to the loneliness she describes while also directly referencing the seasonal cycle. This is why her husband’s return is likened to the period when the sun occupies Cancer, a warm time that occurs in the summer.

The underlying issue in this poem, though, is not a seasonal or sexual one about solely the loneliness of the speaker. The poem is really pointing to something that is even more significant than these things. Ultimately, she is looking at her situation in a very literal way, but the poet, Bradstreet, intends for the reader to critically analyze the sentiments the speaker in the poem is expressing. The speaker is talking about this coldness, loneliness, and so forth in a very specific, deliberate way. She chooses her words carefully, and she often has many choices at her disposal for what word to use in several of her lines. There are numerous synonyms for several of the key words she uses in the poem, but she says everything she says for a very specific effect that she wants to impose upon the reader so as to evoke a certain response.

The reality of what the speaker is expressing to her husband, as well as what Bradstreet is expressing to the reader, is something that fleshes out the remainder of the meaning of the title of the poem. So far, the discussion has only even really substantiated the first half of the poem’s title, but the second half points to what it is that eludes the speaker: public employment. When she continually expresses sadness about the fact that her husband is away from her, she always does so in a way that puts the action and power in his hands. It is he has the power to come and go at will while she is imprisoned in the home. Similarly, it is the husband who is empowered with a job and consequently financial security, and in a manner of speaking, that job and financial security go with him any time he leaves, which is a serious concern.

What the speaker is truly highlighting is the gender inequality of their society or, at the very least, of their marriage. She does not have the liberty to earn a living for herself, and she is no less dependent on her husband than their children are despite the fact that, any son she may have, will eventually be much more independent than she because he will mature to an age at which he can get a job, earn a living, and own property. Granted, there is a sexual element to the poem, albeit it a subtle one. At the very most, there is reference to the idea of the speaker perhaps being sexually frustrated. Once again, this like many other observations is dependent upon analyzing her word choice and acknowledging that she had many other words and phrases to choose from instead. She calls her limbs chilled and numb, claiming that they now lie forlorn, which could double as a reference to her spurned, sexual desire. She also makes other potential double entendres like referring to her children as the fruits she bore through his heat, which is slightly less subtle than the previous example, and she even furthers it to call it a strange effect that comes over her when she looks at them seemingly because she recalls their conception. Bradstreet is unusually sensual in her writing for a Puritan woman, and this much is especially clear in this poem.

Even so, that which is sensual about the poem is likely only the surface detail, which can only serve to distract from the true substance underneath it all. Bradstreet wrote this poem with a very sensitive understanding of her place in her society as a Puritan woman. Very little opportunity was afforded her or her peers simply because of their sex, and their sex actually determined their station. In a postmodern society, there are still elements of women’s lives that are symptomatic of this same problem, and in many areas of the world, progress from this point is next to nonexistent. The poem highlights which explorations and freedoms are traditionally designated for women, and which are not.

Bradstreet Among the Moderns: Comparing Visions of Love

In ‘A Letter to Her Husband, Absent Upon Public Employment’ by Anne Bradstreet and ‘Love Poem’ by John Frederick Nims, there are three possible ideas that could be gleaned from the texts. Such ideas could be the power of love overcoming faults and distance, marriage, and thoughts of death. Within Bradstreet’s poem, there is an autobiographical outlook that explores the feeling of loss when a married couple is separated, whereas Nim’s autobiographical viewpoint alternates between humorously expressed criticisms and appreciated virtues. Bradstreet’s poem was published during the 17th century, when she had emigrated to America with her husband and parents. The term metaphysical can be applied to poets who wrote in the 17th century due to intellectual ingenuity and literary allusion. Such intellectual ingenuity can be seen in Bradstreet’s poem, as she uses metaphors of astrology and nature to support her genuine devotion towards her husband. It should also be noted that while there were female writers during the 17th century, it was uncommon for a woman poet to be published. Unlike Bradstreet’s work, Nim’s poem was written during the post-modernist epoch. Therefore, a contemporary assessment might note that the humorous aspect of Nim’s poem reinforces how the speaker is devoted to his wife, regardless of her gauche qualities.

Both texts feature the idea that love is overpowering; however, Bradstreet suggests love overpowers physical distance whereas Nims implies that love overpowers character disparities. Bradstreet uses astrological imagery and metaphors in order to show how her love extends beyond physical entities, thus demonstrating the greatness of it. ‘I, like the Earth this season, mourn in black, My sun is gone so far in’s zodiac.’ By using an extended metaphor to present her husband as the sun, Bradstreet suggests that her spouse is the source of all life. The addition of a pathetic fallacy also allows the poet to construct meaning, as the reader is able to envisage the magnitude of the speaker’s love. A feminist perspective might suggest the speaker is presenting her husband as more important than herself by portraying him as the sun. However, this may not be an issue of equality, but rather a compliment issued by the speaker. Nims also uses astrology when describing the power his love; however, instead of presenting his spouse as the sun, he uses a more sincere and comical description by describing her as a ‘wrench.’ While this mode of reference may appear insulting on the surface, the comical quality might add sincerity because Nims is extending beyond convention. Nims bypasses sickly sweetness and instead uses honesty to prove the strength of his relationship with his wife, as the satire that encompasses his poem underlines his affection. A similar use of satire by Wendy Cope in ‘Strugnell’s Bargain,’ published in 1945 (post-modern period), creates an analogous effect. The mockery of ‘My true-love hath my heart and I have his’ by Sir Philip Sydney in ‘Strugnell’s Bargain,’ unveils a new side to love poems. It seems that love in ‘Strugnell’s Bargain’ does not overcome the complication of the English language, unlike love overpowering distance in ‘A Letter to Her Husband, Absent Upon Public Employment.’ There is confusion between the speaker and their partner about who has which body part. The use of taboo language in ‘Strugnell’s Bargain,’ like ‘Oh piss off, Jake!’ creates a vast contrast to typical love poems, however some post-modern critics might argue that this is a more realistic form of love, as relationships are complex and involve a variety of emotions rather than straightforward adoration. This idea could apply to ‘Love Poem’ by Nims, as the repetition of ‘dear’ coupled with jarring insults insinuates Nims loves his wife, despite her faults. However, the historical contexts that surround these poems allow these poets to challenge the conventional conception of love, as post-modern society is more lenient in contrast to the time Bradstreet was writing in.

