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The Poetry of Anne Bradstreet Critical Essay

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Updated: Apr 25th, 2022

It is now many years since the birth of Anne, a poet who is commonly known as Anne Bradstreet. Even though it has been long since her death, Bradstreet’s poetry has been a center of admiration, as well as critical acclamation following her line of work. Such a scenario granted Anne Bradstreet a chance to be one of the most remembered poets in American poetry.

Along with Adrienne Rich, Emily Dickinson, Bradstreet have played a significant role in the American poetry as female authors who rose against the odd at a time when women were seen as not fit to compete with the men (Kenneth 18). Anne Bradstreet has been known to be a respected poet in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

However, during her time women were considered inferior when compared to their male counterparts. It was assumed that the level of intelligence varied between males and females with the females being seen as less intelligent. For this reason, the place for woman was considered to be in the house whereby they were supposed to do household chores.

However, in spite of all these beliefs, Anne Bradstreet rose to be a respected woman in the early days of the Puritan community. Anne led a religious way of life, whereby she was responsible to her loving husband and children. Nevertheless, being a female poet of that time, Anne’s work was highly criticized by many people, such as Ivy Schweitzer, Philip Round, and Patricia Pender.

In her poems, Anne use sarcasm in her justification of the poetic career, as well as offer critics on the sexism that existed in her life. For example, in Bradstreet’s poem, ‘The Prologue,’ she writes, “My obscure verse shall not deem their worth.” In this sarcastic statement she implies that even though her verse might be obscure there is some weight attached to it that will definitely affect the men.

She points out sexism when she writes, “If what I do prove well, it won’t advance, they’ll say it’s stolen or else it was by chance…” This serves to show the extent of sexism in her career as a woman writer (Wendy Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry 14).

According to Ann (375), most of Anne’s work of poetry was used in expressing the conflict that existed between the poet’s religious stand concerning critics, as well as the societal role of women, along with the desire to craft a name for herself within the Puritan society.

In addition, the application of humility in her poetry serves as a justification of her career as a female writer, considering that women were not thought as capable of be successful in poetry. As a result of Anne Bradstreet’s desire and determination to be a poet, she was overly criticized. Just as the critics undermine her works, she too takes a role in it when she writes that she has no intent to write an epic.

Moreover, Anne was so keen to keep her feminine role according to the Puritan restrictions. This can be seen in her poetry that clearly expresses Bradstreet’s predilections. Anne Bradstreet’s poetry includes appreciation of fellow women.

For example, Anne Bradstreet in her poem, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung up in America includes an elegy in which she celebrates Queen Elizabeth as a political power (Wendy Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry 14). In the elegy, Bradstreet aims at reminding her readers about the reversal of power.

She writes: “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 (Wendy Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry 15).

The poem presents Queen Elizabeth as a political power, as well as a personal magnetism, a fact that challenges the Puritan patriarchs’ authority. However, it serves as a tribute to a form of power, which does not have the influence of man. As such, Bradstreet presents Queen Elizabeth as an inspiration for many people.

As Kenneth (3) points out in her article, Anne Bradstreet’s Poetic Voices, the self contemplations in Bradstreet’s work played a significant role in her career as a poet. Bradstreet expressed her sorrows and joys through the contemplations. It can be seen as an inspiration from Sir Philip Sidney, who is known to have term his writing as condescendingly (Wendy Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry 30).

Such an approach of writing exudes some unique meaning especially when considered in the light of a female writer in the 1650s and, in a young society of Puritan. Secondly, herself contemplation can also be looked at in the angle of outward criticism as portrayed in her humble writing. As seen in some of her writings, she does not intent to receive any form of confrontation from her critics.

She writes, “in this array, ‘mongst vulgar may’st though roamIn critics hands, beware thou dost not come…….” (Kenneth 18). A review of her writing, as seen from the statement above, shows that Bradstreet points out to the critics that she was having that time, when she talks of vulgar.

