In literary scholarship, Anne Bradstreet’s poetry is usually discussed from two perspectives: the Puritan views in her poems and the feminist views, as it is represented in the author’s works. Thus, the uniqueness of scholars’ discussions is in their suggestions that Bradstreet can be viewed as both a Puritan and a feminist (Brandt 41; Stanford 374). This vision is rather controversial and even surprising in relation to the female poet of the Puritan era, when feminist ideas were rare, but this provocative feature makes the poetry of Bradstreet unique. However, in the case of Bradstreet, feminist ideas are not associated with sound social proclamations or any political declarations. In her poetry, Bradstreet was not focused on struggling for political rights, but she tried to accentuate the personal rights of a woman to be treated equally to men in terms of the right of knowledge and writing. The other feature of Bradstreet’s poetry that allows speaking about feminist ideas is the author’s accentuation of her female nature in the works. Thus, Bradstreet emphasizes the awareness of her gender in the poems and declares the equality to men only in relation to the world of literature, without involving the political or social questions.
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“Contemplations” is one of the most vivid examples of Anne Bradstreet’s Puritan poetry, in which the author presents her view of the relationship between the humanity, God, and the nature from her personal perspective of both a poet and a woman. The first edition of Anne Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse was published in 1650. The publication attracted the public’s attention because during that year, the English Puritan reverend Thomas Parker (1595-1677) criticized his sister because of her attempts to write literature. This critique drew the public attention. Thus, in 1650, Parker wrote in a letter to Elizabeth Avery: “Your printing of a book, beyond the custom of your sex, doth rankly smell” (Martin The Lives and Work of Anne Bradstreet 58).
This short phrase absorbed the general Puritan men’s opinion regarding the women’s experience in writing and literature and regarding the overall place of a woman in the Puritan society (Parrish 197). According to another famous Puritan man, Governor John Winthrop from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the focus of the Puritan women on reading and writing could even lead to becoming insane. Expressing his thoughts on the sickness of Governor Hopkins’s wife, Governor Winthrop famously noted that the reason for the woman’s insanity was in reading and writing books (Morgan 44). Governor Winthrop also accentuated the idea that if Mistress Hopkins had performed her female duties in the family and focused on the place for her set by God, she could be spiritually healthy (Morgan 44). Therefore, it is possible to conclude while referring to these male positions that in the Puritan society, there were clear gender expectations regarding the place of a woman in the family and in the public life because this specific role for the woman was set by God.
It is necessary to state that Puritan thinking concerning gender was grounded on the Biblical myth that Eve was created from the rib of Adam (Morgan 54). As a result, the Puritans concluded that being created from the part of Adam, Eve and any other woman became subordinate to men while including all the feminine features in opposition to the strong masculine features of Adam (Morgan 55-68). From this point, the Puritans of New England followed the Biblical stories strictly, and their interpretation of the female position in the society was firmly based on the words from the Scripture. In this context, by trying to perform the roles that were typical for men, women violated the social stability and the harmony of the Puritan life. Only men could publish their works because all published pieces were discussed as socially important, and women were viewed as able only to prepare reading materials to educate children (Morgan 92). Therefore, the women who published their literary works were rare exceptions during that period. Mary Rowlandson was one of such few female authors, and Mitchell Robert Breitwieser described this woman’s life in the following terms:
Her life is remarkable by virtue of the narrative she brought into existence, not just because it is the only sustained prose work known to have been written by a woman in the seventeenth century New World, but also because it is among the more intense and unremitting representations of experience as a collision between cultural ideology and the real in American literature before Melville, whose writing often echoes hers. (4)
While criticizing the women’s attempts and efforts in writing, the Puritan men tried to preserve the balance of their society based on the set religious traditions and the distinct distribution of duties (Martin The Lives and Work of Anne Bradstreet 58; Morgan 89). As a result, referring to the perceptions of Thomas Parker and John Winthrop, it is possible to state that if a woman tried to write and publish her works, she might be discussed as even insane because the Puritan men could not see women as equals to them in terms of intellectual development (Martin The Lives and Work of Anne Bradstreet 58-60; Stanford 375). Therefore, the bias against the female authors was significant, and their published or publicly spoken opinions rarely reached the ears of the Puritan males. From this point, it is important to note that the Puritan males believed that the real place set for women by God was the place subordinate to a man. The reason for the men’s resistance to accepting the women’s freedom in expressing their opinions was in the fact that women should have performed a certain set of duties.
The main responsibilities of a woman in the Puritan family were to perform households and to raise and educate children in order to contribute to their spiritual growth according to the principles of Puritanism (Morgan 38). However, the necessity to educate children stimulated the Puritan women to educate themselves. The Puritan wives and mothers not only read the Scripture, but they also comprehended the Holy Word and developed their own religious vision (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 16; Martin The Lives and Work of Anne Bradstreet 58-60; Morgan 80). In this context, there was a slight difference between a Puritan woman thinking over the religious principles and educating her children according to the norms of Puritanism and a Puritan woman who wanted to share her vision with the public. However, the paradox was in the male perception of the women’s daily routines. If the females’ meditating experiences were positively perceived by the Puritan men as contributing to the women’s spiritual growth, their attempts to share their visions on the nature, world order, or religion were discussed as unbecoming (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 17; Martin The Lives and Work of Anne Bradstreet 60). From this point, women were restricted in their opportunities to move beyond their everyday family responsibilities. Moreover, these restrictions were associated with the specific Puritan values.
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Puritanism set standards for the ideal behavior of a Christian who should follow the divine rules presented in the Scripture strictly. The Puritans accepted all events in the life as God’s mercy, gifts, or divine lessons. These gifts and lessons could contribute to an individual’s spiritual growth (Parrish 198). Therefore, the Puritans spent much time meditating and perceived their bodies as only a jug for the soul. Illnesses of bodies made the Puritans focus on remedies for their souls (Morgan 168). In this context, women were expected to be modest and prudent, focused on the welfare of their family, but not active and inquiring and not making efforts in writing and speaking publicly. Focusing on the social restrictions for a Puritan woman living in the patriarchal community, Martin states that “her role as wife and mother was carefully limited by Puritan custom, which defined marriage as a partnership for producing young Christians in which responsibilities were made explicit” (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 25). Still, being a Puritan and being a woman, females needed to share their views on the world. In order to avoid being condemned by the public and by the Puritan men in particular, women often chose to print their works anonymously (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 26). Anne Bradstreet was also among such female authors who had courage to publish her works, but the first poems were printed anonymously because being a devout Puritan, Bradstreet could not violate the norms associated with the female modesty in the Puritan society.
Nevertheless, the willingness to represent her visions and ideas in the poetic form was obvious, and Bradstreet, being a Puritan woman, chose poetry as a semi-public space, in which a female can perform as not only a woman but also as an individual. Women wanted to be published because of their intentions to be heard. On the contrary, to find her listeners was not a goal for Bradstreet because she did not need the appreciation. In the case of Bradstreet, poetry was a specific zone for her self-expression as a woman, an individual, and a Puritan. As a result, having an opportunity to write and perform in this semi-public space, Bradstreet tried herself as both a private and public author. However, it is important to note, that she achieved significant results in combining her roles of a woman, a public poet, and a Puritan without leaving her zone of comfort in poetry. With participating in political debates, Bradstreet had an opportunity to accentuate her social role as a poet. Nevertheless, Bradstreet’s responses to all social affairs can be discussed as written in a Puritan and woman’s manner.
When other female poets tried to emphasize their social position, Bradstreet seemed to find the balance between her multiple roles in that space that poetry provided for her. It is possible to assume that she chose to write poems as a way to perform her roles of a woman and a Puritan simultaneously. The reason is that Bradstreet could express her private ideas while accentuating her duties of a Puritan, and she could demonstrate her vision of the social world while emphasizing her role of a woman in that world, but all those roles were not performed independently. In spite of the fact that a woman wrote poems about her personal life and feelings, these poems were still about her faith, and all the woman’s emotions were presented with references to the framework of Puritanism.