The way marriage is interpreted differs in each poem; nonetheless, love is the underlying component in each relationship. The way Bradstreet expresses her marriage offers an immense contrast to the tactics of Frederick Nims, as she uses a lexical field of nature and body and extended metaphors to show how great her love is: ‘Head, eyes, flesh, bone,’ and ‘frigid, cold, storm, frost, warmth, melt.’ This marriage is presented as a co-dependent relationship and Bradstreet portrays her husband as an individual who brings warmth. But, when they are separated, she is violated with coldness due to his absence. This shows the reader how reliant she is upon their love and by relating it to other entities; Bradstreet demonstrates that their love is not contained but extensive. In one of her poems, Wendy Cope also uses a lexical field of body organs, ‘heart, liver, and kidney.’ This might create a more humorous effect due to the listing technique Cope employs. The rhyming couplet that follows cements the satire Cope uses. ‘Therefore do I revoke my opening line: My love can keep her heart and I’ll have mine.’ This parody crystalises the humorous tone of Cope’s poem, and demonstrates that the speaker is adapting to realistic standards. However, another interpretation might suggest that the satire relieves the harshness of pragmatism in the poem. Due to Cope writing in the post-modern era, she is able to explore alternative aspects of love. However, a feminist perspective might suggest that Bradstreet was limited, as a patriarchal society might have frowned upon a woman exploring anything that existed outside love in a marriage. This interpretation could also be applied to “Rapture” by Carol Ann Duffy (1955-). As Duffy is writing in the post-modern era, she is able to subvert the traditional English sonnet with ease. This underlines the immeasurability of the speaker’s love, as the structure of the poem could be used as a metaphor to suggest that it is not confined, similar to Bradstreet’s love. Nims uses structure in ‘Love Poem’ contrarily, as the equal length lines could offer calm reassurance to the speaker’s object of affection. ‘Whose palms are bulls in china, burs in linen, and have no cunning with any soft thing.’ The enjambment allows this stanza to flow onto the next; therefore the ideas are not separated. This could suggest that Nims’ love is ongoing; furthermore, the alliteration and juxtaposition reiterate this point but also emphasises the speaker’s love is not affected by such tribulations.

In both poems, there is an element of death that lingers behind the speaker’s words. Bradstreet uses repetition and the imagery of bodies in order to describe the event of death. ‘Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone, I here, thou there, yet both but one.’ While some readers may be shocked at the reality of death following Bradstreet’s depiction of love, as the contrast between the two is hard hitting, the mention of death might add sincerity to the poem for some critics. This is because the repetition and alliteration may soften the bleakness of death and show that even love is affected by nature. However, the speaker might have used this imagery to show the reader that they’re unafraid of death due to experiencing a fulfilling, endless love. Nims employs a similar technique to Bradstreet, however he uses a metaphor in order to soften the starkness of demise. ‘For should your hands drop white and empty All the toys of the world would break.’ The alliteration and description of physical objects as ‘toys’, shows that even though the speaker’s partner is clumsy, in comparison to her, the speaker believes objects she breaks are worthless. Love reducing the threat of death is also evident in Rapture, as the speaker uses a rhetorical question to stimulate thought regarding impending demise: ‘How does it happen that our lives can drift far from our selves, while we stay trapped in time, queuing for death?’ The idea of stagnation, which is emphasised by alliteration, juxtaposes the greatness of love mentioned later. The Volta, which is ‘then love comes, like a sudden flight of birds’, creates the concept that love can free individuals who are trapped in time, as loveless lives ensure individuals are ensnared in their own private penitentiary. Death is mentioned halfway through Rapture, however this is not the case in ‘Love Poem’ or ‘A Letter to Her Husband…’. This may be because the speakers in Bradstreet and Nim’s poems consistently assure the reader of their love, however only later does the speaker in ‘Rapture’ vehemently declare their love.

Bradstreet and Nims each discuss the power of love, marriage and death. However, unlike Nims, Bradstreet uses compliments and praise to underline the extent of her love, whereas the speaker in ‘Love Poem’ openly discusses a partner’s faults. Yet, the contrast between terms of endearment and descriptions of a partner’s errors emphasises the authentic aspect of the speaker’s love in Nim’s poem. Furthermore, it exposes a realistic side to a modern relationship and shows that love is not restricted by truthful characteristics.

Anne Bradstreet Poem Explication

In “Here Follows Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House, July 10th, 1666” Anne Bradstreet delves into the topic of a tragic fire in her home. In the poem, her house is represented as a keepsake for all of her memories made within it and now the fire has seemingly turned it all to ash. She expresses her ambivalence between her devastation and her Puritan beliefs by displaying both initial sorrow and eventual acceptance. Various aspects of this poem are used to show Bradstreet’s momentary quivering faith in her providential beliefs. The poem’s changing mood, few instances of enjambment, shifts in tone of diction, and use of rhetorical devices express the theme of acceptance.

The content of this poem is focused around the despair and damage caused by the fire in Bradstreet’s home. The author is awoken by loud noises and voices, which alert her to the calamity happening around her. The first half of the poem explores the damage caused by the fire and all the tangible items the author has lost. However, due to Bradstreet’s Puritan beliefs, the poem shifts into a more providential theme as opposed to the theme of loss shown in the beginning. She believes that the fire, the loss of her home and all the memories made within it, is done by God’s divine intervention and has purpose. The transition between her mourning of her loss and then her acceptance due to her providential beliefs is clearly shown in the poem. This is especially displayed in lines 14-17 where Bradstreet writes: 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 This excerpt from the poem shows the acceptance Bradstreet holds for the fire because of her providential beliefs that everything is predestined. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter and consists of only rhyming couplets. The majority of the poem is written with enjambment and this causes the sequence of the fire and the destruction to seem more chaotic and despairing. The enjambment between lines 3-4: “I wakened was with thund’ring noise/ And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice,” creates a faster paced rhythm in the poem, emulating the rapid pace of the fire.

