In the three poems Anne Bradstreet writes in memory of her grandchildren−Elizabeth, Anne, and Simon−she expresses grief and sorrow and doubts the intention of God’s will. Her emotion evolves in each poem from quiet acceptance to thinly veiled sarcasm. This progression represents Bradstreet’s ongoing struggle to embrace the traditional Puritanical view of accepting God’s will as final explanation of all things. Throughout her life, Bradstreet suffers her share of personal tragedy, and in the Puritan tradition, she attributes it to evidence of God’s will. Leonard Unger notes: “For the Puritan, of course, every personal trial had its theological significance” (100). However, in dealing with the deaths of her grandchildren, it is her intense grief and overwhelming sense of loss that compel her to question, and at times challenge, the meaning of God’s will, consciously knowing this is against the Puritan doctrine. The elegies reflect Bradstreet’s effort in trying to balance her struggle to accept, understand, and define her devotion to her family and the physical world against the spiritual definition of God and the expectations of her faith. Anne Bradstreet’s poetry, both in style and substance, embodies who she is as a person: a Puritan, a woman, a wife, a mother, and a poet. Unger notes, “Bradstreet was aware that she was a woman poet, not just a poet,” (114) and that “She wrote of her family and of the issues that touched her closely at home” (115). The “domestic” poem allows Bradstreet more freely to express her feelings. Kenneth Requa claims Bradstreet a better poet within her personal work because it most truthfully represents how she relates to the world—as a woman, wife, and mother. Requa believes the results are evident in Bradstreet’s private poetry and that “speaking as a private poet is so sufficiently close to her domestic vocation that she is comfortable in the private role” (11). Bradstreet’s comfort level in writing about personal experience is apparent, and as Wendy Martin notes, this allows her to be “considerably more candid about her spiritual crises, her deep attachment to her family, and her love of mortal life” (17). Bradstreet reserves her personal poems for a small, trusted audience of family and close friends. Writing for this audience creates a safe environment in which she can reveal her thoughts and feelings without the threat of judgment or criticism. It is within this “comfort zone” that Bradstreet writes these three heartfelt elegies and expresses the deeply personal and spiritual conflict she suffers in trying to understand the meaning of her grandchildren’s deaths. The first elegy, “In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Elizabeth Bradstreet, Who Deceased August, 1665, Being a Year and a Half Old,” Anne Bradstreet begins with tender emotion and sorrowful farewells. Her tone is melancholy, her sadness apparent. Beyond Bradstreet’s poignant farewells, there is the actual physical structure of the poem to consider. Unger states, “It is clear that the structure of the stanzas is meant to be symmetrical,” (109). He describes what he believes Bradstreet’s desired effect: “In both [stanzas], the first four lines capture human confusion and sorrow. The last three [lines in each stanza] locate the spiritual essence that provides consolation” (109). Unger considers this symmetry effective in representing Bradstreet’s attempt of trying to find logic in Elizabeth’s death and her realization that “One cannot reason from experience to God” (109). Beginning with the first stanza, the pattern of human confusion and sorrow appears in the first four lines when Bradstreet writes repeated farewells and reveals her uncertainty in understanding Elizabeth’s death:
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 (lines 1-4)....
Cited: Martin, Wendy. An American Triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich. 17, 69, 76. North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1984.
Requa, Kenneth A. “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetic Voices.” Early American Literature 9:1 (Mar 1974):11. Literary Reference Center. EBSCOhost. Hamden Public Lib., Hamden, CT. Sep 6, 2008 .
Shelton, Pamela. “Anne (Dudley) Bradstreet.” Feminist Writers. St. James Press, 1996. Biography Resource Center. MI: Gale, 2008. Hamden Public Lib., Hamden, CT. Sep 6, 2008. .
Unger, Leonard, ed. “Anne Bradstreet.” American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies. Supplement I, Part I. 98-117. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1979.
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