Bradstreet was an avowed Puritan, and her poems almost always evoke God, her faith, and/or her desire for eternal life. Her marriage fulfilled the Puritan ideal of a loving, respectful partnership, and she embraced the traditional feminine role of motherhood. However, through her poems, Bradstreet demonstrates her fortitude through the vicissitudes of life and shares her contemplations on God’s grace and might. When she suffers from some kind of pain or tragedy, she tries to place it within the larger context of God’s will, and reminds herself to turn her thoughts heavenward. She regularly explores the tension between the joy of her Earthly life and is not always willing to abjure it in favor of her putative eternal life. She always comes to the conclusion that Heaven is superior to Earth, but she shares her thought process with the reader, which is what makes her work so relatable four centuries after her death.
During the 17th century, a woman's main role was conceiving, bearing, and raising children. These were the conventions of gender that structured Puritan society. Bradstreet had eight children and dedicated several of her poems to the strength of her maternal love. She describes the ways in which her children remind her of her love for her husband and how she respects each of them as individuals, as well. Their health and success made Anne Bradstreet aware of God’s love and goodness, and she took care to thank Him for His bountiful blessings. Bradstreet’s affection is immensely relatable; her anxieties, hopes, and support for her children are no different from those of modern mothers.
Some of Bradstreet’s most beloved poems center on her love for her husband. She writes about how profoundly she misses him while he is away on business. Puritans valued marriage as a partnership blessed by God, and husbands and wives were exhorted to love and respect one another. Bradstreet and her husband seem to have had a very amicable and loving relationship. In addition, her verses about missing him border on sensual and erotic, which was not something Puritans often discussed publicly. More than once, Bradstreet refers to herself and her husband as completely united as one being, and hopes that their love will last throughout eternity.
Bradstreet, like most Puritans, revered nature. In many of her poems, she often describes nature directly or personifies her family members as animals (her children as birds, her husband as a deer, etc.). Commonly, her reflections on nature are decidedly religious, for when she begins to contemplate the beauty of her natural surroundings she muses about the magnificent Creator, who is even more glorious. In her four Quaternions, she juxtaposes nature’s beauty and tranquility with its occasional violence and chaos. Her poems about nature are influenced by her Puritan beliefs as well as her own reflections on the wilderness in colonial America.
It is perhaps inaccurate to describe Bradstreet’s work as “feminist,” for she never directly advocates upending the colonial gender hierarchy. In several of her poems, she accepts that that men and women have different roles in society, because she believes that it is what God intended. However, she does make the case that women are capable of achievement; for example, she argues that women can also write poetry and should not be censured for it. Women like Queen Elizabeth I, whom Bradstreet lauded in an elegy after the monarch's death, defied the conventional colonial belief that women were ill-suited for public life or leadership. Bradstreet believed that women could be educated and creative without endangering the prevailing patriarchal system.
In several of Bradstreet’s poems she seems to be casting a disparaging eye upon her own work, or failing to giver herself credit. Some critics believe that this evinces a disturbing but historically common pattern of self-effacement and paranoia, due to Bradstreet's fear of overstepping her gendered bounds. Other scholars prefer to view the poet’s humble words as part of a literary and rhetorical tradition of humility that many poets of the time engaged in, both males and females. However, Bradstreet does, at certain points, reveal feelings of confidence about her work. Additionally, the Puritan religion valued humility and deference to elders and authority figures. While Bradstreet might have felt slight internal tension about whether or not it was acceptable for a woman to be writing poetry, there does not seem to be a strong case for any sort of self-hatred or lack of acceptance about her evident talent.
Sickness and Death
Many of Anne Bradstreet's poems conjure up the reality of life in colonial Africa. Sickness and death were ever-present for the colonists, who understood that life was short and death could come at any moment. Two of Bradstreet’s poems detail her own bouts with illness. In particular, the Quaternions contain a veritable litany of the ways in which man’s body can be subjected to infection, discomfort, and disease. Death is something the poet acknowledges and both fears and welcomes. She does not desire to leave her husband and children but understands that life in Heaven with her Creator will be joyous.
Anne Bradstreet: Poems Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Anne Bradstreet: Poems is a great
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