Throughout the poem, Bradstreet appears to be more reconciled toward the fire once she reminds herself that it is because of God’s doing and it has happened for a reason. Of course, it cannot be expected that Bradstreet is utterly accepting of the fact that her home and all of her dearest belongings have been turned to ash. This uncertainty of faith is shown through her difference in language from the beginning to the end of the poem. The mood of the poem seems to swiftly switch from despair to acceptance as she trusts her faith in her Puritan beliefs. This change in mood is shown through Bradstreet’s choice of emotional diction. The beginning of the poem is laced with deeply negative diction such as “sorrow,” (line 2) “piteous,” (line 4) and “succourless” (line 10). The tone of the poem changes significantly when her providential belief is mentioned. The author uses more positive diction such as “mighty Architect,” (line 44) “glory richly furnished,” (line 45) “hope and treasure,” (line 54). The language used and the mood of the poem are very closely related in this instance.

The meaning of the poem is largely affected by Bradstreet’s use of metaphors and similes. One extended metaphor in particular, in lines 49-51, enforces the author’s Puritan worldview as well as the theme of the poem. The metaphor is in reference to Bradstreet’s faith that though her home on earth has been destroyed, God has an even lovelier home waiting for her in heaven. Bradstreet expresses this belief in the lines: “A price so vast as is unknown,/ Yet by His gift is made thine own;/ There’s wealth enough, I need no more,” (lines 49-51). The author creates an extended metaphor of a “…house on high erect/ Frameed by that mighty Architect,” (lines 43-44) which represents the home in heaven created by God. It is in this way Bradstreet is saying that though she is in despair over her loss, she knows that it is all in God’s predestined plan. This is difficult to fully believe, however, because Bradstreet does remark on the memories that can no longer be made in this home and the memories she is leaving behind in the lines: “Under thy roof no guest shall sit,/ Nor at thy Table eat a bit.” (lines 29-30). These lines show that though she has accepted the tragedy as providential, it is still a great loss of both the tangible and intangible parts of her life.

“Here Follows Some Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666,” shows the muddled tension between natural emotions and the theology of the Puritans. The fire in Anne Bradstreet’s house causes her to feel conflict between her basic human emotion and what her Puritan theology tells her she should feel. This is expressed throughout the poem with selectively ambivalent diction, extended metaphors, and two conflicting moods of despair and acceptance. The fire is essentially a spark to her uncertain faithfulness toward the Puritan beliefs of providence, resulting in her conflicting tones within the poem. The poem ends with Bradstreet accepting her loss and remaining loyal to her Puritan beliefs, despite her loss of everything else.

A Puritan’s Response to Loss: An analysis of Anne Bradstreet’s “Upon the Burning of Our House”

As a Puritan, Anne Bradstreet strove to live her life according to Calvinist doctrine while still having to cope with the struggles of her human condition (Mooney). When Bradstreet’s house burned down, she was struck with the reality of life’s hardships and presented with an opportunity to do one of two things. If she were to yield to her humanity and allow herself to be overcome by the loss of her worldly wealth, she could then blame God and turn away from Him. If she were to let her soul win out over that humanity, she could embrace the Puritan belief that God is still good and that she has a greater treasure waiting for her in heaven. In this she could draw closer to God, having learned to let go of her worldly possessions. Bradstreet struggles within herself for a time, but in the end she is able to arrive at a place where she accepts the loss of her material belongings and has her sights re-aligned on what truly matters – her relationship with God.When Bradstreet realized that her house was on fire, her first response was to immediately cry out to God the moment she first saw the flames when she said, “I, starting up, the light did spy, / And to my God my heart did cry” (Bradstreet ll. 7-8). The thought of blaming or being angry with God seems to not even enter her mind. She immediately recognizes God’s sovereignty and the fact that there is no possible way she can survive this tragedy without His strength. She begs God to “strengthen [her] in [her] distress / And not to leave [her] succorless” (“Burning” 9-10). Bradstreet is frightened, as any human being would be in this situation – whether she was a Puritan or not – but the importance of this circumstance is how Bradstreet responded to that fear. It is evident from the beginning that she is a faithful follower of God in that she instinctually cries out to Him, even in the midst of this horrible and unexpected tragedy. Soon after her outcry of fear and uncertainty, Bradstreet seems to calm a bit and she begins to even praise God, saying, “I blest his name that gave and took” (“Burning” 14). Bradstreet demonstrates great trust in God from the moment she first saw the flames, and in this it is apparent that she genuinely believes in Puritan doctrine. She was not angry with God in the slightest, because she acknowledges that everything she owned “was His own, it was not [hers]” (“Burning” 17). In this, Bradstreet is even thankful because God did not take everything, but left her with her family and enough to still survive. She asserts He could have taken any amount of her belongings and she still would not have been angry with Him, because it would be His right to take whatever he saw fit (“Burning” 19-20). After line 20, however, the tone changes again from her faithful, hopeful optimism to sense of strong lamentation.Bradstreet describes walking by her old house and being reminded of the sting of loss she experienced in the fire (“Burning” 21-22). Though she knows as a believer in God that those things should hold little value, she admits she still struggles daily with the sadness she feels over losing them. She seems much less convicted about God’s goodness at this point, thought she doesn’t come right out and say that. The reasons she gave to still praise God and be joyous in the beginning seem to bring her much less comfort now as she stands face-to-face with the physical loss she endured. Bradstreet shows the extreme difficulty she is experiencing in letting go of her worldly possessions as she describes in detailed pathos everything she misses so dearly about that house (Mooney). She speaks of a wide range of earthly treasure she regrets losing, from the emotional wealth of laughter and entertaining guests, to her material wealth, or her “pleasant things” (“Burning” 23-36). In the midst of her dolefulness, however, she seems to snap back to her senses and to the reality of what she knows her outlook on life and the human condition should be as a Puritan. Bradstreet begins to reprimand herself for holding her earthly belongings in such high value. Her inner battle is made evident when she angrily asks herself: And did thy wealth on earth abide? Didst fix thy hope on mold’ring dust?The arm of flesh didst make thy trust? (“Burning” 38-40)She knows she should not consider any treasure greater than hers in heaven, and she seems frustrated with herself for having such difficulty letting go of what she lost in the fire. Then she begins to think about what truly matters to her, telling herself to “rise up [her] thoughts above the sky” (“Burning”41). After this encouraging word to herself, Bradstreet seems to switch her perspective as she turns back to talking about God and what he has blessed her with. Bradstreet is joyous again, refocusing on what she has in God: Thou hast an house on high erect, Framed by that mighty Architect, With glory richly furnished, Stands permanent though this be fled. (“Burning” 43-46)It is obvious at this point how superior she feels her heavenly wealth is to the material possessions she lost in the fire. It seems Bradstreet now realizes the worth and purpose of this seemingly tragic incident – that she take her focus off the “dunghill mists [which] away may fly” (“Burning” 42) and re-align her sights on her heavenly treasure. It seems at this point in her poem, Bradstreet is experiencing a revelation that she did not need the things she lost in the fire, because her Lord, the “mighty Architect” (“Burning” 44), has prepared for her a treasure infinitely more valuable in heaven, and “there’s wealth enough, [she] needs no more” (“Burning” 43-51).Bradstreet’s poem depicts the vivid contrast between worldly and heavenly treasure, while also illustrating the trouble a depraved human being has letting go of worldly riches. She admits she had put too much hope and invested too much time in her earthly wealth, and then a disaster struck that swept it all away. She knows she does not have to morn the loss of those things, because they were only meant to be temporary, and though it may be hard to say goodbye to her “pelf…[and]…store” (“Burning” 52), she knows that is what God wants her to learn to do. Bradstreet seems to acknowledge that the fire was ordained by God’s hand, yet she does not consider herself unjustly treated and she does not feel angry or bitter at Him for it. In fact, it seems Bradstreet considers the fire as a blessed sign from God, warning her of the value she had placed on her material belongings, and saving her from continuing to do so. Bradstreet is suddenly very much aware of the fact that the treasure one possesses on earth is temporary and unstable (“Burning” 52). In understanding this, Bradstreet is reminded of the one treasure that is not temporary, but eternal. The one eternal treasure that is valued far above any such trash one can find on earth is that of the treasure one stores up in heaven and is promised by God. Bradstreet expresses gratitude in her poem to God when she realizes the gift of immeasurable value he has bestowed upon her. Suddenly, she has no need for earthly treasure, which has dimmed tremendously in comparison with that which the Lord offers. She is finally able to let go of what she lost, as she says:Farewell, my pelf, farewell my store. The world no longer let me love, My hope and treasure lies above. (“Burning” 52-54)

