Ann Bradstreet: Conflict Between Self and God

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Colonial American poet Anne Bradstreet’s work has persevered as a literary representation of Puritanism and early America. Bradstreet wrote about God, about the new world, about her family, and domestic life. At first glance her poetry might seem purely Puritanical in form and in subject. However, when examined more deeply, Bradstreet’s poetry shows to be different and more complex, but showing signs of her religious doubts, her expression of personal emotions and thoughts, and her artistry. Her poems are subtly but notably different from traditional Puritan poetry in that she did not write to preach or teach, as most all Puritan writers were instructed to, but she instead expresses herself through her writing. She also has a vivid appreciation for passion and for the role of a strong woman in society. The society Bradstreet lived in was overtly male-dominated, where the limitations on her life were not only of the beliefs and standards of religion, but also of her gender. Women were to be confined to the home, and the experiences of women were considered trivial in comparison with men's. However, Bradstreet's poems unconventionally pronounce that she valued herself as a woman, and valued the domestic experiences of being a woman. Bradstreet’s poems highlight the conflict in her experiences throughout her life to maintain her Puritanical beliefs and background, while at the same time divulge her appreciation for the mortal world. Religion was a dominant theme in Bradstreet’s work, as it was for most Puritan writers in her time. Anne Bradstreet lived and wrote in a time with strict laws and social norms governing what human activities and behaviors were acceptable, both socially in public and morally in private. Aside from a literal belief in the Bible, Puritans also believed that religion should permeate every aspect of life. The purpose of life was to do God's will, and everything else was subordinate to that doctrine. Therefore poetry, like all other manifestations of intellectual life in the 17th Century, was dominated by religion. Bradstreet was not a heretic, in that she did not dissent from these accepted beliefs and religious doctrine, but there are slight hints throughout her poetry that she is questioning God and religion. Bradstreet's poems reveal she could not entirely accept the orthodox of Puritanism. The last stanza of her poem, “In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Elizabeth…” hints at this: By nature Trees do rot when they are grown,

And Plumbs and Apples thoroughly ripe do fall...
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. (Heath, 432)

In this stanza, Bradstreet struggles to accept God’s will, while at the same time coming to terms with her own grief and loss. The poem juxtaposes the falling of ripend fruit falling from a tree, representing an adult growing into old age before death, with fresh young flowers being swept away before their time, representing the child who was taken from the earth too soon. The imagery of young plants eradicated early and flower buds blown away by the wind is very emotional, and conveys sadness she feels and the tragedy of losing a young child. However, with the last line of the poem she seems to retract that sentiment by reverting back to God’s wisdom.. She refers to the hand of God that “guides nature and fate,” resolving that the death of her grandchild is a part of His greater plan. The last line is distinctly different in that it delves into the religious realm of God, whereas the rest of the poem is in the realm of this world. It is as if Bradstreet realizes she is dangerously close to questioning God’s plan in her writing. To write critically of God's decrees could be considered heretical, so she pulls back her own feelings and self-expression and refers again to the goodness and wisdom of God. This is a clear...
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