"Whom whilst I ’joy’d, nor storms, nor frosts I felt, / His warmth such frigid colds did cause to melt. / My chilled limbs now nummed lye forlorn; /Return, return sweet Sol from Capricorn; / In this dead time, alas, what can I more / Then view those fruits which through thy heat I bore?"
Bradstreet wrote several poems about her husband, describing their great love. Puritans valued the idea of marriage within the traditional gender roles of that time period. However, when a man and woman were married, they were supposed to be partners who loved and respected one another. Bradstreet's poems about her husband evoke the intense love she felt for him, but they also express something rather unusual for a Puritan female poet - sexual longing. In these lines, Bradstreet is alluding to her physical yearning by describing her neglected "chilled limbs." She then says that she finds it difficult to look at her children, since they remind her of her husband and how they were conceived "through thy heat." It is likely these personal poems were not intended for a public audience, but the expression of sexual intimacy is nonetheless unusual.
"I wist not what to wish, yet sure thought I, / If so much excellence abide below, / How excellent is he that dwells on high? / Whose power and beauty by his works we know."
Many scholars and critics call "Contemplations" Anne Bradstreet's greatest poem. She contemplates the beauty of her natural surroundings, and her outdoor sojourn leads her to ponder the glory of God. She looks at something - like the sun, or a tree, or a river, and thinks about how delightful it is. Then, she muses that God, the Creator of natural wonder, must be all the more glorious for His ability to create something so transcendent. Bradstreet structures the poem on this back-and-forth. Instead of limiting her focus on nature or on God, she is able to fully articulate her love for both as well as invoke the Puritan mindset - to value life on Earth but always remember that there is a greater world waiting in the afterlife.
"O Time the fatal wrack of mortal things, / That draws oblivions curtains over kings, / Their sumptuous monuments, men know them not, / Their names without a Record are forgot, / Their parts, their ports, their pomp’s all laid in th’ dust."
In this poem, Bradstreet contemplates the glory of nature and the condition of Man. After considering Adam and Eve's fall and the bloodshed and exile that befell their progeny, Bradstreet ruminates on how Man is frail, sickly, weak, and sinful. Man's life is also short, and in these lines she straightforwardly explains that Time is more powerful than wealth, political power, heroic deeds, etc. All men will turn to dust and their monuments will eventually topple over. Thus, there is no point in pursuing contentment and the trappings of earthly pleasure, for it is all vanity. Instead, Bradstreet advises her readers to think about God and prepare themselves for an eternal life with the Creator. Mortal life is too short to waste on superfluities and sinful activities.
"Let’s bring Baal’s vestments out, to make a fire, / Their Mitres, Surplices, and all their tire, / Copes, Rochets, Croziers, and such trash, / And let their names consume, but let the flash / Light Christendom, and all the world to see / We hate Rome’s Whore, with all her trumpery."
Puritans like Anne Bradstreet were steadfastly opposed to Catholicism. She wrote this poem only 150 years after Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation and ignited a lasting and impassioned conflict between the two denominations. Catholics and Protestants clashed many times throughout this time period, and monarchs were forced to embrace either one religion or the other - and some even changed their minds (like Henry VIII). In this context, Bradstreet's harsh words about the Catholics are not surprising. She points out that Old England is experiencing waning piety and regular sinful behavior, and partially blames these problems on the Catholic presence in England. New England's rather messianic views, however, foresee a Protestant revival powerful enough to abolish Catholicism and all its trappings. While this did not ever happen, Bradstreet's words are a testament to the deep religious divisions that existed in the 17th century and the poet's comprehensive understanding of the world outside New England.
"The visage was so irksome in my sight; / Yet being mine own, at length affection would / Thy blemishes amend, if so I could."