Anne Bradstreet and Struggles to Conform

Anne Dudley Bradstreet was America’s first published poet. Cotton Mather described her as: “a gentlewoman whose extraction and estate were considerable.” She was an intelligent, well-educated poet, wife, and mother, who contradicted almost all of the stereotypes about stiff, cold Puritans. She used her talents to promote women’s rights, to describe life as a Puritan woman in colonial America, and to let her husband and children know how much she loved them. Some historians have said that Anne described her own work as lowly, meanly clad, poor, ragged, foolish, broken, and blemished to appease critical males. It was the support of her family and friends who encouraged her to continue the struggle despite incredible societal pressure and rigorous odds.Her poems dealt with the hardships of life in the early settlements, the Puritan religion, and in subtle ways, the role of women in those times. Because she was a woman, her work was strongly criticized, and some believed that she stole the ideas for her writing from men. In her earlier works, Bradstreet wrote in the style of male authors that she admired. She was careful about expressing her true feelings, and this limited her abilities. She wrote for her own satisfaction, and shared her poetry with family and friends. Without her knowledge, her brother-in-law, Rev. John Woodbridge, took a manuscript of her poems to England with him and had them published in a book called, The Tenth Muse Lately sprung up in America… By a Gentlewoman in those parts, which Anne had dedicated to her father. Rev. Woodbridge wrote “By a Gentlewoman” in the title to stress that Anne Bradstreet was a virtuous Puritan who did not neglect her duties for her writing. These later poems were her claim to fame, because they reflected actual experience (as a wife, as a mother, and a woman in seventeenth-century New England), combined with a poet’s imagination, warmth, and a straightforward humanitarian philosophy. Anne struggled to write poetry in a society that was hostile to imagination and to a woman writer. Seventeenth century Puritan women were expected to be deferential, and her education and her privileged status as a close relative of two governors could not completely protect her from the scorn and persecution that other women who stepped out of their role in Puritan society generally received.Anne wrote quite a bit about her experiences as a wife, mother, grandmother, and as a settler in colonial America. She also wrote about nature, science, religion, the social and political happenings of the time, and about her feelings towards the biases women of her time faced. Anne Bradstreet was, in some ways, an early feminist. Through her poetry, she asserted the right of women to learning and expression of thought. The stereotypical Puritan standards at that time indicated that a woman’s place was in the home attending to the family and her husband’s needs. Women were generally considered intellectually inferior. The attitude of Anne’s day was accurately expressed by Reverend Thomas Parker, a minister in Newbury, Massachusetts, in a letter to his sister, Elizabeth Avery, in England: “Your printing of a book, beyond the custom of your sex, doth rankly smell.”As if the social pressure wasn’t bad enough, many women faced crushing workloads and a severe lack of free time, as well. Some women suffered from the lack of an education. Others internalized the belief in intellectual inferiority Western society tried to push on them from nearly every authoritative voice. It was Anne’s personal situation such as an extensive education, support of friends and an influential family, which gave her the means to cope with some of these obstacles. One of her later works, “In Honor of That High and Mighty Princess Queen Elizabeth of Happy Memory”, defiantly proclaims her opinion that women are worth more than a man’s servant.Anne was deeply interested in relating the arduous life of the early settlers in her poems. Her work provides an excellent view of the difficulties she and her fellow colonists encountered. From the loss of a house to fire, to the risks and difficulties of child-bearing, to the pain of losing children, Anne described such situations with deep emotion and faith.Her writing gives modern-day readers a glimpse into Puritan views of salvation and redemption, and reveals faith that continued even in the midst of doubt. The Puritans believed that suffering was God’s way of preparing the heart for accepting His grace. Anne had difficulty reconciling herself with this idea, and she wrote about how she struggled to do everything that she could to give into His will.Puritan wives were expected to defer to their husbands within the family structure, but they were treated as fully equal in the “soul’s vocation” and in church affairs and enjoyed extensive legal and social protection against husbandly abuse of power. The “delicate complexity” of this view was perhaps best expressed in the couplet which Anne Bradstreet addressed to men: “Preeminence each and all is yours/Yet grant some small acknowledgment of ours.” Puritans also abhorred any waste of time, energy, or talent as a sin against God; ultimately, this worked in favor of talented women such as Bradstreet and defined early indications of the women’s movement and clearly questioned the role of women in Puritanical society.ReferencesBlackstock, Carrie Galloway. ” Anne Bradstreet and Performativity: Self-Cultivation, Self-Deployment.” Early American Literature 32. 3 (1987): 222-48.Bush, Sargent, Jr. “American Poetry Begins: The Confident Modesty of The Tenth Muse.” Wisconsin Academy Review: A Journal of Wisconsin Culture 38. 1 (Winter 1981-1982): 8-12.Caldwell, Patricia. “Why Our First Poet Was a Woman: Bradstreet and the Birth Of an American Poetic Voice.” Prospects: An Annual Journal of American Cultural Studies 13 (1978): 1-35.Doriani, Beth M. ” ‘Then have I…Said with David’: Anne Bradstreet’s Andover Manuscript Poems and the Influence of the Psalm Tradition.” Early American Literature 24:1 (1979): 52-69.Eberwein, “Anne Bradstreet (c.1612-1672).” Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 11:2 (1984): 161-69.Kopacz, Paula. ” ‘To Finish what’s Begun’: Anne Bradstreet’s Last Words.” Early American Literature 23:2 (1978): 175-187.Margerum, Eileen. “Anne Bradstreet’s Public Poetry and the Tradition of Humility.” Early American Literature 17:2 (fall 1982): 152-60.Salska, Agnieska. “Puritan Poetry: Its Public and Private Strain.” Early American Literature 19:2 (Fall 1984): 107-121.Schweitzer, Ivy. “Anne Bradstreet Wrestles with the Renaissance.” Early American Literature 23:2 (1978): 291-312.Sweet, Timothy. “Gender, Genre, and Subjectivity in Anne Bradstreet’s Early Elegies.” Early American Literature 23:2 (1978); 152-174.

