Reconciling Sexuality with Spirituality

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At first perusal, Anne Bradstreet’s writing adheres to a very Puritan sensibility: she argues that women, though they are worthy individuals, are naturally inferior to men and that earthly treasures are mere distractions from heavenly eternity. But, woven beneath the surface of her poems is the subtle revelation of her sexuality. Bradstreet eroticizes the complex relationship between nature, religion, her husband and herself, seemingly contradicting her religion, but by contextualizing the sexuality in religious terms, she shows that sexuality can be reconciled with spirituality.

In “Contemplations,” Bradstreet interacts with and glorifies nature in a surprisingly sexual manner. The first several stanzas talk about the Sun in a euphoric way that reflects almost Romantic wonder in the sublime. She uses adjectives like “glistering” (4.22) and says that she was “Rapt…at this delectable view” (1.7). The use of the word “rapt,” specifically, means she is experiencing intense delight; the Oxford English Dictionary further provides a sexual connotation for “rapt,” when a woman is ravished (OED Online). Besides simply personifying the Sun into a desirable entity in this way, she goes even further in describing it as a sexual being. In the fifth stanza, Bradstreet paraphrases the Biblical passage equating the Sun with a bridegroom leaving the bedroom, full of sexual release (5.29). She additionally creates the image of the morn ushering in the Sun with “smiles and blushes,” like a young maid flushed with sexual desire (5.31).

After Bradstreet establishes her relationship with nature as one with sexual undertones, we can then see that she contextualizes that relationship within the parameters of religious language. The image o...

... middle of paper ... clear that she is desperately struggling to balance her religious Puritan values of chastity and sexual repression with a sexualized self. She resolves this struggle between sex and religion by contextualizing her thoughts about sexuality in powerful religious language and by attributing her desire for earthly things to God’s magnificence in creating them so wonderfully. This manner of attributing all of her sexual feelings to the glorification of God and a desire to achieve eternal life is a way to reconcile her spirituality and sexuality. In the end, her ability to achieve this reconciliation is central to Bradstreet’s poetry. Since an open expression of sexuality would be against her Puritan values and the values of society, finding a way to show that her sexuality is not sinful but Godly saves her from persecution both from others and from within herself.
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