As such, it can be seen that Bradstreet majorly focuses on wining people and avoiding critics through her self-contemplation, and she succeeds in doing this when she incorporates humility in her works.

According to Kenneth (3-18), the mode of writing that Bradstreet had adopted was aimed at her ideas of receiving acceptance within the Puritan society. A number of her poems are full of expressions about her being a good Puritan. However, her primary focus is on the perceived level of intelligence among men and women. According to her, nobody is more intelligent than the other one.

However, by letting herself undermine the intelligence that she had, was a sign that she was appealing to the shared thoughts of women being less intelligent when compared to their male counterparts. Bradstreet was a loving mother and this can be seen from her poems whereby she calls The Tenth Muse a child, implying that Anne Bradstreet was a caring wife and mother.

In spite of the fact that Bradstreet was included in the American literature anthropologies, along with her continued contribution to the struggle for gender equality, she has not earned as much scholarly interest when compared to other American poets ever known. Nevertheless, Wendy Martin has been instrumental in bringing out the works of Anne Bradstreet into the limelight through her articles.

Wendy has argued that Anne Bradstreet compares with other female authors such as Adrienne Rich and Emily Dickson (Wendy The Lives and work 14). However, the author tries to illustrate a number of characteristics that these three writers have in common.

Many critics agree that the work of Bradstreet was highly focused on her personal and domestic outlook, and that she ought to receive much praise for her works in these areas. This follows their lack of conformity to the strategy that many traditional authors used.

According to Ann (373), it is evident that Anne Bradstreet was entirely focused on her life, especially her everyday sorrows, joys, as well as her continuous criticism regarding gender inequality and male chauvinism (Ann 374).

As such, this is in line with her contemplations as asserted by Kenneth (3-18). An overview of Bradstreet’s poetry shows that her personal lyrics were a successful work of art that puts Anne Bradstreet in a centre of innovation following her creativity as portrayed in her personal contemplations.

Kenneth (3) points out that Bradstreet sees her piece of art as having defects and that they are likened to children who are donned in “home-spun”. However, Alvin (96) shows that it was through such outlook of life and poetry that Bradstreet earned herself fame as far as poetry was concerned. Her perceived weakness is seen by Alvin (79) as Bradstreet’s strength.

This is because her poetry adopts a pattern full of humility and sarcasm. Her poetry is based on Bradstreet’s life as a Puritan woman, and thus the contemplations that she makes have few analogies to other poets but of the opposite gender, and are less figurative.

Ann (373) outlines that Bradstreet’s poetry, especially her poems on her social life do not use any form of self-conscious imagery but consists of lyrical and evocative language.

Additionally, Bradstreet presents her poems in such a way that they portray open grieve when she loses her sister-in-law, her grandchildren and her parents. In her contemplations, Kenneth (90) notes that Bradstreet does not conceal her resentment when she loses her loved ones.

From the foregoing, it follows that even though Anne Bradstreet lived at a time when women were not valued; she went against the odd and became famous through her poetry. Anne Bradstreet’s poetic contribution was not as such as those of other poets in American literature such as Adrienne Rich and Emily Dickson.

However, through her poetic contemplations and inner outlook of Anne Bradstreet’s poems, Martin notes that her poems are an illustration of piece of art that does not follow the traditional approach as used by most authors (Wendy Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry 14). As such, her pattern of poem that Anne Bradstreet played a major role in the American anthropologies.

Works Cited

Alvin, Rosenfeld. “Anne Bradstreet’s ‘Contemplations’: Patterns of Form and Meaning.” New England Quarterly, 43 (1970): 79-96. Print.

Ann, Stanford. “Anne Bradstreet: Dogmatist and Rebel.” New England Quarterly 39 (1966): 373-389. Print.

Kenneth, Requa. “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetic Voices.” Early American Literature 9 (1974): 3-18. Print.

Wendy, Martin. Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry: A study in subversive piety in Shakespeare’s Sisters, edited by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979. Print.

—. The Lives and work of Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickson, and Adrianne Rich, Chapel Hill: University of North California Press, 1983. Print.

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