The Divine Sun in American Poetry: Wheatley’s “Thoughts on the Works of Providence” and Bradstreet’s “Contemplations”

In her 1773 poem, Thoughts on the Works of Providence¸ Phillis Wheatley considers God’s power through the solar system of the Sun and Earth’s rotational relationship. Almost a hundred years prior to Wheatley’s neoclassical poetic style, Anne Bradstreet would examine the Sun, and its relationship to God and humanity on Earth with equal scrutiny through the fourth and seventh stanzas in her 1678 poem, Contemplations. Their poems mark out the symbolic importance of the Sun in early American poetry as representative of a Christian God and his divine power through rays of emitted light. Although their poems bear certain symbolic similarities, it is also important how Wheatley’s religious poem, and her portrayal of God’s role in the natural world, is influenced by the new scientific knowledge and sociopolitical changes emerging from the American Revolution and the Enlightenment.

Wheatley opens the second stanza by representing the Sun as a “vast machine” (768). In these lines, she vividly describes the arcing movements of the Earth’s rotational patterns around the Sun’s glowing center point. The Sun, which is controlled by God’s unseen hand, is described as having “twice forty millions” miles in height. Wheatley’s astronomical language is deeply rooted in the influences of reason and mathematical calculations of the Enlightenment, yet it is designed to elevate God’s divine power. She employs the scientific knowledge of the day to imagine God’s perspective of the Universe as he guides the planets and to remind the reader of their minuscule mortal presence in the face of God’s massive solar system unseen by the naked human eye. Bradstreet, too, notes the blinding, almost destructive light of the Sun and God’s subsequent power, albeit through a more abstract inquiry: “Art thou so full of glory that no eye / Hath strength thy shining rays once to behold?” (216). After her scientific descriptions, Wheatley quotes Genesis, “Let there be light”, pushing for a compatible balance between Christianity and the Enlightenment’s science (770). Bradstreet speaks of the “annual and diurnal course” of the Sun in its seasonal patterns (216). Her awareness of agricultural ‘science’ would’ve been critical knowledge for surviving the earliest years of the American colonies. Both Bradstreet and Wheatley recognize this divine light emitted by the Sun as an important tool in God’s creation of the natural world as he brought life from darkness

Despite criticisms of Wheatley’s work lacking explicit political discourse, there are suggestions of social and political tension in Thoughts on the Works of Providence. She describes God’s Sun as a “peerless monarch”, unrivaled by the mortal, tyrannical English kings on Earth (768). Her descriptions of God’s magnitude present the possibility of divine power transcending our societal positions, important given that in that year she would gain her freedom from slavery. During this tumultuous time, as the foundations of our government were established, Wheatley recognized the hypocrisy of America’s use of slavery despite its ideology of freedom. She speaks of the Earth surviving “impetuous storms”, “winds and surging tides” under God’s divine providence, suggesting America will triumph (768). Yet, she acknowledges that Reason alone is not enough for the country to succeed, and we need “immortal Love” to act as a companion to this rational way of thinking, not to overshadow our respect for God (770). Her poem suggests that we must love humans and nature because they are part of God’s universal plan, otherwise we will be plunged into darkness. Wheatley’s underlying suggestion is to incorporate Christian belief into our new country and end the immoral practice of slavery, bringing freedom to all mankind. Although the Contemplations are more introspective and focused on the beauty of nature, Bradstreet also acknowledges humanity’s historical inability to differentiate between God’s power and the natural world: “no wonder some has made thee a deity” (216). Here, the Sun is a type of monarch yet she calls for its power to be credited to God’s superior agency.

Lastly, the use of Greek mythological references are evident of the poets’ level of education which carries implicit sociopolitical significance. Both Bradstreet and Wheatley reference Phoebus (Apollo) at the beginning of their poems and gender the Earth as a female counterpart. In Bradstreet’s case, she further genders the Sun as a “bridegroom” (216). This biblical reference implies a marriage between Earth and humanity with the Sun and God, and expresses the inferior social position of women at the time (although she a superior education due to her family’s class). Wheatley’s intelligent Neoclassical reference to Phoebus demonstrates a kind of literary education which would have been completely unavailable to other enslaved women at the time, demonstrating her revolutionary position in American society.

