Anne Bradstreet Essay
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Anne Bradstreet Anne Bradstreet was a woman in conflict. She was a Puritan wife and a poet. There is a conflict between Puritan theology and her own personal feelings on life. Many of her poems reveal her eternal conflict regarding her emotions and the beliefs of her religion. The two often stood in direct opposition to each other. Her Puritan faith demanded that she seek salvation and the promises of Heaven. However, Bradstreet felt more strongly about her life on Earth. She was very. She was very attached to her family and community. Bradstreet loved her life and the Earth.
There are several poems of Bradstreet that demonstrate this conflict. There is “Upon the Burning of Our House July 10th, 1666” and the ones written…show more content…
As she passes the ruins she recreates the pleasant things that had been there. Despite the reasonable arguments that her goods belonged to God and whatever God does is just, there is in the poem an undercurrent of regret that the loss is not fully compensated for by the hope of the treasure that lies above. (84)
“Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10th, 1666” is one of Anne Bradstreet’s most effective poems. Part of that effectiveness comes from the poignant tension between her worldly concerns, as represented by her household furnishings and her spiritual aspirations.
As Wendy Martin says “the poem leaves the reader with painful impression of a woman in her mid-fifties, who having lost her domestic comforts is left to struggle with despair. Although her loss is mitigated by the promise of the greater rewards of heaven, the experience is deeply tragic.” (75)
Anne Bradstreet’s feelings about her home represent the most material conflict. When her home burned down she wrote the poem to voice these feelings of hers. She describes the awakening to the “shrieks of dreadful voice” and going out to watch “the flame consume” her “dwelling place”. But she comforts herself with good Puritan dogma. The burning of the house is God’s doing and his doings should not be questioned. In looking over the stanzas where she
SOURCE: "Anne Bradstreet's 'Contemplations': Patterns of Form and Meaning," in The New England Quarterly, Vol. XLIII, No. 1, March 1970, pp. 79–96.
[In the following excerpt, Rosenfeld discusses Bradsteet's "Contemplations" in terms of its similarities with the works of later Romantic poets.]
On first reading, the thirty-three stanzas of "Contemplations" seem to be held together very loosely, if at all, but a closer reading begins to reveal certain patterns of imagery and ideas within the poem. The seasonal metaphor is one of these and contributes significantly to both form and meaning. A second pattern, the daily cycle of morning and night, with its attendant periods of light and dark, obviously ties in closely with the yearly cycle of the seasons. The progression of natural images—directing the poet's vision from tree to sun to river to bird to stone—is a third and needs to be examined carefully. A fourth element of structural and thematic importance involves the elaborate switches in narrative and dramatic time. A fifth concerns the noticeable contrasts between Classical and Biblical allusions. A sixth has to do with tone and mood and the varied uses of the lyrical and elegiac modes together with the larger form of the narrative. All of these factors help to make the poem the rich and complex work that it is. They also lend the poem unity, although it is a unity that is not easily apparent and only becomes so when one isolates some of the patterns of form and meaning and examines them, at first, somewhat apart.
Anne Bradstreet's use of the seasonal metaphor—which moves the poem from autumn through winter to a temporarily realized season of eternal spring and summer—is an anticipation of the English Romantic poets and inevitably provokes parallels with Wordsworth and Coleridge, Shelley and Keats. As with those poets, her seasons are both physical and spiritual and participate in the same cycle of the waning and revival of life. As more than one critic has already pointed out, several of her lines on the seasons resemble some of the most memorable lines in the poems of Shelley and Keats, a factor that may permit us to read her poetry in the light of what we have learned from theirs.
Particularly appropriate—and helpful—in this connection is the place of the poet as the central figure in the drama of seasonal change. For it is the threat to the poet in his vocation as poet and not just as mortal man that is always crucial in the Romantic's evocation of the seasons. That is true for the Wordsworth of the "Ode: Intimations of Immortality," for the Coleridge of "Dejection: An Ode," for the Shelley of "Ode to the West Wind," for the Keats of the great odes—and for the Anne Bradstreet of "Contemplations." A significant part of her poem's theme (and one finds it also in the poems just cited) has to do with the challenge to the imagination of the poet's heavy and constant sense of time, flux, and a final oblivion. A major portion of this theme in "Contemplations" is carried by the seasonal metaphor.