However, the Puritan social and religious tradition limited the roles of women while describing their position in the world and family strictly. In this context, Bradstreet’s attempts to combine her private and Puritan visions in the context of the semi-public poetry can be perceived as provocative because the woman tries to expand the frames of her roles and challenge the existing obvious and hidden limits. While discussing the public world and social affairs in poetry from the perspective of a woman, a female poet challenges the norms of the Puritan society in spite of demonstrating the faith and worship. However, for Bradstreet poetry is seen as a space where she can perform as both a woman focused on the family and a speaker focused on the religious and social affairs. The author’s attempts to combine these roles in the female poetry, as well as in the context of Puritanism, make the readers draw their attention to this author’s works.
In spite of the obvious sexism of the Puritan theology and visions regarding people’s social roles, responsibilities, and relationships with God, Puritanism can be viewed as a reflection of the liberal individualism, accentuating the free consent of an individual soul. In her book The Gender of Freedom, Elizabeth Dillon presents as surprising claim that Puritanism reflects liberal ideals in a way because liberalism “creates and reserves a discrete position for women within its structure” (Dillon 3). Puritanism becomes the ideological reflection of both conservatism and liberalism to determine clear duties for males and females. As a consequence, the equality of all people before God does not mean the equality of Puritan men and women in their social life because of various performed roles (Morgan 89). Still, the Puritan intricate view of gender was both conservative and radical, as men tried to apply this vision to all areas of the person’s life to pursue the Puritan ideals without any obstacles. In this context, in spite of the fact that liberalism influenced Puritans in terms of providing the pattern for individualism and free consent, the realization of this pattern was rather conservative in its nature.
According the ideas of Puritanism, women are prepared for the private life in a family, and men are perfect for the key roles in the public sphere. Dillon explains this view stating that the position “marked out for women … within liberalism is private and familial”, therefore, “yet rather than simply standing as external to liberalism, this private position – and indeed, the entire notion of privacy and private property – must be seen as crucial to the structure and meaning of liberalism” (Dillon 3). In this context, the word “private” can mean something related to the family, rather than related to inner emotions and feelings of a woman. However, barriers for women in expressing themselves publicly were overcome with the help of making private diaries.
During that period of time, literate women who were responsible for teaching their children had diaries in which they fixed their thoughts on daily routines and family affairs. In most cases, such diaries presented only short notes, but religious contemplations were also often represented in those diaries. Still, all these ideas and thoughtful meditations or contemplations were spiritual, and they lacked the sensual element. Such meditations needed to remain private in terms of being accessible only to women who had written them (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 22). The aspects of the Puritan women’s inner world or private life could not become revealed publicly even if these notes included only thoughts on religious texts. This attitude to Puritan women’s meditations provoked much controversy because the elements of the private life or women’s thoughts could not become the public affair while being published in such forms as poetry or a literary diary.
The aspect of gender was important to discuss the nature of meditations because all Puritans were extremely religious, but women needed to pay more attention to developing their spirituality. From this point, genders could be discussed as equal before God, but Puritans believed that the sensual nature of women might cause much harm, and females, who had the weaker will than men, needed to understand their position within the society to prevent them from temptations of the public life that women could not resist. Suspicions regarding the female sensual nature were typical for Puritanism, and they were based on the story of Eve and Adam (Martin The Lives and Work of Anne Bradstreet 25). In this context, the Puritan woman needed to prove and demonstrate her spirituality while performing tasks for females and meditating according to standards reflected in religious tests. The task of Puritanism was to make women more virtuous and as moral and honest as men. From this perspective, any female exercises directed to exploring the world needed to be regulated according to the principles of Puritan morality.
The allowable meditation did not include exercises involving the work of imagination in both men and women. If religious meditations were considered as similar to praying, exercises in poetry were regarded as more sensual in their nature because of involving woman’s imagination. In short, the poetic imagination was dangerous according to puritans. In The New England Mind, Miller states that imagination could not only “give significance to images handed up from the common sense, judge them and conserve them, but also do what the common sense and memory could not do, combine sense-images into synthetic phantasms that correspond to nothing in nature” (Miller 246). Such exercises could have the negative effect on the Puritan women and their morality because of provoking many tempting images. The imagination with its unlimited possibility for creating images could lead to seduction, and intentions to write poetry could be discussed as the signs of the evil nature of women. In this case, the problem was not in the opposition of private and public, but in the most important fight of the evil and good in human nature.
The Puritans believed that women are too weak to resist temptation, and they needed to be limited in their opportunities to develop their sensual nature. In spite of the fact that the ignoring of the human’s sensual nature was a typical idea of Puritanism regardless the gender, women were considered as being at more risk than men (Morgan 54). Therefore, the Puritan view of gender was also based on the idea of the female nature. Puritans focused on developing the complex idea of a gender, and they referred to it in particular cases when it was necessary to contrast duties and rights of women and men in the Puritan society in order to preserve its stability and prudence, and poetry was one of such cases because poetry was viewed as stimulating the imagination.
Anne Bradstreet’s Puritan and Feminist Views
In order to concentrate on Anne Bradstreet’s specific female views that are associated today with both Puritanism and Feminism, it is necessary to discuss some details connected with the female poet’s interpretation of the world. Bradstreet received much support from her husband and male relatives who were not chauvinists and did not regard her poetic experiences as threatening to the Puritanism. Thus, John Woodbridge, Bradstreet’s brother-in-law, said about her works in the preface to the second edition of The Tenth Muse: “It is the work of a woman, honored and esteemed where she lives, for her gracious demeanor, her eminent parts, her pious conversation, her courteous disposition, her exact diligence in her place, and discreet managing of her family occasions” (Hensley xv). Still, Anne Bradstreet suffered from many internal conflicts caused by her unique vision of the woman’s place in the Puritan society (Boschman 252; Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 29).
Bradstreet was concerned regarding the conflict between her role of a Puritan wife and mother and being a devout Christian (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 26). Focusing on these Bradstreet’s views, Martin states that her “poems reveal that she struggled with the conflict between her love for her children and husband and her devotion to God; … she reminds herself of her duty as wife and mother to assist her family in the service of God” (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 25). The poet needed to harmonize these roles in her inner world. On the other hand, Bradstreet suffered from the conflict of being a woman, a Puritan, and a poet. If a woman is a Puritan, she is a good wife and a loving and caring mother. If a woman is a poet, she needs to act as a public person while influencing the other people’s thoughts and ideas (Requa 7). However, Bradstreet did not intend to be only a Puritan woman or only a Puritan poet. As a result, Bradstreet’s poetry should be considered as the unique representation of the revolutionary female vision that combines the discussion of the religious aspects and a woman’s place in the world.
Bradstreet chose to step beyond her “domestic confines through literature – by reading or writing”, and as a result, she became perceived as “dangerous” to the patriarchal society of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 26). In order to respond to the critics of the female active position in the Puritan society, Bradstreet enlisted the support of her family, and she published her first poems with the help of her family members and friends (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 28; Stanford 380). Such support of the relatives was unique for that period of time because the males in families were usually against the women’s literary efforts and experiences. However, Bradstreet discussed herself as having the reason to express her opinion in the male world because she was “educated in the Elizabethan tradition, which valued the educated and artistic woman” (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 26).
Bradstreet’s first feminist ideals began to develop along with her focus on the personality of Queen Elizabeth. Thus, in response to the male domination in the Puritan society and in honor of Queen Elizabeth, Bradstreet wrote in her elegy, “Nay Masculines, you have thus taxt us long / But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong. / Let such as say our Sex is void of Reason, / Know tis a Slander now, but once was Treason” (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 19). Referring to the ideals of the Elizabethan era, Bradstreet considered herself as strong enough in order to oppose the male domination in literature as well because she was “an intelligent and articulate person” (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 26). As a result, she focused on determining her literary voice as a poet and as a woman.