Both Wheatley and Bradstreet describe God’s creative force through symbolic language of the Sun, both through Biblical and Pagan references and quotations. Yet, under the conditions of their respective eras, the way they view God and humanity’s relationship to the Sun differentiates as Wheatley engages with the social changes of her day. While Bradstreet’s work is more romantic in tone and concerned with personal religious experience, Wheatley acknowledges the importance of Enlightenment science and education and confronts the immorality of oppression in American society during the Revolution. Across these poems, we see how God’s divine providence has granted us life on earth, yet we must continue to follow his principals and be loyal, like subjects to a monarch, we will reap the Earthly rewards of his power on an individual and societal scale.

Works Cited

Bradstreet, Anne. “Contemplations.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Volume A: Beginnings to 1820. 1960. Edited by Nina Baum and Robert S. Levine, 8th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1979, pp. 215-222.

Wheatley, Phillis. “Thoughts on the Works of Providence.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Volume A: Beginnings to 1820. 1960. Edited by Nina Baum and Robert S. Levine, 8th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1979, pp. 768-771.

Marriage in My Last Duchess and To My Dear and Loving Husband

Marriage is a complementing union between a man and a woman. Marriage requires affection and dedication to one another. In Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess, the Duke of Ferrara is very dominant and expresses jealousy from his wife in his marriage which leads him to murder his wife. Robert Browning was influenced by his father and was provided with a large library of books. In Anne Bradstreet’s To My Dear and Loving Husband, a woman speaks to her husband about their tremendous love they have for each other. The woman mentions how she cannot repay him and even when they die, their love will live on. She goes on being obsessed and surrounds her whole life on their love. Anne Bradstreet lived in the Elizabethan era which allowed her to be highly educated by her father. Thus, in the poem My Last Duchess by Robert Browning and To My Dear and Loving Husband by Anne Bradstreet, both speaker’s attitude towards marriage are immensely different which is seen through symbolism, tone and character.

The Duke of Ferrara’s attitude toward marriage in Browning’s My Last Duchess is very different as the Duke is very dominant over his wife, which is seen through Neptune’s statue and the portrait of his late wife. The Duke expresses his dominance over his wife by him controlling access to his late wife’s portrait under a curtain. As he is showing around an Austrian nobleman whose daughter he would like to marry he says “The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) /And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst” (Robert Browning 10-11). The portrait symbolizes that she is treated like an object. The Duke clearly expresses that his attitude is very dominant because even her portrait is fully controlled by him. The Duke believes that he has full control over his wife as he mentions Neptune taming a sea-horse. The Duke shows the daughters father a statue of Neptune and says “Together down, /sir. Notice Neptune, though, /Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, /Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me (Browning 54-56)! The statue is of Neptune taming a sea-horse. Neptune is the god of the sea. This symbolizes the Duke, and the sea-horse symbolizes the Duchess he would acquire. The Duke views himself as a God, and he wishes to tame his wife and to do whatever he wishes her to do. He also had the sea-horse cast in bronze. The sea-horse in now trapped forever. The seahorse also represents his wife who trapped forever behind the curtains. Thus, The Duke’s dominant and controlling attitude is symbolized through the portrait and Neptune’s statue and the portrait of his late wife.

In Bradstreet’s To My Dear and Loving Husband, the woman’s attitude towards marriage is extremely loving. which is expressed through the symbolism of mines of gold and rivers. She claims that she values their love so ho highly that she says “I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold (Anne Bradstreet 5). The mines of gold symbolize the amount of love she has for her husband. The woman demonstrates her love by saying that she values the feeling of love in connection with another person far more than any amount of material wealth. The woman then after reveals that she is the happiest woman with a tremendous amount of love. She mentions “My love is such that rivers cannot quench” (Bradstreet 7). The river symbolizes her satisfaction in loving her husband just like water for a river can never be enough. She is not fully satisfied because she feels that her love for her husband can ever be enough. In To My Dear and Loving Husband, the river and mines of gold represent that the woman’s attitude towards marriage is all about love which differs from the Duke in My Last Duchess as Neptune’s statue and the portrait represents his dominant attitude towards marriage.

In Browning’s My Last Duchess, the Duke’s jealous attitude toward marriage is demonstrated through the tones in the poem when his wife shows kind actions toward others. The Duke remembers the botherations that had occurred with his wife when she was alive. He stated “She had /A heart—how shall I say? — too soon made glad, /Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er /She looked on, and her looks went everywhere” (Browning 21-24). The tone that the Duke exemplifies is serious jealousy from his wife. The Duke does not like that she blushes at the flirtations of another man. The Duke is bothered by his wife having a heart that is “too soon made glad” and “too easily impressed”. He is annoyed that she likes everything that she looked at. He does not understand that she is just a kind person who likes to smile. This man seems more and more controlling as the poem goes on. It seems that he murders his Duchess because he could not control her feelings. He wants to be the only one to bring her joy and make her smile. The Duke’s attitude is also portrayed, while he continues to talk about his late wife and states to the father that “Just this/Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, /Or there exceed the mark’” (Browning 37-39). The tone that he portrays is very serious jealousy because “disgust” is a very strong word that he uses to describe her smile. This demonstrates his jealous attitude toward his wife in their marriage because he is disgusted by the action she showed towards others. Duke’s jealous attitude is clearly demonstrated through the tone’s in the poem by his wife’s actions.

In Bradstreet’s To My Dear and Loving Husband, the woman’s loving tone is demonstrated throughout her prayers for her husband and faith in the relationship. The woman reiterates her thoughts about how her husband’s love is so deep she can never repay him. After that she says “The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray (Bradstreet 10). She expresses the tone of love as she prays to God that he will reward and bless her husband for the way he has loved her. This shows that her attitude is loving as she includes God and praying for the love she has received. The

woman also shows her loving tone when she says “Then while we live, in love let’s so preserver” (Bradstreet 11). This portrays a loving tone as she claims that they will both persevere to live until the end. She continues to say that she has no doubt and has full faith that they will stay married until one passes from this life to the next life. Using the words “live”, “love”, and “persevere” express her lovable attitude in this poem. The women’s tone of attitude is very lovable in To My Dear and Loving Husband because she has faith and prays for husband unlike the Duke in My Last Duchess because the Duke set a jealous tone toward his marriage from his wife’s actions.

