Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Contemplations” is a poem about time and eternity. It looks at the natural world and studies it for its implications for the spiritual world. The poem looks at various aspects of time in the natural world. Trees, for example, can survive many hundreds of years, while human lifetimes are very limited in comparison; rocks and stones endure much longer. Bradstreet wonders if this means that these long-enduring natural phenomena should be praised. In considering the natural world, clearly other natural phenomena may appear to have greater claim to glory than humanity.

From another perspective, that of eternity, humanity is superior, for only people, and only a select few among them, have the hope of eternal salvation. If one’s name “is graved in the white stone,” then he or she will outlive and outlast all earthly phenomena.

Even the Bible is considered for what it has to say about time and eternity: Human lifespans are growing shorter, so time should be spent wisely and well. In a stereotypical Calvinistic view, Bradstreet notes that human time on Earth is wretched; the human condition sustains sickness, misery, and loss, yet surprisingly no one longs for death. What one must do with whatever time is granted is to work in the hope of a glorious eternity with God. Earthly achievement and status, memorials and records, are meaningless in the perspective of eternity. Only salvation can triumph over time.

The poem shows that...

(The entire section is 475 words.)