This poem might look like a screed against her family members who published Anne Bradstreet's poems without her knowledge, but she is actually grudgingly affectionate towards her work. She looks at her poetry as if it were her child. Like any mother, she frets over her child's entrance to the world and criticizes herself for letting this occur so swiftly. She sees her child's faults and flaws and works to eradicate them, but still finds them rather charming and intrinsic to the child's identity. Bradstreet apologizes for her child being dressed in rags, but by the end of the poem, she takes responsibility for its humble appearance. There is an undercurrent of pride in these lines, although it is masked behind humility and self-effacement.
"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"
This poem features one of Bradstreet's most sustained metaphors - She compares herself and her children to a mother bird and her chicks. She uses this metaphor to depict the chicks leaving the nest and flying away to other lands, or, when they are young, staying in the nest while their wings grow strong. Bradstreet also expresses the full intensity of her love for her children. It is evident that she has embodied her role as mother to the utmost, not only giving life to her eight children but nurturing them and loving them for their entire lives. She hopes that they will start their own families and care for them in the same fashion, and never forget that their own mother loved them deeply. The poem is remarkably relatable for all mothers who have watched their children leave home to start their own lives.
"For what's this but care and strife / since first we came from womb? / Our strength doth waste, our time doth haste, / and then we go to th' tomb."
Bradstreet's poems about illness are about more than bodily pain or discomfort - she uses the opportunity to meditate on human mortality. She contemplates the transience and harshness of life and exhorts herself to remember that if she is at death's door, she should be preparing for her eternal life and not focusing too much on what is important to her on Earth. In this poem, she reflects on how age and experience eventually wear a person down. When Anne Bradstreet wrote these lines, she was not yet twenty years old, but she had already seen experienced her share of suffering and pain. Like most Puritans, though, she found solace in reassuring herself that the afterlife would be preferable to life on Earth, and that all her present suffering would be forever precluded in Heaven.
"Nor jarrs nor scoffs, let none hereafter see, / But all admire our perfect Amity / Nor be discern'd, here's water, earth, air, fire, / But here a compact body, whole intire."
In each of the Quaternions, Bradstreet divides one entity into four disparate parts who then converse (or in some cases, argue) about their merits, their flaws, their purpose, etc. This tone of this poem is a bit more hostile than the others. The four humors discuss their importance to the human body and, in a broader sense, to life. They bandy insults and levy criticisms, leading the conversation to become rather acrimonious. However, at the end of the poem, Flegme, the calmest of the four, tries to remind them about the most important aspect of their discussion - that all four humours co-exist in one body and are actually unified, not estranged. Unity is one of the main themes in all the Quaternions, but it is most clearly evident in this particular poem.
"And thus the year in Circle runneth round: / Where first it did begin, in th' end its found."
Similar to Flegme's plea for unity in "Four Humors," this poem also ends with Winter (a parallel voice to Flegme) calling attention to the fact that all four seasons are part of the same cycle. Even though each season extols its unique virtues over the course of the poem, Winter reminds them that even though they are distinct pieces, they are connected to each other. Spring flows into Summer, Summer into Fall, Fall into Winter, and Winter back into Spring. The foods that are planted in one season grow in another and are harvested in yet another. Ultimately, the poem's message is that everything in nature works in a cyclical fashion - a common belief amongst Puritans.
"Now say, have women worth, or have they none? / Or had they some, but with our Queen is’t gone? / Nay Masculines, you have thus tax’d us long, / But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong."
In a few of her poems, Anne Bradstreet explicitly calls attention to the role of women in colonial society. She never directly advocates gender equality or dismantling the patriarchy, but she believes that women deserve acknowledgment for their accomplishments. In another poem, "The Prologue," Bradstreet wonders why men cannot give women a little bit of credit for their successes. In this poem, though, Bradstreet uses the example of a universally beloved monarch to show that women can achieve prominence and can serve as effective leaders. Nobody could argue against the breadth of Elizabeth's accomplishments, and Bradstreet uses this fact to argue her point.
Anne Bradstreet: Poems Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Anne Bradstreet: Poems is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.