Show how Anne Bradstreet exemplifies the commonplace that ambitious writers have to learn to concentrate on subjects and themes best suited to their own knowledge and understanding.
Bradstreet pays much attention to formal poetic devices. Are her meters, stanzas, and rhymes appropriate to her subject matter and varied enough to be pleasing?
Bradstreet writes rather frequently about what she has produced: her children and her poems. Discuss the metaphors she uses to characterize both.
Do you agree that Bradstreet’s “The Prologue” is a heavily ironic poem, or did she really fear that her work would not pass muster with able readers? Explain your answer carefully.
Bradstreet is adept at turning the hardships of life into poetry. Cite some examples. What techniques does she employ in this endeavor?
How does Bradstreet demonstrate her awareness of European Renaissance poetry?
Other literary forms
Anne Bradstreet’s published collection of 1650 and its revised edition of 1678 consist entirely of poetry, and her reputation rests on her poems. She left in manuscript the prose “Meditations Divine and Morall” (short, pithy proverbs) and a brief autobiography written especially for her children.
Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor are the two foremost Colonial American poets. They form a classic study in contrasts: She was emotional, he cerebral; she secular, he spiritual; she feminine, he masculine; she stylistically straightforward, he complex; she generically varied, he generically limited; she well known by her contemporaries, he little known until the twentieth century. These are only generalizations; however, they suggest a special problem that Bradstreet criticism has overcome: the inability to divorce her work from biographical, historical, and personal elements.
One of Bradstreet’s distinctive poetic strengths is her generic variety. She wrote epics (“The Four Monarchies” and the “Quaternions”), dialogues (“A Dialogue Between Old England and New,” among others), love lyrics, public elegies (on Sir Philip Sidney, Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas, and her parents, for example), private elegies (on her grandchildren and daughter-in-law), a long meditative poem (“Contemplations”), and religious verse. Few other Puritan poets successfully tackled so many genres.
Although Bradstreet’s contemporaries admired her early imitative poetry (“The Four Monarchies,” the “Quaternions,” and the elegies on Sidney, Du Bartas, and Queen Elizabeth I), her later personal poetry is what endures (and endears). Poems included in Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America fall within an essentially Renaissance tradition, while those in Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight initiate a distinctive tradition of American literature. Bradstreet’s love poems to her husband are admired for their wit, intricate construction, emotional force, and frank admission of the physical side of marriage: As she says in “To my Dear and Loving Husband,” “If ever two were one, then surely we./ If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee.” Bradstreet’s personal elegies on her grandchildren skillfully dramatize the Puritans’ unremitting battle between worldliness (grieving for the dead) and unworldliness (rejoicing in their salvation). However, her masterpiece is probably her long meditative poem “Contemplations,” praised for its maturity, complexity, and lyricism. Her love poems, personal elegies, and “Contemplations” reveal the human side of Puritanism from a woman’s vantage point.
Cowell, Pattie, and Ann Stanford, eds. Critical Essays on Anne Bradstreet. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983. An excellent collection of essays by a variety of Bradstreet scholars. Part 1 includes criticism from the colonial period to the twentieth century. The essays cover issues as diverse as Bradstreet’s role in the American female literary tradition, the role of religion in the poet’s life and work, and her inventive use of language.
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