Anne Bradstreet: Poems

Literary style and themes

Intended audience

Anne Bradstreet's works tend to be directed to members of her family and are generally intimate. For instance, in Bradstreet's "To My Dear and Loving Husband",[16] the poem's intended audience is her husband, Simon Bradstreet. The focal point of this poem is the love that she has for her husband. "I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold"[16] To Bradstreet, her husband's love is worth more than some of the best treasures that this earth has to offer. She also makes it a point to show to her husband that nothing can fill the love that she has for her husband. The lines, "My love is such that rivers cannot quench,"[16] the rivers represent death, which she says the fire of her love is invulnerable to. The last line of the poem sums this up with the words, "Then when we live no more, we may live ever."[16]

In "A Letter to Her Husband Absent upon Public Employment"[23] Bradstreet writes a letter to her husband who is away from her working at his job. Bradstreet uses various metaphors to describe her husband. The most visible use of metaphor that Bradstreet uses is comparing her husband to the seasons. When summer is gone, winter soon arrives. Summer can be seen as a time of happiness and warmth. Winter on the other hand can be seen as being gloomy and cold. Bradstreet's husband is her Sun and when he is with her it is always summer. She is happy and warm from the love that her husband brings when he is around. When her husband is leaves home to work, everything then becomes winter. It is a sad, cold time for Bradstreet and she wishes for her husband to soon return. "Return, return, sweet Sol, from Capricorn."[23] She wants her husband to know that she needs him and without him everything feels gloomy. She is not concerned with what others think. It is not intended for anyone else accepts her husband. Bradstreet knows that the situation is inevitable though, summer can't be around always and soon winter will follow. Her husband's job is important and he can't be there always and he must also go away at times. "Till nature's sad decree shall call thee hence."[23] One thing that keeps her going is that even though they are far away from each other, they are both one with each other.

By reading Bradstreet's works and recognizing her intended audience, one can get an idea of how life was for Puritan women. According to U.S. Puritan women were required to attend worship services, yet they could not to speak or offer prayer. Women were also not allowed to attend town meetings or be involved in the decisions that were discussed.[24] If Puritan women were to be seen and not heard in public, then one can say that most of their works are not meant for public consumption.

In Puritan religion, a relationship between a man and a woman is to be kept behind closed doors. They are not to draw attention to their relationship and keep their feelings repressed, because they believed that their relationship to God is the most important relationship and their personal relationship would take away from their devotion to God. They believed through this devotion to God they would find redemption and salvation and kept a strict moral code, especially for women. Therefore, Anne Bradstreet's love poems to her husband are her way of expressing the emotions she kept repressed from the public. These poems are from the heart and could be viewed more as structured diary entries. This is why her works were not initially intended for public viewing. That is why some of her poems do not even have a true title, but instead are more of a description of the poem or why it was written such as "Before the Death of One of her Children", in which she warns her child of her own possible death and instructs him or her to watch over her other children if she does die, and "A Letter to Her Husband", "Absent upon Public Employment." Bradstreet intended for her work to only be seen by the eyes they were strictly intended to be met by; her husband and children. She used her writing a way to cope with her loneliness when her husband was away for political affairs and her struggles with adapting to her new life in the colonies.

Bradstreet was not responsible for her writing becoming public. Bradstreet's brother-in-law, John Woodbridge, sent her work off to be published. However soon after, there was concern for the family because Bradstreet did not want to elevate herself. Bradstreet was a righteous woman and her poetry was not meant to bring attention to herself.[25] Though Bradstreet's works are renowned in today's world, it still was a great risk to have had her work published during the time in which she lived because being a published author would have not been a typical role of the everyday Puritan woman.

Use of metaphors

Anne Bradstreet uses a variety of metaphors throughout her poetic works. For instance, in Bradstreet's poem "To My Dear and Loving Husband" she uses several poetic features and one being the use of metaphors. In the middle quatrain of "To My Dear and Loving Husband" Bradstreet states:

"I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold,

Or all the riches that the East doth hold.

My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,

Nor ought but love from thee, give recompense."

This part of the poem above lets out the logical argument and starts to become truly heartfelt with the use of religious imagery and metaphors. The subject of this poem is her claimed love for her husband as she praises him and asks the heavens to repay him for his love. Bradstreet wrote this poem as a response to her husband's absence.

