An Annotation of Anne Bradstreet's In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Elizabeth Bradstreet
This poem is a firsthand account of how Anne Bradstreet was feeling when she experienced the loss of her granddaughter, Elizabeth. Although Bradstreet's attitude on Elizabeth's death seems to reflect her belief in God's plan, the diction suggests otherwise.
In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Elizabeth Bradstreet
, Who Deceased August, 1665, Being a Year and Half Oldby Anne Bradstreet
Farewell dear babe, my heart's too much content,
Farewell sweet babe, the pleasure of mine eye,
Farewell fair flower that for a space was lent,
Then ta'en away unto eternity.
Blest babe, why should I once bewail thy fate,
Or sigh thy days so soon were terminate,
Sith thou art settled in an everlasting state.
By nature trees do rot when they are grown,
And plums and apples thoroughly ripe do fall,
And corn and grass are in their season mown,
And time brings down what is both strong and tall.
But plants new set to be eradicate,
And buds new blown to have so short a date,
Is by His hand alone that guides nature and fate.
Bradstreet begins the poem by describing how she felt for her granddaughter, and this is seen in the way she describes Elizabeth as a "babe" and "flower." In phrases such as "my heart's too much content" and "the pleasure of mine eye," it is quite clear that she felt deeply for the little girl. It is obvious that a grandmother would be deeply saddened by the loss of her grandchild.
However, the poem shifts focus from what Elizabeth meant to her grandmother to how Bradstreet sees this death. The repetition of "farewell" emphasizes the tragedy of the situation and solidifies the fact that she is gone. She continues to say goodbye as though this little girl died before she should have.
This declaration continues when Bradstreet describes her as a "fair flower that for a space was lent." In using the word "lent," it sounds as though the girl was robbed of the fullness of life and never had the opportunity to live. But who decides who gets to live? God. What Bradstreet is really saying is that God didn't let her granddaughter live, and, resultantly, she is marking his decision as a mistake by complaining about it. This is not characteristic for one of such alleged concrete beliefs in God.
The fact that Bradstreet mentions that she should not complain of the loss because she is in "an everlasting state" questions her religious sincerity. She complained about the death of her granddaughter in the four previous lines and then said that she should not complain, not because it was God's plan, but because she is dead. If she was as devout as she seemed on the surface, she would claim immediately that the death of her granddaughter was in God's plan, and for that reason&emdash;not because she is permanently gone&emdash;should she complain.
Part two of this poem describes the cycle in nature. In saying that trees, fruit, and grass rot when they are thoroughly grown, she is stating that death occurs when the time for life is expired. Bradstreet is making this distinction between humans and nature because she does not include her granddaughter in this analysis&emdash;she only describes fruit and grass, which are "ripe," "strong," and "tall." In actuality, her granddaughter, being only a year and a half old, was certainly not any of these characteristics. Clearly, Bradstreet is not including her granddaughter in the natural cycle of life and, therefore, complaining about the brevity of her granddaughter's life.
Again, Bradstreet's diction forces the reader to question her spiritual sincerity. In stating that "time brings down what is both strong and tall," she eliminates God as the key figure in determining life. For a devout Christian, God's power would surpass all; here, time is the determinate of life.
The ending of this poem reinforces the fact that Bradstreet sees the death of Elizabeth as God's injustice. By reusing the comparison of Elizabeth to a flower and saying that He plants new life to be eradicated highly indicates that Bradstreet believed God cheated her granddaughter out of death as well as herself out of the life of her granddaughter.