In My Last Duchess, the Duke’s attitude towards marriage differs from To My Dear and Loving Husband through his egotistic character which is shown by him thinking too highly of himself. The Duke talks about how he had given her a “nine-hundred-years-old name” which reveals that his family has been around for many years, thus giving her a prestigious name by marrying her. He states that “She thanked men, /-good! but thanked/Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked/My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name/With anybody’s gift (Browning 31-34). This portrays he is irritated that his wife is not thankful or appreciates his well-respected family. This shows that his character is very egotistic as he thinks much higher of himself than anyone else. The Duke further talks about how his wife smiled at everyone who passed her and says “Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, /Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without/Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;/Then all smiles stopped together (Browning 43-46). This reveals that he got very envious of how his kind-hearted wife smiles at everyone and he believes only he should deserve that smile. He felt so controlling and worthy that he murdered his own wife which is why all the smiles stopped and seemed much happier with her portrait as now only he can receive that smile. This demonstrates that the Duke’s character is very egotistic as he believes he is higher than everyone else and commands as he wishes. Thus, in the poem My Last Duchess the Duke’s attitude towards marriage differs from To My Dear and Loving Husband through his egotistical character shown through murdering his wife and thinking very highly of himself.

In Bradstreet’s To My Dear and Loving Husband the woman’s attitude toward marriage is very different as her character is appreciative. The woman shows a great amount of appreciation to her husband and lets him know that she is very thankful. “Nor ought but love from thee give recompense” (Bradstreet 7). The woman reveals her appreciation for being the recipient of her husband’s love, by claiming that she could never “recompense” his love. This shows that she feels so loved by her husband and that she does not believe she could ever make him feel as loved as he has made her feel. The woman goes on and truly believes she can never repay him for what he has done. She states that “Thy love is such I can no way repay (Bradstreet 9); She reveals her character as very appreciative in this line as well because she finds value in his love and claims she cannot repay him. The woman in To My Dear and Loving Husband attitude toward marriage differs from the Duke in My Last Duchess because the woman is very appreciative of her marriage and the love in their lives, unlike the Duke whose egotistic characteristic gets in the way of being thankful for his wife.

The Materialist Views of Spiritual Settlers

Early America was settled and inhabited by a religious group known as Puritans who left their native land of Britain for a fresh start in a new country. A man named John Winthrop, a prominent Puritan and governor delivered a sermon that expressed the ideals of a perfect Christian community in a new country. His goal of a selfless, utopian community brings up two very different questions. Were these Puritans idealist spiritual people whose sole purpose was to please God? Or were they simply materialist proto-capitalists that sought wealth with the backing of their religious beliefs to support their cause? Winthrop’s sermon and other writings of Puritans of this time show that they placed an extreme importance on material wealth that was excused by their strict religious beliefs.

It is very clear from the opening of Winthrop’s sermon that God determined those who were worthy of his love by determining who was rich and who was poor. Winthrop said that God, in his infinite wisdom, showed that “some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity, others mean and in subjection” (Winthrop 147). This statement shows an important ideological belief of the Puritans: predetermination, the idea that God determines who is successful or powerful, and who is poor and of low social status. Winthrop states that because of their beliefs God can manifest Himself in their daily lives by moderating and restraining the people, “so that the rich and mighty should not eat up the poor, nor the poor and despised rise up against their superiors and shake off their yoke” (Winthrop 148). He clearly states that the poor are despised and inferior to those who have wealth and the subtle inclusion of the word “yoke” makes them seem like a servant or slave to those who are successful.

Divine providence not only shapes how Puritans live their lives, through hard work and spirituality to prove they have God’s grace, but also how they view one another. Winthrop proves this by saying, “All men being thus (by divine providence) ranked into two sorts, rich and poor” (Winthrop 148). The justification of achieving the “superior” status of being rich is hidden beneath a multitude of Bible quotations and Utopian ideals that convince his followers that being wealthy and successful is God’s wish. By stating that the reason for wealth is to help one another when in need and not to expect a reward on this earth, he also goes on to say that he will still be rewarded but in heaven, “we know what advantage it will be to us in the day of account when many such witnesses shall stand forth for us to witness the improvement of our talent” (Winthrop 150). In other words, being wealthy gives the person the option to lend and be merciful, which, upon reaching heaven, those who received this generosity will see the lenders talent improve in the afterlife. While it may seem like Christian charity that drives them to lend and be generous, Winthrop clearly states that there is another reason, “thou art look at him not as an act of mercy, but by way of commerce” (Winthrop 151) and, “This love is always under reward…love and affection are reciprocal in a most equal and sweet kind of commerce” (Winthrop 155). Thus, lending is not a merciful act but a trade agreement.

Anne Bradstreet was a Puritan female poet and very educated, which was rare for the time period. In her poems, the paradox between Puritan beliefs of spirituality and the desire for material wealth is shown. Much like Winthrop’s sermon, she exhibits the same values skillfully hidden under a barrage of spiritual jargon. In her poem, To Her Father with Some Verses, Bradstreet uses legal terms that can be seen anywhere today in capitalist America. By talking about the debt to her father for the life she has lived she says, “The principal might yield a greater sum…My stock’s so small I know not how to pay, /My bond remains in force unto this day” (Bradstreet 195). Principal, stock, bond; these words relate her debt to her father yet subtly gives the reader a sense of how she views things according to her beliefs.

Bradstreet’s account of her house burning down provides the best example of the spirituality-materialist paradox. While she stands looking upon her burning house she states, “And to my God my heart did cry /To strengthen me in my distress /And not to leave me succorless” (Bradstreet 212), which implies that she is spiritually looking to God for assistance in this time of need. However, she then writes, “I blest His name that gave and took, /That laid my goods now in the dust.” (Bradstreet 212). She is not blessing Him in praise but instead cursing his name for destroying her goods. She is devastated that her material wealth was just devoured in fire.

