Anne Bradstreet: "The Flesh and the Spirit"
Anne Bradstreet was born in 1612 in Northampton shire, England. Anne along with her husband and parents emigrated to America with a Puritan group. They settled in Massachusetts. She became one of the first poets to write English verse in the American colonies. However, the idea of the women writer was not popular at this time. It was quite rare and uncommon thing to find a woman writing poems or essays. She was also a daughter of a Puritan called Thomas Dudley. In America, her father and husband became governors.
It was during this time that she wrote many poems that were taken to England by her brother-in-law, and published in 1650 without her knowledge under the title The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America. Other poems were published in 1678 after her death.
"The Flesh and the Spirit"
After reading Anne Bradstreet's poem "The Flesh and the Spirit,"I want to say that it reveals an interesting inner conflict in the life of a Puritan woman in the New World, as well as insight into Bradstreet and her own internal conflicts with Puritanism and the wilderness of America. I considered Bradsteet as a representative of the ideal Puritan wife and mother; her poems reflect those images as well as give the opportunity to question them. In this poem, the influence of Puritan beliefs can be seen and detected clearly. Anne Bradstreet presents the idea of the Dual self which indicates the never-ending conflict between the good and the bad sides in the human being. She personifies the two sides as two sisters. The two sisters that the speaker overhears represent the two opponent aspects of the Puritan self. The first is called Flesh, and the second Spirit. The first represents the sinful, wicked side and the second stands for the redeemed side. This dichotomy always exists within every human being. There is also a continuous discussion in religion in order to subjugate and subdue the flesh and to make the spirit in higher ascendancy. The victor in these Puritan poems is always the most honest. Because the conflict is resolved so the Spirit overcomes over the Flesh, Bradstreet's poem is representative of the characteristic of the Puritan morals. The poem begins with the narrator referring to herself as "I." Because the poem continues in the first person, as the narrator is overhearing a conversation taking place, the reader is able to associate this conversation with one taking place within the author's mind. There is an extended image in the poem. The poet personifies "Flesh" and "Spirit" as two sisters who are involved in struggle against each other. The first is obsessed with earthly wealth, lusts and gratifying instincts. The second yearns for heaven. Each sister tries to prevail on the persona to follow her.
In secret place where once I stood
Close by the Banks of Lacrim flood,
I heard two sisters reason on
Things that are past and things to come.
The first two lines refer to the dilemma in which the speaker is involved. She is encountered by two choices or alternatives both of them are difficult. She wavers between following the Spirit or yielding to the Flesh. This reflects the psychological state of the persona. The verb "stood" is used in the past tense. This shows that the whole poem is conveyed through a retrospective point of view. The word "once" reveals the fact that this is no longer the case. The struggle sometimes comes to the surface and other times fades away.
The reference to “Lacrim flood” suggests that this “secret place” is one of mourning, where the narrator experiences a great deal of grief. The “two sisters” that the narrator overhears represent the two aspects of the Puritan self: the first, called “flesh,” “had her eye / On worldly wealth and vanity” and thus respresents the sinful, wicked side; the second, called “Spirit,” “did rear / Her thoughts unto a higher sphere” and thus represents the redeemed side. ...
Cited: 1.Bradstreet, Anne. “The Flesh and the Spirit.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter, et al. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Lexington: Heath, 1994. 302-305.
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