First, it is important to note that Bradstreet focused on her ability to share her opinions and thoughts with the public like a poet. She saw a role of a poet as a “commentator on public as well as private concerns” (Requa 3). However, in the male-dominated Puritan community, the roles of historians or poets were “not for the Puritan housewife” (Requa 3). From this perspective, in order to exceed the expectations of the Puritan society, Bradstreet began to follow the models of the male poets in her writing (Hildebrand 120). In her early poems, while attempting to focus on the public poetry, Bradstreet tried to imitate the subjects, forms, and styles of the other male poets. According to Requa, her attempts were not always successful (Requa 4).
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Moreover, such exercises in imitating the famous male writers could not result in resolving Bradstreet’s inner conflict based on her vision of herself as not only a poet but also as a woman who is also an intellectual (Brandt 43). Therefore, analyzing Bradstreet’s successes in being a public poet and being a female poet, Requa states that her “public voice is imitative, the private voice is original” (Requa 4). From this point, Bradstreet is as an author whose individuality as a female poet is expressed more clearly than her individuality as a public poet. Requa claims that Bradstreet’s “inability to comfortably fulfill these chosen public roles is evident in the self-consciousness she shows in the poems” (Requa 3). Requa’s claim is rather provocative because it diminishes the public value of such Bradstreet’s poem as “Contemplations” that contains not only personal reflection but also philosophical thoughts on the topic of immortality. Moreover, it is almost impossible to agree with Requa that Bradstreet’s public voice is non-unique because it is typical of the female poet to manipulate tones and perspectives to produce certain effects on the reader.
Gender and Bradstreet’s Female Voice in Her Works
Anne Bradstreet’s female voice revealed in her poems is one of the particular features of the woman’s poetry. In this context, “The Prologue” published in 1650 became one of the most remarkable Bradstreet’s works because the female poet took risks to claim her right for writing as a woman in the men’s world full of hostility against the willed females. Thus, the fight of genders in the context of literary activities is one of the main topics in “The Prologue”. It is possible to assume that Bradstreet fights a battle of sexes by means of her the ironic tone of the female author that becomes even sarcastic in the eighth stanza of the poem. Each stanza seems to be one more move in the battle. In the first stanza, Bradstreet acknowledges the males’ victory only in one aspect, and she states that it is a right of men to write about wars and kings: “To sing of Wars, of Captains, and of Kings, / Of Cities founded, Common-wealths begun, / For my mean Pen are too superior things” (1-3). The female poet distinguishes the obviously male activities in the world of poetry, thus protecting the areas in which female poets can also succeed.
Evidently rejecting the idea that males can be better than women because of social dominance, Bradstreet masterly manipulates her female voice, and in the third stanza of the poem she ironically admits the female imperfectness, and it is possible to assume that Bradstreet’s gender is her “main defect” (3). However, in the first line of this third stanza, the Bradstreet notes that “From School-boy’s tongue no Rhet’ric we expect”, and the reader can assume that this scholarly area is the strong side of not an educated male, but of an educated female (1). Then, having played with the double meaning of the phrase, the female poet continues ironically admitting her imperfectness: “My foolish, broken, blemished Muse so sings, / And this to mend, alas, no Art is able, / ‘Cause Nature made it so irreparable” (4-6). Accentuating her incompetence as a poet, the woman demonstrates that she understands the rules of playing in this social world.
Bradstreet is rather creative in developing the topic of the fight of the sexes while accentuating the realities of the social order and criticizing the men’s positions. Still, the criticism is rather hidden under the mask of obedience, submission, and sarcasm, as it is in the fourth stanza when the poet notes that she is not as perfect as the “fluent sweet-tongued Greek”, and that such “a weak or wounded brain admits no cure” (1-6). The sarcasm in these lines seems to be rather provocative, as Bradstreet admits the female imperfectness. In the fifth stanza, she continues: “I am obnoxious to each carping tongue / Who says my hand a needle better fits” (1-2). Saying these sarcastic words, Bradstreet defends her right for the poetic activities in the society where women are associated only with the needlework. The poet’s words in the last lines of this fifth stanza seem to be both sarcastic and bitter as Bradstreet strives to prove her talent and prominence as a poet: “If what I do prove well, it won’t advance, / They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance” (5-6). Bradstreet sounds chagrined because women are perceived only with references to their gender.
From this point, Bradstreet is ready to lose the war, but she does not accept the idea that men can be better than women in spite of the fact that she sarcastically states in the seventh stanza of the poem: “Men have precedency and still excel; / It is but vain unjustly to wage war”, and then, “Men can do best, and Women know it well” (“The Prologue” 16). Thus, men are usually viewed as superior within the society: “Preeminence in all and each is yours; / Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours” (5-6). Asking for “small acknowledgement of ours”, the author does not diminish the role of women, especially in the area of literary activities, but she ironically points at one aspect that men can leave for women while being dominating in all other spheres (“The Prologue” 16). The whole poem is full of the sad irony demonstrated by the female who tries to defend her position of a poet.
In this context, Bradstreet does not defend women openly she uses each opportunity to represent the domination of men, but Bradstreet’s sarcasm in the eighth stanza is rather expressive. Thus, the poet meaningfully asks for only parsley instead of bays for being a poet in the final stanza of “The Prologue”:
And oh ye high flown quills that soar the skies,
And ever with your prey still catch your praise,
If e’er you deign these lowly lines your eyes,
Give thyme or Parsley wreath, I ask no Bays.
This mean and unrefined ore of mine
Will make your glist’ring gold but more to shine. (1-6)
Writing these ironical words, Bradstreet admits the fact that she has lost this fight with men this time, but it does not mean that she cannot fight for her personal rights with even more passion. In these words, the woman proves that she has a talent for writing as a man, and she should be listened to as a poet, but she is wise enough not to ask more.
The contrasting approach to discussing a woman as a loving and sensitive creature is demonstrated in Bradstreet’s poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband” (1678). Being a Puritan female, Bradstreet concentrated on the welfare of her family and idealized the relations between a man and a woman according to the Puritan tradition. From this point, Bradstreet can be discussed as a “typical” Puritan woman (Laughlin 6). Moreover, in spite of the developed stereotypical visions of the Puritan sensibility, it is important to note that Bradstreet did not restrict herself in demonstrating her gender and her female nature while writing her personal poetic works. Thus, Bradstreet demonstrated her female nature through her numerous love poems dedicated to her husband Simon (Martin, “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 15). Although being a Puritan woman, Bradstreet paid much attention to describing and expressing her feelings and devotion to the husband in the literary works. In her poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband” (1678), Bradstreet reveals her vision of a wife and husband, and their ideal relations and attitudes are discussed from the perspective of a Puritan wife (“To My Dear and Loving Husband” 225). In this context, the gender of the author of the poem is accentuated, and her female voice is most sound.
Puritans define marriage as a partnership for producing young Christians; on the other hand, Bradstreet is trying to emphasize in her poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband” that marriage should establish on love, respect, and equality. She handles the issue of gender in an organized and neutral manner. Both genders have the responsibility of treating each other with equality. For instance, Bradstreet talks of loving each other without any limit. She says, “If ever two were one, then surely we” (“To My Dear and Loving Husband” 225). Love, therefore, is something that should be enjoyed by the two parties involved. In this context, Bradstreet seems to expand the traditional vision of the Puritan marriage based on companionship (Luhmann 123). The poet accentuates the role of partnership to become “we” in a marriage, but she also insists on identifying the passionate element of love in these relationships to make the companionship fruitful.