Being a poet, Bradstreet enjoyed a relatively laid back lifestyle. While the Puritans believed in good, old fashioned, hard work, she was able to lie back and enjoy tea and crumpets whilst jotting down poems. She states this in the following lines:

And here and there the places spy

Where oft I sat and long did lie:

Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,

There lay that store I counted best.

My pleasant things in ashes lie,

And them behold no more shall I.

(Bradstreet 212)

This excerpt shows just how much she values her earthly possessions, when just lines before she says that it was God’s to take anyway. This contradiction makes Bradstreet seem like her statements are being made sarcastically. This sarcasm can be seen in the closing lines also as she again speaks of her earthly goods being destroyed, “Farewell, my pelf, farewell my store. /The world no longer let me love, /My hope and treasure lies above.” (Bradstreet 212). While this statement is subjective and leaves the reader to judge on his or her own opinion, the evidence throughout the poem shows how much Bradstreet values her materials and is angry at God for His action.

Winthrop and Bradstreet share commonalities in their prose: both are devout Puritans who believe in divine providence and both place extreme importance on material wealth while hiding their gains and pleasures behind their spirituality. While the paradox exists between spirituality in a corrupt material world and the desire for materialistic success in a new world, one can see that this paradox leans heavily in favor of the latter. Their belief system is apparent in both works and may even lead to their successes in their lives. The reader of these works can see similarities between the desires and ethics of the Puritans in modern capitalist society.

The Posture of Humility in Anne Bradstreet’s ‘Prologue’

In keeping with tradition, Anne Bradstreet like several other Renaissance writers, introduces her work The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America (1650), through a prologue. Not only does it serve the purpose of acquainting the reader with the subject of the quaternions (set of four interrelated poems) but also allows the poet to “address the reader directly about the craft, or about the likely reception of the work that she expects” (Dasgupta, 16). Much like her other public works, the Prologue too adopts the tone of humility that is characteristic of Bradstreet’s writing style. What strikes one as unusual her is the excessive nature of her modesty that borders on self-deprecation. One must be advised against taking the poet’s words at face value. This paper attempts to determine if the supposed tone of humble compromise in the Prologue is, in fact, a posture assumed by Bradstreet to facilitate “affect” (Isobel Armstrong) among her readers, thus, convincing them of her skills as a writer.

Although often understood as reflecting the “ethos of Puritan self-effacement” (Dasgupta 8), the Prologue is actually a clever ploy that is used to appropriate Bradstreet’s craft while appeasing the predominantly male conservative audience who read it. As stated by Eileen Margerum, “In the classical poetic tradition, a poem’s success depended not on the validity of the poet’s sentiments but on her successful use of prescribed formulae” (152). Anne Bradstreet, as a 17th century poet, draws on the classical poetic tradition of her predecessors as well as the Puritan narrative tradition which compels her to include the “formulae of humility” in her works, irrespective of her personal feelings (Margerum 152). The incorporation of both these conventions is evident in the following lines from the Prologue:

“To sing of Wars, of Captains, and of Kings, Of Cities founded, Common-wealths begun, For my mean Pen are too superior things; Or how they all, or each their dates have run, Let Poets and Historians set these forth. My obscure lines shall not so dim their worth.”

The above mentioned Refusal delineates the fact that her poetry does not extend to history writing, a male-dominated sphere, quite like poetry composition. Her seemingly meek stance results in a certain degree of ambiguity surrounding the idea that she moulds her public persona to fit what she perceives to be a man’s world. She further goes on to point to her poetic ancestry by mentioning Guillame de Salluste Du Bartas (a French protestant poet) and referring to Sir Philip Sidney’s Defense of Poesy frequently. This act highlights her insecurities as a writer stemming from the lack of a lineage of women poets. It is on this basis that, later, prominent feminists Gilbert and Gubar argue that just as male writers experience an “anxiety of influence” as proposed by Harold Bloom, so do female writers undergo an “anxiety of authorship” (“The Infection in the Sentence: The Woman Writer and the Anxiety of Authorship”, 25). Bradstreet’s work dramatically identifies itself as an example of this phenomenon, therefore, feeding into the idea that this too is pretence and that she is very consciously constructing an image that is anxious and insecure of the process of creation.

We witness a transition from the Rhetoric of Impossibility to the Rhetoric of Deception, which is carried out through the heavy employment of irony. Judith Butler’s concept of the performance of the self comes into play as we see Bradstreet engaging in the use of the first person as a means of persuasion and several figures of speech and tropes featuring in the Prologue. Her self-fashioning, through the management of the narrative and plea for the absence of criticism, clamours for attention, thus, adding to the performative nature of the work. One begins to comprehend the nature of the Prologue as a response to pre-existing literary traditions which were masculine, as Bradstreet casts off this tone of humility and delves into the usage of satirical devices. A clear instance of this is seen in line 36 of the Prologue, “The Greeks did nought but play the fools and lie”, where she calls the Greeks fools for possessing fanciful ideas, such as women being “capable of producing knowledge and art” (Dasgupta 18), which were held in contempt by future civilizations. Thus, this ironic tone implies that the humility is a performance and therefore the poem is a performance of the self.

“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 acknowledgement of ours.” (Bradstreet quoted in Dasgupta, 19)

There are different interpretations of the above lines presented by Anannya Dasgupta. One is consistent with the tone of humility Bradstreet apparently adopts to indicate the threats posed to a woman who tries to navigate the male dominated space of poetry. It is based on the superficial meaning of the lines that convey her acceptance of the gender inequalities in which the politics of poetry are embedded and she grants the superiority and privilege that men claim for themselves while submitting to “just a little bit of acknowledgement” (19). The second chooses to read between the lines and points to the ironic humorous play that Bradstreet continues to indulge in. This reading is more empowering as it challenges men to be able to grant even a small acknowledgement, while looking beyond their own greatness, to women who quite clearly deserve more. Bradstreet quite effortlessly leaves her mark in literary history as the first American poet to be published in Europe, despite being a gendered subject. She effectively wields the one of humility as a rhetoric tool and is able to create the desired impact on most readers, at least those who are able to overcome the challenge she poses to them too. Hence, one can agree that this Prologue is more than a humble submission of Bradstreet to the weighty lineage of male writers that preceded her. It is, in fact, the laying of a foundation for women to have a literature of their own in America.