Anne Bradstreet was the only real American poet of her time, and a talented writer. As such, her works are historically significant. She was born in England, but traveled at the age of 16 to the Puritan settlements in the Massachusetts Bay colonies, in British America (Hart 94). This is where she developed her unique writing talent; she was isolated from England, where traditional forms of poetry were flourishing (Magill 393). Her family, religion, and several other poets contributed significantly to the content and skill of her poetry. Bradstreet’s poems are a direct expression of the events and circumstances of her life, and are influenced substantially by her familial, religious, and moral beliefs and experiences; these things, and also several English poets she read, shaped her poems.
Anne Bradstreet’s family was mentioned several times in her poems. In fact, most of her poems are about her family. Several of these poems are epitaphs, such as this one written for her mother, “A worthy matron of unspotted life,/ A loving mother and obedient wife,/ A friendly neighbor, pitiful to poor,/ Whom oft she fed, and clothed with her store;” (Woodlief) The following is taken from Bradstreet’s epitaph of her father, Thomas Dudley:
Within this tomb a patriot lies/ That was both pious, just and wise,/ To truth a shield, to right a wall,/ To sectaries a whip and maul,/ A magazine of history,/ A prizer of good company/ In manners pleasant and severe/ The good him loved, the bad did fear,/ And when his time with years was spent/ In some rejoiced, more did lament./ 1653, age 77. (Woodlief)
Such poetic tributes prove that Bradstreet admired and appreciated her parents. Bradstreet also wrote poetic epitaphs for two of her grandchildren, Elizabeth and Simon Bradstreet, who died at an early age. Not all of her family-oriented poems were epitaphs, however. Bradstreet also wrote several letters in the form of poems – to her father, her husband (Simon Bradstreet), and her children. “To Her Father with Some Verses”, “A Letter to her Husband, absent upon Publick employment”, and “In Reference to her Children, 23 June 1659” are just a few of the many poem-letters she wrote (“Anne Bradstreet”). In the latter poem suggested above, Bradstreet speaks of her children as birds, some “flown away”:
I had eight birds hatcht in one nest,/ Four Cocks were there, and Hens the rest./ I nurst them up with pain and care,/ No cost nor labour did I spare/ Till at the last they felt their wing,/ Mounted the Trees and learned to sing. (McElrath) This quote means that Bradstreet had 8 children (“birds”), four boys (“cocks”) and four girls (“hens”). She speaks of how she nurtured and taught them, until they learned to fend for themselves (“felt their wing … and learned to sing”). “To Her Father with Some Verses” begins with the following lines: “Most truly honoured, and as truly dear,/ If worth in me or ought I do appear,/ Who can of right better demand the same/ Than may your worthy self from whom it came?" The letter to her husband Simon, “A Letter to her Husband, absent upon Publick employment,” starts: “My head, my heart, mine eyes, my life, nay more,/ My joy, my magazine, of earthly store,/ If two be one, as surely thou and I,/ How stayest thou there, whilst I at Ipswich lie?” Through these poems we can gain a sense of the great love she felt for her family. She praises them and speaks of them in high terms. It is evident that this shows through in her poems. The second major influence on her writing seems to be her Puritan beliefs. The Puritans were members of the Congregational Church, a morally and religiously strict church that defined a way of life (Kennedy 50-51). The strict attitude they had is the origin of the phrase many use today, “Puritan work ethic,” which denotes a strong belief that work is more important than other things, and is often used when somebody continues working on a project despite setbacks. Work is not a complete representation of...
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