Anne D. Bradstreet is considered to be one of the important oldest American poets. She is one of the most significant individuals in the history of American literature. The first book written by women to be published in the U.S. was hers (Caldwell 2). She was living among the deeply religious Puritan community though she expressed some difference with Puritan ideologies in relation to material wealth, spirituality and humility. Most of her poems conveyed her personal expression towards the experiences she was going through. Her writings portray how she was intensively interested in the human mind, inner guidance and spirit. A common theme in most of her poems is religion, but she also concentrated on the theme of love due to the loneliness she experienced when her husband was away on political errands. This paper will mainly focus on her personal emotions and thoughts expression, religious beliefs, and religious doubts and conflicts. Most Puritan writers were writing to either preach or teach, but Anne wrote to express herself. Her personal expression forms the basis of the unorthodox elements in her poetry.
In most of her life, Anne was characterized by a mixture of opposite feelings or attitudes about the issues of salvation and redemption. She accepted to join the Puritan mission although she was against the “new world and new manners.” (Reuben par 2) Her work dwells on the emotional and religious conflicts she experienced as a Puritan and as a woman writer. All the way through her life, she concentrated on the issues of death and immortality, emotional and physical frailty, and sin and redemption. Most of her work signifies that Anne had a rough time determining the conflict she experienced between familial experience, the pleasures of sensory and the promise of heaven. As a Puritan, she struggled to suppress her connection to the world, but as a wife and a mother she felt stronger connection to her children, community and husband than to God. This struggle is expressed in the poem known as ‘Contemplations’ as follows:
“Then higher on the glistering Sun I gaz'd
Whose beams was shaded by the leavie Tree,
The more I look'd, the more I grew amaz'd
And softly said, what glory's like to thee
Soul of this world, this Universes Eye,
No wonder, some made thee a Deity:
Had I not better known, (alas) the same had I.” (Amore 43)
This poem is a clear indication that she loved life on earth, and that is why she committed herself to the religious concept of salvation. To her, heaven promised continuation of earthly joy rather than discontinuation of pleasures she enjoyed in life. Although Anne stuck to the Puritan ethics, she often questioned the harsh Puritan concept of a judgmental God.
One belief of the Puritans was that God prepared people’s heart to accept His grace through suffering. This idea troubled Anne, and she expressed through writing how she struggled to engage in anything that she could submit into His will so as to save her wondering soul. Through the themes of redemption and deliverance, she has provided an insight into Puritan’s perspective. She had written how she felt when God rebuked her through marital problems and illness. Due to her connection with Puritan’s religion perspective, she believed that God was so rough on her, as her soul was too much in love with the world (Reuben par 5).
Anne’s image as a writer differed, or conflicted, with Puritan ideals of women being considered inferior to men (Amore 8). Puritan cultural beliefs viewed women as personal property, and thus they were not valued. However, Anne saw her husband as an equal complement and was confident about the unity of their marriage. Her view was in conflict with Puritan culture, which believed that women should conform to the demands of their husbands. They considered good marriage as the one that women were treated as inferior beings. In her writings, Anne examined the contradictions she felt in Puritan religion and how she perceived the society. In her period, women were socially subordinate to patriarchal authority, but she believed women were of value as portrayed in her writings. Puritan religion perceived women as wives and mothers with no other place in society. Anne did not ignore her Puritan duties and roles although she received harsh criticism for her works. During that period, women were considered intellectually inferior to men, yet she was one of the most influential writers of her period. Anne expressed that women are worth something in her work as indicated by the following work: “In Honor of that High and Mighty Princess Queen Elizabeth of Happy Memory.” (Caldwell 9)
In the poem “Verses upon the Burning of Our House”, Anne uses the personal loss of the house to reconcile it with her belief in the wisdom of God’s will. She acknowledged that earthly pleasures and objects are vanity, and her wealth on earth had no real meaning. According to the poem, the real wealth lies with God. An illustration of her belief in this poem was as follows:
“Farewell, my pelf, farewell my store.
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.” (Caldwell 22)
Anne considered her love of earthly pleasures to be unchristian. This conflict is indicated in the poem titled “The Flesh and The Spirit.” The spirit is portrayed as the victor, but the flesh reasserted its claim again and again even though it was defeated. Flesh is the questioning, unsettled heart, while the spirit is the settled heart.