The poet describes walking by the secret place on the banks of the Lacrim and overhearing a conversation between two sisters; one called "Flesh" and the other named "Spirit."
Flesh asks her sister why she prefers to survive on meditation alone, and how quiet contemplation can be satisfying. She wonders if her sister ever dreams of anything beyond the moon and asks if she is "fancy-sick." Flesh wants to try to show Spirit some sense and let her see that substance lies in variety. Earth is full of riches like silver, gold, and pearls, which can all give a person pleasure. Here on Earth, she tells her sister, "is enough of what you will."
Spirit calls her sister a foe and implores her not to disturb her lifestyle. Spirit will fight Flesh and lay her out in dust if she has to in this "deadly feud." The two sisters have different fathers – Flesh is born of Adam and Spirit is born of God. Spirit is not swayed by Flesh's flattery and is tired of being enslaved by her words. She says she will stop up her ears against beguilement, for she hates "sinful pleasures" and explains that her "ambition lies above."
Spirit continues to say that sustenance is in the "word of life" and her thoughts give her unparalleled contentment and fulfillment. Flesh, however, will never reach those things. Spirit does not wear robes of silver and gold, but her clothes are made of the royal fabric of Heaven. She claims that the city above, with its stately walls, pearly gates and crystal river, is finer than anything on Earth. There is no need for a candle or torchlight, because there is never darkness. Sickness cannot hold sway there either. Spirit's city will not welcome Flesh, though, for she is "unclean."
"The Flesh and the Spirit" was published in 1650. The poem is a conversation between Flesh and Spirit, which Bradstreet personifies as two arguing sisters. There is tension between these two aspects