Anne Bradstreet: American Poet
Anne Bradstreet is seen as a true poetic writer for the seventeenth century. She exhibits a strong Puritan voice and is one of the first notable poets to write English verse in the American colonies. Bradstreet’s work symbolizes both her Puritan and feminine ideals and appeals to a wide audience of readers. American Puritan culture was basically unstable, with various inchoate formations of social, political, and religious powers competing publicly. Her thoughts are usually on the reality surrounding her or images from the Bible. Bradstreet’s writing is that of her personal and Puritan life. Anne Bradstreet
’s individualism lies in her choice of material rather than in her style.
Anne Bradstreet was born in 1612 to Thomas and Dorothy Dudley in Northampton, England. Her father and a young man named Simon Bradstreet were chosen by the Earl of Lincoln as stewards to manage the Earl’s affairs. Anne, unlike many women of her time, was well educated and it is presumed that she had access to the Earl’s vast library during this time. The Earl’s residence was known for its romantic background and this proved true in 1628 when Anne and Simon married. She was only sixteen to his twenty-five years but they were known to have a happy marriage as evidenced in “To my Dear and Loving Husband” where Bradstreet laments, “If ever two were one, than surely we” (125). In 1630, the Dudley’s and the Bradstreet’s, along with other Puritans, sailed aboard the Arabella to settle the Massachusetts Bay Colony. These families journeyed to America as many Puritan settlers had before them, in the hopes of religious freedoms unattainable in England. In the colonies, Anne’s husband was frequently absent. Bradstreet still found time to write her poetry while raising her 8 children and carrying on the strenuous duties of colonial life
Though Bradstreet accepted the tenets of Puritanism, anti-Puritan texts are found in her poetry in terms of religious doubts as in “Meditations” to her children where she speculates if the Scriptures are true or contrived. Anne Bradstreet also deviates from traditional Puritan writings of the time by composing poetry for pleasure and self expression as opposed to writings of preaching and teaching as was the standard. Bradstreet is not truly unorthodox in that she did not dissent from accepted beliefs and doctrine, but lived in an intensely religious, male dominated society which put many limitations on women and their roles. Puritanism was more than a religious belief, but a way of life. Despite all of the pressures and persecution women of this age endured, Bradstreet displays a feminine consciousness in “The Prologue” by writing “I am obnoxious to each carping tongue who says my hand a needle better fits…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” (116).
Though Anne Bradstreet’s poetry contains some controversial and perhaps heretic elements for this time, the content also includes domestic stanzas, maternal devotion and religious praises so congruent with Puritan philosophy. Bradstreet’s simplicity of diction and metaphoric imagery carry a genuine emotional effect in “In Memory of my Dear Grandchild Elizabeth Bradstreet” where life is compared to ripe fruit and trees but also displays Puritan fundamentals by the inclusion of God’s will to guide their fate. Passionate love is depicted in “To My Dear and Loving Husband” where Bradstreet presents a love poem that is lyrical yet simple, and though has the religious element of prayer, is universal and relatively modern to today’s reader. Bradstreet’s poems are truly genuine and personal in the fact that they were never meant to be in the public eye.
Anne Bradstreet is a poet for the times and, thus, can be approached in numerous aspects with a diversity that appeals to a vast audience. She was a “first” in that she is the first North American to publish a book of poems, a Puritan in thought and lifestyle and also a woman. Bradstreet could even be seen as a heretic for the fact that she incorporated culture, nature, family, death and even the tension between her faith and doubt into her works as opposed to the strict Puritan style of theological content. Bradstreet’s broad range of topics and simple style make her a popular poet still today and easily understood among less skilled readers. Anne Bradstreet is a truly innovative writer who shows a merging of private life with religious life, but also includes a rebellious, inquiring spirit. But however perceived, Bradstreet is, and will always be, a true American poet