The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Contemplations” is a poem of thirty-three seven-line stanzas that consider various aspects of nature and biblical history and reflect upon their spiritual significance. The title suggests that the poem is a collection of isolated reflections, but within the poem are several sequences that each develop an idea over a number of stanzas.

The poem begins with Anne Bradstreet noticing the beauty of fall colors in New England as the sun sets. Many readers have shared the experience of delight in the beauty of nature. Bradstreet does not stop with her description of nature and the effect nature’s beauty has on her. She goes on in the next stanza to relate this common experience to her spiritual beliefs: If God is known by his works on Earth, and since nature as experienced is so beautiful, then how wonderful must God be, who created all of this. Selecting a single oak tree from all the beauty around her, the poet marvels on the longevity of the oak and is inspired to think about the spiritual parallel—eternity.

In the next four stanzas Bradstreet contemplates the sun, acknowledging its glory, which caused it to be considered a god by some societies. In language reminiscent of the biblical Song of Songs, Bradstreet compares the sun to a bridegroom rushing from the chamber to make his daily and seasonal journeys. At the end of the sequence, Bradstreet again uses the physical phenomenon as an emblem reflecting the glory of the Creator.

In the next section she describes herself wandering alone. She looks toward heaven in the hope of being able to glorify God in some way, but she is stymied by a sense of her own inadequacy. This leads her to...

(The entire section is 686 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem is a series of seven-line stanzas, with each stanza using the rhyme scheme ababccc. The closing triplet of each stanza provides a sense of an end, and the finality of each stanza is further confirmed by the strategy of an extra foot in each final line. The first six lines of each stanza are regularly iambic pentameter (five feet consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable). The last line of each stanza has six feet (hexameter). This is an adaptation of the Spenserian stanza.

More important than rhyme and meter is Bradstreet’s adaptation of emblem form in this poem. Emblem books were popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and Bradstreet probably had access to many while she lived in England at the estate of the Earl of Lincoln at Sempringham. Emblem books featured a pictorial image or woodcut and an accompanying poem that explained the moral lesson of the image. In “Contemplations” Bradstreet looks at a natural image—the trees, the sun, the river, the fish, and so on—and then explains for the reader the spiritual significance and the lesson to be learned. Rather than using an actual woodcut or some kind of pictorial image, Bradstreet creates her image with words. The poem is thus more descriptive than many Puritan poems, and the description leaves the impression that Bradstreet really looked at and enjoyed the scenery around her. After the vivid descriptions come the lessons. This poem can be looked at as a series of emblems related to a central...

(The entire section is 622 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Cowell, Pattie, and Ann Stanford, eds. Critical Essays on Anne Bradstreet. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.

Dolle, Raymond F. Anne Bradstreet: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.

Hammond, Jeffrey. Sinful Self, Saintly Self. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993.

Harde, Roxanne. “’Then Soul and Body Shall Unite’: Anne Bradstreet’s Theology of Embodiment.” In From Anne Bradstreet to Abraham Lincoln: Puritanism in America, edited by Michael Schuldiner. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004.

Martin, Wendy. An American Triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.

Scheick, William J. Authority and Female Authorship in Colonial America. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998.

Stanford, Ann. Anne Bradstreet: The Worldly Puritan. New York: Burt Franklin, 1974.

White, Elizabeth Wade. Anne Bradstreet: The Tenth Muse. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.