From her point of view, this equality in gender has been achieved in the poem. They have managed to forge a balanced union on how they relate with each other. Traditionally the Puritan society in which Bradstreet lives stipulates roles of all genders. Bradstreet evokes the profound love she feels for her husband. While in this situation, a woman is seen an object that longs for sexual desires from a man. She quotes, “I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold” (“To My Dear and Loving Husband” 225). This line exhibits the deep feeling of a woman and wife.
Speaking about gender in this poem, Bradstreet handles the issue of gender when she seeks for equality in marriage and other spheres of life. Bradstreet believes that both parties should be sincere and affectionate to each other. She says, “If ever two were one, then surely we” (“To My Dear and Loving Husband” 225). The line advocates for a mutual agreement and loves each other unconditionally. Bradstreet believes that love should be shared equally for those involved. She, thus, advocates for gender equality in the society, especially in marriage. In the poem, Bradstreet embraces her roles as the society demands a woman should follow. However, the aspect of the gender equality can be noticed almost in all poems written by Bradstreet. It is important to state that gender equality remains an important aspect of feminism that was supported by most American female poets. In this context, feminism means that women should be treated equally to men because they are individuals and personalities; and therefore, women should have the equal natural rights for the self-expression in any form. From this perspective, Bradstreet chose the poetic form.
This is evidenced by her says, “If ever wife was happy in a man” (“To My Dear and Loving Husband” 225). She proudly takes the roles of the family without being pressured. She offers a practical example in the modern society that equality can be achieved in marriage. She, therefore, makes women share the same feminist approach and be passionate in their marriage. Conversely, Bradstreet represents feminist sensibilities since most women in her time were not educated. She writes extensively on marriage and love in her poems. Anne Bradstreet is Puritan poet who regards marriage as an important aspect of the society. The Puritans believed in marriage as a fulfillment of societal values and those of God as stipulated by the Bible. Bradstreet sensually and eloquently describes the concept of marriage as being a spiritual connection to God.
In “To My Dear and Loving Husband”, she gives a biblical definition of what marriage should be and emphasizes respect and love. While in this union, the couples should try and glorify the Almighty God. Furthermore, being a Puritan wife, Bradstreet is inclined to be grateful to the Heavens for such gift as her marriage because of the focus of the Puritans on importance of the family. In this context, Bradstreet’s affection is related not only to her husband but also to God.
While analyzing the aspect of gender in the poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband”, it is significant to state that Bradstreet sounds as a real woman who loves her husband and believes that a wife can be “happy in a man” (“To My Dear and Loving Husband” 225). Still, being a loving wife, Bradstreet is a Puritan wife who thanks God for a chance to be with the husband. Researchers note that it is a remarkable feature of Bradstreet as a poet to accentuate her gender in the private poetry, use the clear female voice, emphasize the Puritan ideals, and still continue to be individual in her representation of personal feelings or any private concerns (Stanford 376).
To a greater extent, Bradstreet has eloquently handled the idea of gender in her poem, ”To My Dear and Loving Husband” when she has drawn a clear picture of what the society demands. She extensively expresses the concept of feminist sensibility that has given women and men the same platform. Marriage has been handled in accordance with the values of the Puritan people.
Exhibiting Gender in “Contemplations”
As “Contemplations” was written in the 1660s, it was not included in the first edition of The Tenth Muse (1650), and it became known to the reader only in 1678, after the author’s death (Gatta 40: Ditmore 31), in the era of the development of Puritan values and the male domination in the society. In this context, Bradstreet’s personal poetry was often considered as the woman’s manifestation of her worldview.
It is also possible to suggest that Bradstreet did not publish the poem earlier because she was not ready to share her private meditations although they were written in a form appropriate to address the public. “Contemplations” combined features of a private exercise and a public declaration of the Puritan views made by the female author (Gatta 40). Thus, being the private meditation written as thirty-three unique contemplations presented in seven-line stanzas, the form of “Contemplations” and how the poem presents the author’s view of the relationship between humanity, God, and the natural environment was allowable to be publicly represented in the Puritan society as a piece of the female poetry. In her “Contemplations”, Anne Bradstreet aims to exhibit both her specific attitude to the question of gender and her Puritan view in spite of the fact that such combinations were rather unusual for the period during which Bradstreet wrote her poem. In this context, the focus of “Contemplations” is women’s right to observe and learn more in the puritan society. Thus, Bradstreet accentuates that a woman performs many roles in the Puritan society. She can be considered as rather persistent in her discussion of the aspect of gender in the religious context. Brandt claims that “a good wife, a loving mother, and a careful homemaker she exhibited her domesticity in many poems”, but Bradstreet’s vision of the woman’s place in the world cannot be limited to only these roles (Brandt 43).
While trying to connect the religious and personal topics in her poem, Bradstreet seems to attempt to resolve her inner conflict. In this context, “Contemplations” is highly emotional and personal in its nature, and this poem plays a critical role in resolving Bradstreet’s conflict associated with determining the woman’s place in the world. Speaking about gender in “Contemplations”, Bradstreet portrayed the idea of gender in two parts.
Defending the Female Right for Knowing, Imagining, and Thinking
“Contemplations” is an unusual poem in terms of being written by a woman and declaring the female desire and natural right for knowledge in the Puritan society. Bradstreet seems to defend the woman’s right to observe and learn as passionately as she defends the woman’s right to be a poet. In “Contemplations”, the author demonstrates a woman having an inquiring mind and being persistent in her desire to learn more.
She wanders the wood paths, focuses on each tree and leaf, thinks of God’s glory, and finally presents her philosophical thoughts on the man’s role and fate in this life. Thus, Bradstreet starts from depicting the woman as being amazed because of the natural world’s perfectness (“Contemplations” 205-206). Then, she continues focusing on the man’s knowledge of God and world order, regardless of gender: “All mortals here the feeling knowledge hath” (“Contemplations” 207). Saying this, Bradstreet notes that each person strives for knowledge, and the feeling is one of many paths to knowledge because the sense and mind are connected. However, saying this, Bradstreet is also at risk to follow the path of Ann Hutchinson who was banished from Massachusetts because of similar views and ideas that God’s grace can result only from the person’s feeling and faith, without the reference to ministers (Morgan 56). Such views were regarded as antinomian, and Bradstreet’s words seem to resemble Hutchinson’s provocative view.
Lastly, in the seventeenth stanza, Bradstreet presents conclusions of her philosophical pursuit discussing the imperfectness of the man’s mind to live the full life and understand its deep sense. Thus, Bradstreet notes: “And though thus short, we shorten many wayes, / Living so little while we are alive; / In eating, drinking, sleeping, vain delight / So unawares comes on perpetual night, / And puts all pleasures vain unto eternal flight” (3-7). These ideas were novel because Bradstreet declares that a woman in the male-dominated society can be not only a Puritan wife but also a female who craves for a right to know and deduce. In the Puritan society, women were restricted in their rights to obtain the wisdom necessary for the personal growth and development. In the seventeenth century, the Scripture and the priests’ sermons were the only sources of the knowledge for women to educate their children.
Bradstreet provides clear and unexpected examples where the woman’s inquiring mind can bring her in contemplations and fantasies. Still, from the Puritan view, such natural thoughts and ideas could be seen as threatening because of the power of imagination that was discussed as having a negative effect on a woman’s mind. In the twenty-sixth stanza, Bradstreet reflects on her spiritual quest: “While musing thus with contemplation fed, / And thousand fancies buzzing in my brain, / The sweet-tongu’d Philomel percht ore my head” (1-3). Did the female in the Puritan society have the right to focus on “thousand fancies” occurring in her mind? The female author speaks about her fancies easily as they are natural results of her contemplations and thoughts. However, these products of imagination were discussed as dangerous for female Puritans because fantasies could bring women to religiously wrong visions and conclusions. On the contrary, male Puritans had the right to express their fantasies in the poetic form, if they addressed the Puritan moral laws. Emphasizing “thousand fancies” as a result of contemplations, Bradstreet seems to break the rule and states that women has the same rights to dream and imagine as men because imagination is natural for humans, and it cannot be controlled or forbidden.
