Anne Bradstreet’s Puritan Values


Chapter 18 – Anne Bradstreet: Verses Addressed to Her Husband and Family 

Chapter 18 focuses on the work of poet, Anne Bradstreet, featuring four of her pieces that particularly reflect her beliefs in seventeenth-century New England Puritan theology.  Bradstreet was the only woman of her time to publish a book on poetry, and primarily wrote about her relationships with and love for members of her family, specifically her husband and her children.  While the formal message for some of Bradstreet’s work is “that love of God is of greater weight than love of husband or children,” the emotional tone gives “equal if not greater weight to the bonds of marriage and parenting” (188).  Evidence throughout many of her works indicate that her role as a wife and mother were incredibly important to Bradstreet, and her Puritan values, as well as her faith in God, contributed greatly to those aspects of her life.

To My Dear and Loving Husband

The first selected poem featured in this section, To My Dear and Loving Husband, highlights the importance or marriage within the Puritan society.  As I mentioned before, Bradstreet’s work often reflected an elevation of God above spouses and children.  However, her tone typically suggested an almost equal importance in marriage and parenting.  Though this is not necessarily included within the realm of TULIP ideology, Puritans did greatly value the sanctity of marriage.  They believed that, “…procreation and proper training of children were necessary for building God’s commonwealth,” and therefore encouraged the moral union of men and women.  In this poem specifically, the speaker says, “Thy love is such I can no way repay, / The heavens reward thee manifold I pray. / Then while we live, in love lets so persevere, / That when we live no more, we may live ever,” indicating that a virtuous earthly love could potentially lead to redemption and salvation in heaven (189).  Here, Bradstreet somewhat toys with the idea of sanctification, meaning that salvation comes through good works, those being a prosperous marriage in this case.  This contradicts the idea of justification, which states that salvation comes only through believing, a concept that most Puritans held as truth.

In Reference to her Children, 23 June 1659

While the first selected piece emphasizes the importance of marriage, the second seems to speak more to parenthood and the responsibility of parents to raise their children accordingly in a manner that will best benefit them throughout their individual lives.  The speaker is discussing “eight birds” that have hatched and have either left or are in the process of leaving the “nest” (189).  She talks about where each of them are professionally/personally, and the various obstacles they may encounter along their journey.  Lastly, within some of the final lines of the 10th Musepoem the speaker discusses the transience of life explaining, “And from the top bough take my flight / Into a country beyond sight / Where old ones instantly grow young / And there with seraphims set song. / No seasons cold, nor storms they see / But spring lasts to eternity,” indicating her hope for an eternal afterlife that is much greater than the earthly one she has been living thus far (191).  This poem specifically speaks to the jeremiad that we mentioned in class yesterday in that Puritans believe in an innocent past, a degraded present, and a (hopefully) redemptive future.  Here the innocence of the past is illustrated with baby birds hatching and leaving the nest.  The trials and tribulations that they will face throughout their lifetime represent the degraded present, and the speaker’s acknowledgement of her own immortality and desire for a peaceful afterlife represents the hope for a redemptive future.

These last two poems hold a similar sentiment in regards to Puritan theology, and that is the belief in fate and predestination.  In the first, the speaker seems to be mourning the loss of this child when she realizes that she should not “bewail thy fate” because all things in nature, the trees, apples, plums, corn, and grass, all die (191-192).  This is God’s will and “Is by His hand alone that guides nature and fate,” therefore she should not mourn the loss, but rather take comfort in the fact that the deceased is in a more peaceful place.  Similarly, the second poem reads, “Such was His will, buy why, let’s not dispute, / With humble hearts and mouths put in the dust, / Let’s say He’s merciful, as well as just,” reiterating the idea that all things happen for a reason according to God’s plan (192).  While encouraging readers to take comfort in God and his actions, both poems also somewhat align with the idea of a redemptive future discussed in regards to the second poem, as there is hope in the deaths of these two children.

Each of these poems, in some way, aligns with the Puritan beliefs that guided Anne Bradstreet.  The first presents the idea of marriage and its benefits for humanity while the last three explore themes of hope, trust, and the afterlife, all of which were highly prevalent within Puritan society.  I have read a lot of Anne Bradstreet’s poetry before and have always really enjoyed it.  I think that having the background and historical context for her writing has given me a better, more cohesive understanding this time around.  I still really enjoy her work, but now I feel like I actually understand her motivation behind her writing.

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