The poem actually begins with it—"Some time now past in the autumnal tide" (1)—and from this point on it is pervasive, appearing explicitly in at least a third of the stanzas and implicitly in many of the others. The poet invokes it immediately when, walking alone in the woods of an autumn day, she quietly gives herself up to the splendid scene and is moved to remark: "More heaven than earth was here, no winter and no night" (2). She is moved by the majesty of the trees and particularly by one "stately oak" which, with its height and strength, seems to defy and transcend a "hundred winters … or [a] thousand." But the lines that most fully express the poet's attachment to the metaphor of the seasons appear later, in stanzas 18 and 28:
When I behold the heavens as in their prime,
And then the earth (though old) still clad in green,
The stones and trees, insensible of time,
Nor age nor wrinkle on their front are seen;
If winter come and greenness then do fade,
A spring returns, and they more youthful made;
But man grows old, lies down, remains where once he's laid. (18)
The dawning morn with songs thou dost prevent,
Sets hundred notes unto thy feathered crew,
So each one tunes his pretty instrument,
And warbling out the old, begin anew,
And thus they pass their youth in summer season,
Then follow thee into a better region,
Where winter's never felt by that sweet airy legion. (28)
The Shelleyan note is inescapable in the first of these stanzas, the Keatsian in the second. Anne Bradstreet seems to share with these poets a consciousness of the rejuvenescence of life, of the chance to recover from the old to make always new beginnings, which comes with the cycle of the "Quaternal seasons," as she refers to them in an earlier stanza (6). Stanza 18 ends, however, on a pessimistic note about man's ability to participate in the seasonal cycle, and at this point we have a departure from the later Romantic poet's affirmation of seasonal death and rebirth. Anne Bradstreet was of another age, after all, and she is nowhere closer to that age than here, where she qualifies a strong personal impulse towards Romantic beliefs with the traditional Christian assertion of man's mortality:
By birth more noble than those creatures all,
Yet seems by nature and by custom cursed,
No sooner born, but grief and care makes fall
That state obliterate he had at first;
Nor youth, nor strength, nor wisdom spring again,
Nor habitations long their names retain,
But in oblivion to the final day remain. (19)
Theseus' famous speech in A Midsummer-Night's Dream about the imagination giving to airy nothing "a local habitation and a name" is echoed here, and its implications are that the poet has suffered not only a reversal of her commitment to the seasonal metaphor but of the very quality of her imagination. For although the poem goes on to affirm that "man was made for endless immortality" (20), the kind of immortality referred to and pursued is that of orthodox Christianity and not Romantic renewal on earth. Christianity's idea of resurrection after death is based, in part, upon the symbolism of the seasonal cycle, but its final goal is transcendence of all natural forms to eternal life beyond. A prose passage in Anne Bradstreet's "Meditations Divine and Moral" helps to make this point emphatic:
The spring is a lively emblem of the resurrection: after a long winter we see the leafless trees and dry stocks (at the approach of the sun) to resume their former vigor and beauty in a more ample manner than what they lost in the autumn; so shall it be at that great day after a long vacation, when the Sun of righteousness shall appear; those dry bones shall arise in far more glory than that which they lost at their creation, and in this transcends the spring that their leaf shall never fail nor their sap decline.
This is a graceful description of familiar Christian doctrine and represents, one imagines, what Anne Bradstreet would have claimed to be her final religious position on the questions of life, death, and immortality.
Does it also represent her deepest responses as a poet, one wonders? The question must be asked, and not just for "Contemplations" but for other of her poems as well. For if one closely reads "The Flesh and the Spirit," "Verses upon the Burning of Our House," the elegies on Sidney, Du Bartas, and Elizabeth, the poems to her husband, and "Contemplations," it soon becomes clear that the currents within the poetry itself seem too often to run counter to a position of religious orthodoxy. And if it is finally unfair to throw Anne Bradstreet fully into the camp of the Romantics, so too is it unfair to cast her completely as a traditionally believing "Puritan" poet.
Several critics have called attention to "the clash of feeling and dogma" in her poetry, to the struggle between "how she really feels instead of how she should feel," and that is precisely what we are faced with here. This struggle adds character and strength to her poetry, and one should not attempt to dismiss it, as is sometimes done, by seeing it as merely an incidental flaw in an otherwise clearly defined position of either staunch Puritanism or...