Anne Bradstreet: Poems

the flesh and the spirit poem

what are the features that stand out to you and explain how these features help to convey meaning?


Asked by
Last updated by Aslan
Answers 1
Add Yours

"The Flesh and the Spirit" was published in 1650. The poem is a conversation between Flesh and Spirit, which Bradstreet personifies as two arguing sisters. There is tension between these two aspects of human nature, and in the poem, Bradstreet explores some of the most important and ubiquitous questions within the Puritan faith.

The poem begins with Bradstreet wandering along the banks of Lacrim (a variation on the Latin word for tears, suggesting grief or mourning) and coming across the two sisters in heated conversation. Based on Puritan ideology, it is clear which one of the sisters will "win," or have the figurative last word, but the conversation between the two brings up some realistic quandaries surrounding faith. Flesh begins by asking her sister how she can subsist on contemplation and meditation alone.

Flesh wonders if the lack of immediate results is crippling. She also tries to engage Spirit's attention by pointing out varied and wondrous material goods. She extols the joy in honor, riches, precious stones – "enough of what you will." Flesh, as critic Robert J. Richardson writes, "is not gross, detestable sensual, or mindless." Instead, her questions are probing and valuable, as she is trying to mediate between the sinful self and the redeemed self - which are, as Bradstreet implies, close siblings.

Spirit speaks next, and her words are far stronger. It is clear that the conflict between the two will never be reconciled. Spirit lashes out against her sister: "For I have vow'd (and so will do) / thee as a foe still to pursue, / And combat with thee will and must / Until I see thee laid into dust." Spirit does not take time to refute Flesh's arguments, but instead simply insists that her sister is wrong and worthy of denouncement. Spirit claims to spend her time thinking of things that lie beyond Flesh's mental capacity, and smugly declares that she will be the victor.

Richardson notes "the crowning irony" in the second half of Spirit's monologue, which is that "Spirit describes Heaven in the very material terms she has just scorned." She speaks of her royal robes, precious stones, royal walls, and sparkling rivers. Spirit asserts that the pursuit these things is not inherently wrong, but that she prefers the eternal versions. The City where Spirit will eventually dwell for eternity is free from "sickness and infirmity" and "darksome night," but Flesh cannot go there.

Spirit predictably "gets the last word" in the conversation between the two sisters, as it would have been unlikely that Bradstreet would have given the victory to Flesh. However, as with many of Bradstreet's poems, the questions surrounding religion are not necessarily straightforward. "The Flesh and the Spirit" alludes to the internal conflicts that many Puritans faced. Check this out,