In addition to the equality of a female and a male to learn and imagine, Bradstreet also states the equal opportunity of women and men to admire the excellence of this planet and receiving spiritual lessons. The female poet accentuates her right to explore God’s world and His nature as similar to the man’s right: “I wist not what to wish, yet sure thought I, / If so much excellence abide below, / How excellent is he that dwells on high?” (“Contemplations” 205). Demonstrating the personal spiritual journey of a woman to understanding the divine nature of the world, Bradstreet follows the distinctive Puritan worldview. However, she acknowledges the woman’s ability for a meditation to develop the soul and gain the certain spiritual knowledge that is similar to the man’s one. In this context, Bradstreet still refers to her specific vision of the “feeling knowledge” available to humans (“Contemplations” 207).
In the first stanzas of the poem, Bradstreet reveals her personal meditations regardless of the gender because she assumes the role of any devoting Puritan. In turn, the author chooses to describe the Earth as of the female gender in the fifth stanza, stating, “The Earth reflects her glances in thy face” (“Contemplations” 205). Emphasizing the gender of Earth, Bradstreet seems to divide the roles between the Creator as the Father of the world and the Earth as the Mother of the natural life in the world. Thus, Bradstreet provides the clear reference to God and his male gender, while stating, “Sure he is goodness, wisdom, glory, light, / That hath this under world so richly dight” (Contemplations” 206). This strict division of the poem’s imagery in genders is important to illustrate that the divine order is similar to the natural order and family relations, and God is close and understandable to a person in this case. In this context, the Earth or Nature is female because Bradstreet refers to it as the procreator, as any leaf and grass are fed by its grounds and essence.
Nevertheless, Bradstreet not only accentuates that females are similar to males while being Puritans and equal in front of God, but she also emphasizes the equality in the poetic world while using a masculine tone to discuss complex religious issues. Speaking about people as creatures of God, Bradstreet is inclined to sound neutral regarding the gender, but there are lines when the author intends to emphasize the male gender while discussing the difference in the public’s attitude to males and females. Thus, in the ninth stanza, the author refers to all creatures: “Shall creatures abject thus their voices raise?” (5). However, in the tenth stanza of the poem, Bradstreet refers to “men” as males in the second line, speaking about “men in being fancy those are dead” (2).
Then, the author discusses a man at the end of the stanza: “It makes a man more aged in conceit, / Than was Methuselah or’s grand-sire great: / While of their persons and their acts his mind doth treat” (5-7). This accentuation of the gender allows Bradstreet to emphasize that the society is used to discuss males as dominating, but in contemplating and exploring the world women and men are equal. Therefore, in the twentieth stanza the female character asks important spiritual questions equally to males: “Shall I then praise the heavens, the trees, the earth / Because their beauty and their strength last longer / Shall I wish there, or never to had birth, Because they’re bigger and their bodyes stronger?” (1-4). Finally, having received the spiritual lesson, the author fearlessly concludes, “But man was made for endless immortality” (20). These lines are important to demonstrate that women are equal not only in terms of their religious duty, but they are also equal in their rights to see, think, and deduce.
Vindication of Eve
In her poem “Contemplations”, Bradstreet accentuates that a woman can perform many roles, including roles of a poet, believer, and thinker. One of the most significant roles, in this case, is the role of the Mother. Therefore, it is important for the poet to declare her position as a female Puritan who is aware of her duties as a woman. Two important images of the Mother are described by Bradstreet in “Contemplations”: the Earth and Eve. In the fourteenth stanza, the female author discusses the Earth as “the virgin Earth,” associating it with the Virgin Mary (“Contemplations” 208). However, in the Puritan tradition, there was no Mariolatry as worshipping Christ’s Mother, and Bradstreet focuses on developing the image of Eve as the mother of all humanity who was sinful and seeking absolution.
Therefore, in the twelfth stanza of “Contemplations”, Bradstreet introduces Eve as the mother while noting, “Here sits our Grandame in retired place, / And in her lap her bloody Cain new born” (1-2). For the author, Eve is the embodiment of the female nature that is associated with the sin. Eve is represented being in “in retired place” now, but her son is “bloody” because of his mother’s sins (“Contemplations” 207-208). Eve’s sin in the Puritan tradition is so significant that her son is not only “bloody” but, he is also presented as “Imp” or the evil creature, the son of Devil (“Contemplations” 207-208). Therefore, while discussing the image of Cain in the third line of the stanza, Bradstreet states: “The weeping Imp oft looks her in the face / Bewails his unknown hap and fate forlorn” (3-4). In this context, Eve is depicted as the mother responsible for Cain’s own sins. Bradstreet seems to note that Eve shares Cain’s sins as other mothers attempt to share their children’s sins. Depicting Eve with her “new born”, the female author accentuates the gender of her female religious character and portrays her as not a wife of Adam, but primarily, as a mother of Cain (“Contemplations” 207). From this point, Eve takes responsibility for Cain’s sins because his evil nature is a result of Eve’s own sin and violation of the divine laws. Therefore, in her poem, Bradstreet also tries to explain why Eve as a woman could sin while pursuing of the knowledge.
In this context, Bradstreet seems to ask her reader an important question: Can a woman in the Puritan world obtain the knowledge and wisdom without violating the divine laws? The important female role characteristic for Eve, and with references to which Bradstreet exhibits gender in her poem, is an inquiring woman. Therefore, in spite of accentuating the evil nature of “bloody” Cain and emphasizing the guilt of Eve, Bradstreet also demonstrates Eve as a woman who has suffered because of seeking wisdom. In the fifth and sixth lines of the twelfth stanza in “Contemplations”, Bradstreet one more time refers to Eve as a Mother, but she also notes that Eve “sighs to think of Paradise, / And how she lost her bliss, to be more wise” (5-6). It is possible to conclude that Bradstreet intends to represent a good reason for the female loss of her bliss and prudence. In the case of women in the Puritan society, this reason is the search for wisdom. However, this reason is not understandable for the males who share all wisdom in the patriarchal society, and they do not need to strive to learn more.
Eve attempted to seek wisdom in spite of God’s prohibition, but the female author seems to defend Eve in her intention. The reason is that in the Puritan society, men, as well as Adam in Paradise, do not need to violate the norms of morality and betray their faith because it is evident that the knowledge is available to them naturally. As a result, Bradstreet raises the provocative question of the good and bad sources of knowledge for women in the Puritan community. As a Puritan woman, Bradstreet sympathizes with Eve because in order to become “more wise”, Eve believed Devil, “Father of lyes,” as it is stated in the sixth and seventh lines of the stanza (“Contemplations” 208). In this context, if a woman wants to learn more, she can be discussed as led by the evil forces or, in contrast, by the divine forces. However, in spite of understanding Eve’s guilt and sin, Bradstreet seems to be sympathetic toward her pursuit of knowledge. On the other hand, depicting Eve, Bradstreet does not rebel against the principles of Puritanism, but she seems to support them because of accentuating the punishment for any violation of the divine laws. Still, Bradstreet hopes for Eve’s restoration in Eden as important for a woman, and it is an example of the female author’s Puritanism associated with interpreting all actions through the lens of religion.