"A Letter to Her Husband, Absent Upon Public Employment"[26] is another one of Anne Bradstreet's poems written with several poetic devices, one being her use of metaphors. In this poem she addresses her husband by an arrangement of metaphors, and the main one being the sun. She states "I, like the earth this season, mourn in black." She likens herself to the earth in winter, as she expresses a death "in black" the receding light and feeling "chilled" without him to warm her when she states "My chilled limbs now numbed lie forlorn." She goes on to talk about her children as reminders and she quotes "those fruits which through thy heat I bore." With her husband "southward gone" she discovers the short winter days to be long and tedious. Bradstreet continues to express her sun metaphor into the future as to when he returns, the season will be summer as she quotes "I wish my Sun may never set, but burn/ Within the Cancer of my glowing breast."

Throughout much of Puritan writing, nature was often used as symbolism. Nature was a large part of the Puritan society and it was shown throughout the writing during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Nature was a large part of life during the Puritan era because the society relied on nature to provide for the people. Puritans felt that God gave them this beautiful untouched land that they were able to transform into a prosperous, plentiful land for the people to survive on. Much of the Puritan writing was based on the nature they lived in and how they interacted with nature.

Throughout “Letter to Husband, Absent upon Public Employment,” Bradstreet uses the symbolism of nature by referring to her husband as the sun and the warmth of the sun being her happiness. Bradstreet states how when her husband is gone, the warmth in her life is gone until he returns.[27]


The role of women is a common theme found in Bradstreet's poems. Living in a Puritan society, Bradstreet did not approve of the stereotypical idea that women were inferior to men during the 1600s. Women were expected to spend all their time cooking, cleaning, taking care of their children, and attending to their husband's every need. In her poem "In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess Queen Elizabeth of Happy Memory," Bradstreet questions this belief.

"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 taxt us long, But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong, Let such as say our Sex is void of Reason, Know tis a Slander now, but once was Treason."

A recurring theme in Bradstreet's work is mortality. In many of her works, she talks about her own death and how it will affect her children and her life. The recurrence of this mortality theme can be viewed as autobiographical. Because her work was not intended for the public, she was referring to her own medical problems and her belief that she would die. On top of her medical history of smallpox and partial paralysis, Bradstreet and her family dealt with a major house fire that left them homeless and devoid of all personal belongings. Therefore, the reader can actually understand Bradstreet's personal feelings and fears about death. She hoped her children would think of her fondly and honor her memory in her poem, “Before the Birth of One of Her Children.” "If any worth or virtue were in me, Let that live freshly in thy memory."

In "The Prologue," Bradstreet demonstrates how society criticized women's accomplishments and that she should be doing other things such as sewing rather than writing poetry.

"I am obnoxious to each carping tongue Who says my hand a needle better fits, A poet's pen all scorn I should thus wrong. For such despite they cast on female wits: If what I do prove well, it won't advance, They'll say it's stol'n, or else it was by chance."[28]

Bradstreet also challenged Puritan beliefs by announcing her complete infatuation with her husband, Simon Bradstreet. In "To My Dear and Loving Husband," Bradstreet confesses her undying love for Simon saying "Thy love is such I can no way repay, The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray." She also proves her obsession in "A Letter to Her Husband, Absent upon Public Employment." This was dangerous during her time because Puritans believed that this kind of love would only stray someone further from God.[29]

Anne Bradstreet writes in a different format than other writes of her time. This mainly is due to the fact that she wrote her feelings in a book not knowing someone would read them. This makes for more real literature, and the total truth. In her poem "A letter to my Husband" she speaks about the loss of her husband when he is gone. The pain she feels she write with vivid examples such as nature. She doesn't hold anything back.

"I like the earth this season morn in black, my sun is gone". Here Anne is expressing her feelings of missing her husband when he is away. She compares the feeling to that of mourning. A very serious tone for the poem.

"To my faults that well you know I have let be interred in my oblivious grave; if any worth of virtue were in me, let that live freshly in they memory". Anne expresses the feeling she has of wanting her children to remember her in a good light not in a bad light.


Bradstreet often uses a sarcastic tone in her poetry. In the first stanza of "The Prologue" she claims "for my mean pen are too superior things" referring to society's belief that she is unfit to write about wars and the founding of cities because she is a woman. In stanza five Bradstreet continues to display irony by stating "who says my hand a needle better fits". This is another example of her sarcastic voice because society during this time expected women to perform household chores rather than write poetry.[30]

Although Anne Bradstreet endured many hardships in her life, her poems are usually written in a hopeful and positive tone. Throughout her poem In "Memory of My Dear Grandchild Simon Bradstreet," she mentions that even though she has lost her grandson in this world, she will one day be reunited with him in Heaven.[31] In "Upon the Burning of Our House," Bradstreet describes her house in flames but selflessly declares "there's wealth enough, I need no more." Although Bradstreet lost many of her material items she kept a positive attitude and remained strong through God.[32]

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