Moreover, defending Eve, Bradstreet demonstrates that the characters of Adam and Eve seem to share the common guilt for violating the divine laws. Starting the story about Adam, Bradstreet notes that the first “glorious” man was made of “all, Fancies the Apple, dangle on the Tree” (“Contemplations” 207). However, in the eleventh stanza, Bradstreet states that Adam “like a miscreant’s driven from that place / To get his bread with pain and sweat of face: / A penalty impos’d on his backsliding Race” (5-7). From this perspective, Bradstreet avoids discussing only Eve as guilty for the main sin and for the exile from Eden. In this context, Bradstreet advocates for Eve, who only made a mistake while “believing him that was, and is, Father of lyes” in her pursuit of knowledge (“Contemplations” 208). The author accentuates that the desire to seek for wisdom is as typical of women as of men, and there should not be any stigma on females because of the origin of Eve’s sin. It is possible to assume that Bradstreet emphasizes that the pursuit of knowledge is characteristic of all women, but this striving does not mean sinning.
Exhibiting the Puritan View in “Contemplations”
In addition to discussing the aspect of gender in “Contemplations” with the focus on the image of Eve, Bradstreet is also unique in her approach to exhibiting the specific Puritan view in the poem. It is important to pay attention to the fact that Bradstreet was a questing Puritan who uses her female voice in order to reflect her religious experience. Thus, Bradstreet focuses on the manifestation of the Creator and His natural gifts in the work through describing the Nature in each detail (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 22). It is important to note that Bradstreet’s voice is inimitable in this case because it is a voice of the female poet who is concentrated on the religious meditation while observing different natural objects and thinking over their meaning and place in the world. As a result, each object of the natural world is viewed by the female poet as a trigger to think about God, to recollect the Biblical story, to understand the issue of human immortality, and to receive certain spiritual lessons.
Instead of presenting the image of Nature in simply terms, Bradstreet focuses much on depicting the natural objects and their role in the world to accentuate her inner feelings regarding the objects she can see. Thus, the main stress is not on presenting the realistic descriptions, but on presenting the symbolic meanings of each leaf and bird’s song. From this point, each plant, bird, and animal reflected in the poem can be discussed as making the author think about her own spirituality. In this context, the Puritan view of the author is exhibited through her reflection on any part of the natural landscape. Speaking about the Nature in the fifth stanza, Bradstreet focuses on its gifts and on the natural life, and its female gender and the role of the mother are emphasized in the poem again, “Birds, insects, Animals with Vegative, / Thy heat from death and dullness doth revive: / And in the darksome womb of fruitful nature dive” (5-7). It is important to state that the Puritans’ attitude to the Nature is like devotion. The author’s reflections on the natural world are important to understand the divine principles, and the reason is in discussing the natural order as similar to God’s one.
Furthermore, the Puritan view of Bradstreet can be clearly noted because the author accentuates the joy of living the earthly life according to God’s rules in several lines of the poem, and speaks about living of men in comparison with the life of the Nature. Thus, Bradstreet inquires in the seventeenth stanza: “Our Life compare we with their length of dayes / Who to the tenth of theirs doth now arrive? / And though thus short, we shorten many wayes, / Living so little while we are alive” (1-4). These reflections can be discussed as the part of the author’s own religious philosophy based on Puritan views. In spite of having the long life, a man seems to even waste it while not living according to the divine laws because the life of natural objects is much longer. Reflecting on the ways to live the prudent life according to the Puritan laws, Bradstreet asks one more important question in the twentieth stanza of “Contemplations”: “Shall I then praise the heavens, the trees, the earth / Because their beauty and their strength last longer / Shall I wish there, or never to had birth, / Because they’re bigger and their bodyes stronger?” (1-4). However, the poet concludes that a person has more chances for immortality than the natural objects. In this context, one of primary goals of writing “Contemplations” is to demonstrate how a Puritan can value the life given by God.
The reference to God’s will and demonstration of her gratitude can be discussed as the characteristic feature of “Contemplations”1. In this poetry, Bradstreet seems to accentuate her possibility of a human to become closer to God and achieve that unity that is desirable for any Puritan. According to Morgan, the Puritans viewed their happiness in living according to the divine laws and God’s will and in harmony with Christ (Morgan 22). As a result, the unity with God through the immortal soul is the goal for the Puritans, and the female poet refers to this goal and idea of mortality and immortality many times in the poem. It is possible to agree with the researcher’s ideas while referring to Bradstreet’s attempts to represent all her feelings that she experiences while observing, meditating, and thinking about God’s glory and the immortality of the human soul.
Anne Bradstreet also uses the constructions and metaphors important to celebrate her faith that are characteristic for the Puritan style. In the fourth stanza, Bradstreet speaks about the “soul of this world” and demonstrates her true admiration: “Soul of this world, this Universe’s Eye, / No wonder some made thee a Deity: / Had I not better known (alas) the same had I” (5-7). In these words, Bradstreet seems to demonstrate her personal attitude of a Puritan to God. Having the Puritan mind, Bradstreet represents her faith through not only a meditation, but also through those metaphors that are used to depict the natural objects. The uniqueness and perfectness of what the author sees round her is associated with the absolute perfectness of what can expect a man after the life, as it is seen from the last stanzas of the poem. Every aspect of the natural world is reconsidered by the author in the religious context, and as a Puritan, Bradstreet does not stop demonstrate her admiration and worship.
However, Bradstreet’s Puritanism can be even questioned if focusing on her resistance to the religious traditions associated with the role of the woman in the Puritan society (Ditmore 34; Oser 189). Questioning Bradstreet’s orthodoxy, Ditmore and Oser discuss the female author’s poetry as a kind of rebellion against the norms of the authoritarian and patriarchal society of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (Ditmore 34; Oser 189). However, it is almost impossible to agree with these authors because each line of Bradstreet’s poem seems to represent the poet’s spirituality and significance of this religious experience for her. In spite of differences in views on the aspect of Bradstreet’s Puritanism depicted in such her poems as “Contemplations”, it is important to state that the author created the image of the thoughtful Puritan who is focused on the religious aspects of the world and who meditates to achieve the spiritual progress. It is rather difficult to discuss Bradstreet as a rebel in the Puritan society because her own worldview is obviously Puritan; she is a devoted Puritan who focuses on God’s will and word. It is important to note that in “Contemplations”, Bradstreet emphasizes the role of God as the source of order on the Earth, as the Creator, and as the Father. Bradstreet points at the idea that God is in each leaf and bug, and the divine message can be found in each whiff of the wind. It is important to state that this vision is directly associated with the female poet’s Puritan worldview. The focus on the symbolic image of the Father also needs the special attention because it is typical not only for Bradstreet’s “Contemplations” but also for the female poet’s other works.
The image of God plays one of the key roles in the poem. According to Boschman, “Contemplations” seems to argue that God should be discussed as “the source of order” (Boschman 247)2. While reading “Contemplations”, it is possible to agree with the researcher’s idea because Bradstreet uses the poetic words and metaphors in order to illustrate her inner feelings and attitude to God not only in religious terms but also with references to her personal poetic vision. This kind of the Puritan admiration can be observed in most of the poem’s lines. Therefore, Bradstreet’s relations with God and religion are effectively represented in the poem’s symbolism and imagery. It is also possible to state that in “Contemplations”, the spiritual growth of the character is observed when she focuses on describing all elements of the nature in order to conclude that God is the Father of all beings and natural objects. This approach to discussing God can be viewed as rather paternalistic (Brandt 49; Hildebrand 120). In the context of “Contemplations”, God can provide a person with a feeling of security, and this aspect is critical for Bradstreet. The female poet discusses the possibility of receiving God’s support as important for a Puritan.
From this point, it is possible to state that the depiction of the religious aspect in the poem “Contemplations” is characteristic for the typical Puritan woman who is grateful to the Creator for all gifts and experiences. Although Bradstreet focuses on her personal interpretation of God’s rule and the whole poem can be perceived as a female meditation, according to Rosenfeld, Bradstreet does not stop eulogizing God, His order, wisdom, and glory (Rosenfeld 81). This researcher’s idea is important to understand why the intimate meditation of the female poet can also be discussed as meaningful for the public in terms of having the certain religious claim. Thus, observing the natural beauty, the female character of the poem inquires in the seventh stanza of “Contemplations”: “How full of glory then must thy Creator be? / Who gave this bright light luster unto thee: / Admir’d, ador’d for ever be that Majesty” (5-7). The conversation of the female poet with God is rather direct and relied on God’s wisdom and the Puritan trust.
Bradstreet also continues eulogizing the Creator and His gifts in the eighth stanza while stating in the fifth line: “My great Creator I would magnifie” (“Contemplations” 206). From this point, Bradstreet is focused on thanksgiving in “Contemplations” as her way to realize the subjective meditation. This concentration on the inner vision and personal feelings associated with the religious experience is typical for the poet. In addition, according to Arsic, in this poem, the character “obtains truth through receptivity” (Arsic 1032). Focusing on Arsic’s vision, it is important to develop the idea that Bradstreet is the inquiring woman who receives the opportunity to have the answers to her religious questions, and as a poet, she tries to present the knowledge in the literary form. This approach can be illustrated with references to the fourth line in the sixth stanza of “Contemplations”, where Bradstreet states that “All mortals here the feeling knowledge hath” (“Contemplations” 206). As a result, the praise for God is obvious in the contemplations, and it is possible to compare them even with psalms. Bradstreet achieves the necessary effect with the help of certain rhythmic techniques and approaches. As a result, her meditations are full of the philosophical and religious meaning. Therefore, in order to discuss this specific feature of the poet’s work in detail, it is necessary to analyze the style of Bradstreet’s “Contemplations”.
The Style of Bradstreet’s “Contemplations”
Anne Bradstreet’s style in “Contemplations” is a matter of discussions of scholars who are inclined to consider the female poet’s style as the combination of the masculine approach and the female voice; as the combination of the public and private poetry; and as the combination of the religious meditation and domesticated topics (Martin “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry” 15; Hall 7). It is important to state that in the poem, Anne Bradstreet sounds both positively and thoughtfully depending on the aspect she discusses in the concrete stanza or contemplation.
In this context, the poem is the collection of thirty-three unique contemplations presented as seven-line stanzas. Focusing on the poet’s style, Laughlin notes that the specific Bradstreet’s “variation of rime royal” with the last line presented as an alexandrine meter can also be considered as “the abridged” version of the “Spenserian stanza since we know Anne Bradstreet was familiar with Spenser’s poetry” (Laughlin 4). The rhyme royal (ababbcc) was one of the most complex stanza patterns developed in the Middle Ages. It is important to focus on Bradstreet’s choice of this modified rhyme because it was traditionally used by male authors for “reflection”, “philosophizing”, “dream vision”, and “emotional expressiveness” (Krier 1193). The reference of Laughlin to discussing the Spenserian stanza in Bradstreet’s poetry is also important for the reader to pay more attention to techniques used by the author to depict her observations on paper. From this point, the first lines of the stanzas are written in iambic pentameter, when the last line of the stanza is written as the alexandrine meter. This approach contributes to creating the complete short contemplation that is important to represent the poet’s feeling and personal vision. Focusing on the rhyme royal, Bradstreet avoided using the unrhymed iambic pentameter often used for meditations, and the complex rhyme royal added the emotional depth to the poem.
Although the stanzas are similar in their form, they are written in a sequence to present the progression of the themes related to the natural observations, religious meditation, the discussion of the Biblical stories, the character’s self-analysis, and then, to the analysis of the human’s role in the world. It is important to note that Bradstreet’s “Contemplations” presents the full development of the human’s thought regarding the relations of God and humans. The author successfully uses the uniform stanzas in order to accentuate changes in the mood because optimistic first stanzas are changed with rather thoughtful and pessimistic following stanzas, and the final stanzas are optimistic again in order to represent Bradstreet’s hope for restoration. These approaches allow creating the complex picture of the spiritual meditation with the help of poetic means.
These effects are strengthened with specific literary techniques because the female poet “experimented with the verbal rhythms through frequent use of alliteration and assonance”, and she used rather short phrases like “pathless paths”, “thousand thoughts”, and “keeps his sheep” to impose a certain meaning on the line (Requa 12). All these aspects add to the depth of Bradstreet’s meditation and self-analysis presented in “Contemplations”. The poet seems to play with sounds in order to create the image of the flow of thoughts similar to praying and typical for the spiritual practice.
The first stanzas of the poem are represented as reflections on the natural images. In the second stanza of “Contemplations”, Bradstreet notes: “If so much excellence abide below, / How excellent is he that dwells on high? / Whose power and beauty by his works we know” (2-4). Using the positive tone, the female author supposes that if the natural world is so beautiful, the world of God or the spiritual world is even perfect. Bradstreet continues her observations, and she pays much attention to the image of the Sun as having the power over the natural objects, as it is in the fourth stanza: “Soul of this world, this Universe’s Eye, / No wonder some made thee a Deity” (5-6). However, in the following stanzas, the poet admits the enormous power of the Creator in the world (“Contemplations” 205-207).
In the seventh stanza, the poet concentrates on God’s glory and perfectness: “How full of glory then must thy Creator be? / Who gave this bright light luster unto thee: / Admir’d, ador’d for ever be that Majesty” (5-7). Still, in the eighth stanza, the focus is shifted, and the poet presents her personal meditation. Thus, in the eighth stanza of the poem, the poet speaks about the “wand’ring feet”, the spiritual journey, and about her way of praising God. The style of “Contemplations” is almost “perfect” to represent the personal survey of a Puritan; therefore, even “errors” in rhyme serve to add to the portrayal of the overall meditating character of the poem, as it is in the eighth stanza (Arsic 1012).
Hall pays attention to the fact that “Contemplations” depends on a “single error in rhyme scheme that alters the import of the entire poem” (Hall 6). The reason is in the modified pattern of the rhyme royal (ababbcc). However, even the fact that “Contemplations” can have an error in the rhythmic structure cannot change the overall perception of the poem as rather harmonized and complete. The rhythmic pattern of the stanza changes with the last line because it includes a metrical foot that can be regarded as extra one. In this context, the seventh line of the stanza “But Ah and Ah again, my imbecility!” that is based on the changed rhythmic pattern, is effective to accentuate the shift in the character’s perception of her own actions and thoughts (“Contemplations” 206). Thus, the role of the personal meditation in “Contemplations” became more emphasized.
However, in the ninth stanza, Bradstreet’s focus shifts one more time, and the personal meditations on the nature of God become changed with self-questioning. Bradstreet asks: “Shall creatures abject thus their voices raise? / And in their kind resound their maker’s praise: / Whilst I, as mute, can warble forth no higher layes” (5-7). The author becomes concentrated on her reflections, and the world around her can be perceived through the lens of her personal and religious visions. Bradstreet tries to find the balance in demonstrating differences and similarities in a unity of a man and God and a unity of God and the nature. The discussion of the natural objects changes in the tenth stanza with the discussion of the role of a man in the world: “When present times look back to Ages past … It makes things gone perpetually to last … It makes a man more aged in conceit” (1-5). As a result, Laughlin states that the man seems to be presented in contrast to the nature (Laughlin 10). The poem seems to be less religious, but more reflective and philosophical in this context, and now it can be discussed as the creative and spiritual experiment of an individual.
In the eleventh stanza, Bradstreet makes her discussion of the religious aspects deeper, and she tries to wear a mask of a male persona while reflecting on the Scripture. The descriptive eleventh stanza is imitative in relation to the works written by the Puritan males who had the right to discuss the Scripture publicly: “Sometimes in Eden fair he seems to be, / See glorious Adam there made Lord of all, / Fancies the Apple, dangle on the Tree, / That turn’d his Sovereign to a naked thrall” (1-4). The Biblical stories covered by Bradstreet in several stanzas are presented in order to accentuate the idea of the natural and religious restoration (Ditmore 33). Referring to Ditmore, one should state that Bradstreet focuses on Biblical myths in order to accentuate her ideas regarding the man’s attitude to the concepts of sin and guilt in the religious context. Still, the author chooses the masculine tone to complete this task.
Having told the Biblical story, Bradstreet focuses on reflecting on her vision of the human life in the wide context of the nature’s life. Her tone in the eighteenth stanza can be discussed as rather pessimistic as the poet admits: “But Man grows old, lies down, remains where once he’s laid” (7). Still, in the twentieth stanza, Bradstreet aims to state that in contrast to the natural world, the man is born for immortality, as it is presented in the seventh line: “Nay, they shall darken, perish, fade and dye, / And when unmade, so ever shall they lye, / But man was made for endless immortality” (5-7). The following stanzas of the poem are full of metaphors to emphasize the nature of the human path and life. Thus, in the twenty-second stanza the female author speaks about “happy Flood” that “holds thy race / Till thou arrive at thy beloved place” (6-7). This flow of the human life presented in the metaphorical words can bring a man to the “Thetis house, where all imbrace and greet” (“Contemplations” 210). Bradstreet also accentuates in the twenty-fourth stanza that all these lessons for the happy and glorious life are given by the Nature: “So Nature taught, and yet you know not why, / You watry folk that know not your felicity” (6-7). Moreover, all these thoughts provide a woman with “wings” to fly while enjoying the beauty of the world (“Contemplations” 210).
In contrast to the several previous stanzas, Bradstreet uses her pessimistic tone in the twenty-ninth stanza again, when she discusses the man’s particular nature: “In knowledge ignorant, in strength but weak, / Subject to sorrows, losses, sickness, pain” (2-3). The female poet seems to present the essence of the human nature in dark colors while naming a man a “sinfull creature” (“Contemplations” 206). In the thirty-second stanza, Bradstreet states that a man “faileth in this world of pleasure, / Feeding on sweets, that never bit of th’ sowre” (1-2). However, the further meditation of the character leads to new, more optimistic, conclusions. It is remarkable that the final thirty-third stanza of “Contemplations” is different from all the other stanzas of the poem in terms it is written as a hexameter (“Contemplations” 206). It seems that changing the meter, Bradstreet shifts the attention to the deep understanding of immortality of a man in the context of time (Stanford 376). This technique can add more depth to Bradstreet’s discussion of the philosophical point. Therefore, in the first line of the thirty-third stanza, the time is discussed as “the fatal wrack of mortal things” (“Contemplations” 213). Focusing on the deep religious and personal meaning of this stanza, it is possible to state that this difference in meters is necessary in order to demonstrate the obvious contrast between concepts of immortality and mortality discussed by the poet.
Thus, Bradstreet’s meditation is important in order to emphasize the role of the personal awareness of the fact that the life ends, but the spirit is endless. It is significant to note that the representation of the religious meaning of contemplations in the proposed poetic forms demonstrates Bradstreet’s “most mature artistry and originality” (Laughlin 5). It is possible to agree with the researcher because both form and content serve to create “Contemplations” as the unique meditation. It is possible to state that Bradstreet’s “Contemplations” is one of such private poems that helps exhibit the female poet’s gender as good as her other poems.
In light of the earlier argument, Anne Bradstreet demonstrates how a female poet can exhibit both gender and the Puritan view. In such poems as “To My Dear and Loving Husband”, “The Prologue”, and “Contemplations”, Bradstreet uses her female voice in order to reflect on her experience of a wife, a woman, a female poet, and a Puritan. If the female nature of Bradstreet and her focus on gender are explicit in “To My Dear and Loving Husband” and “The Prologue”, “Contemplations” should be regarded as the reflection on the religious experience. In these poems, Bradstreet accentuates that a woman can perform many roles in the Puritan society, and one of the most significant roles in this case is the role of the mother.
While trying to connect the private and public topics in her poems, Bradstreet seems to attempt to resolve her inner conflicts. Therefore, it is important for a woman to declare her position of a traditional Puritan woman in “To My Dear and Loving Husband”, of a female poet in “The Prologue”, and of both a Puritan and a poet in “Contemplations”. In these poems, Bradstreet seems to follow the vision that a woman in the Puritan society can perform a variety of roles, and these roles are almost equal to males’ ones. As a result, at different stages of her life, a woman can be focused on her religious experiences, on her responsibility of a mother and a wife, and on her literary exercises as a poet. The female character in Bradstreet’s poems is an example of a woman who is not limited by the conservative visions of the Puritan society.
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Boschman, Robert. “Anne Bradstreet and Elizabeth Bishop: Nature, Culture and Gender in ‘Contemplations’ and ‘At the Fishhouses’”. Journal of American Studies 26.2 (1992): 247-260. Print.
Brandt, Ellen. “Anne Bradstreet: The Erotic Component in Puritan Poetry”. Women’s Studies 7.1 (1980): 39-53. Print.
Breitwieser, Mitchell Robert. American Puritanism and the Defense of Mourning: Religion, Grief, and Ethnology in Mary White Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative. New York: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990. Print.
“Contemplations”. The Works of Anne Bradstreet. Ed. Jeannine Hensley. Norton: Harvard University Press, 1967. 204-213. Print.
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Ditmore, Michael. “Bliss Lost, Wisdom Gained: Contemplating Emblems and Enigmas in Anne Bradstreet’s “Contemplations”. Early American Literature 42.1 (2007): 31-72. Print.
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Hall, Louisa. “The Influence of Anne Bradstreet’s Innovative Errors”. Early American Literature 48.1 (2013): 1-27. Print.
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Laughlin, Rosemary. “Anne Bradstreet: Poet in Search of Form”. American Literature 42.1 (1970): 1-17. Print.
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Oser, Lee. “Almost a Golden World: Sidney, Spenser, and Puritan Conflict in Bradstreet’s “Contemplations”. Renascence 52.3 (2000): 187-202. Print.
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Rosenfeld, Alvin. “Anne Bradstreet’s ‘Contemplations’: Patterns of Form and Meaning”. New England Quarterly 43.1 (1970): 79-96. Print.
Stanford, Ann. “Anne Bradstreet: Dogmatist and Rebel”. New England Quarterly 39.2 (1966): 373-389. Print.
“The Prologue”. The Works of Anne Bradstreet. Ed. Jeannine Hensley. Norton: Harvard University Press, 1967. 15-17. Print.
“To My Dear and Loving Husband”. The Works of Anne Bradstreet. Ed. Jeannine Hensley. Norton: Harvard University Press, 1967. 225. Print.
- Laughlin notes in the work “Anne Bradstreet: Poet in Search of Form” that the female poet exhibits her Puritan view in “Contemplations” as her “strong Christian faith and resignation to the will of God” (Laughlin 15). The other feature typical for the Puritan female and represented in “Contemplations” is Bradstreet’s “constantly questing for unity, unity in matter and spirit”, as it is noted by Laughlin on page 15 of her work.
- According to Boschman, “Contemplations” argues that “God is the source of order, meaning, and history, and that the natural world, whether beneficent of hostile, reflects His omnipotence”, as it is in Boschman’s “Anne Bradstreet and Elizabeth Bishop: Nature, Culture and Gender in ‘Contemplations’ and ‘At the Fishhouses’”, page 247. This idea is also supported with references to Ditmore’s words. Following the researcher, “Contemplations” was generally received “as a forceful, exemplary instance of Bradstreet’s professed Christian faith articulated in poetic terms”, as it is in Ditmore’s “Bliss Lost, Wisdom Gained: Contemplating Emblems and Enigmas in Anne Bradstreet’s “Contemplations”, page 31.