American Literature Anne Bradstreet
by
Wendy Martin, Danielle Hinrichs
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0092

Introduction

In 1630, eighteen-year-old Anne Bradstreet joined her family, her new husband, and a large group of Puritan faithful on a harrowing three-month journey from Southampton, England, to New England. Bradstreet’s father and husband were prominent members of a Puritan community seeking freedom from persecution by the Church of England. Although she willingly joined her family, Bradstreet had reservations about leaving an English estate filled with books and opportunities to forge a new life in a wilderness that lacked adequate food, shelter, and safety. She later remarked, “[I] came into this country, where I found a new world and new manners, at which my heart rose. But after I was convinced it was the way of God, I submitted to it and joined the church at Boston” (Ellis 1867, p. 5, under Primary Works). Despite facing many illnesses, bearing eight children, and establishing herself within a hierarchical culture that considered women subservient to men, and men to God, Bradstreet became the first published author in the colonies. Her early poems engage historical and political themes and draw heavily from English and French literary sources. Most critics agree that her most powerful work comes in her later, more personal poems, where she speaks in a confident voice about her own experiences as a Puritan woman. In these poems, she conveys her love for her husband and her devastating grief at the loss of three young grandchildren. Two of her most acclaimed and highly anthologized poems demonstrate her pleasure in the world and her struggle to subordinate the natural world to the divine one. In “Verses upon the Burning of Our House, July 10, 1666,” Bradstreet conveys the tension between her worldly concerns and spiritual aspirations, seeking always to view affliction and tragedy as God’s beneficent corrections that lead the faithful to a permanent afterlife. In “Contemplations,” often considered Bradstreet’s finest poem, the poet sees in the natural world evidence of the divine and seeks to transcend the beauty of nature to embrace eternal joy. Within a restrictive culture that punished women for leaving the domestic sphere or questioning authority, Anne Bradstreet managed to assert a poetic voice, a powerful and eloquent voice that would inspire and influence American poets in her time and today.

Primary Works

Modern editions of Bradstreet’s works draw from two initial sources: the first edition of her work, submitted by Bradstreet’s brother-in-law Thomas Woodbridge and published in London (The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America; Bradstreet 1650), and the Boston edition (Severall Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight; Bradstreet 1678), published six years after Bradstreet’s death. There is evidence that Bradstreet made revisions to The Tenth Muse in preparation for a second edition, but because Severall Poems was published after her death, scholars have differing views on which version more accurately reflects the author’s intent. The 1650 edition of The Tenth Muse is still available as a facsimile in Bradstreet 1965. Most modern collections of Bradstreet’s work, however, draw their material from the 1678 edition of Severall Poems, which includes Bradstreet’s later, more personal poetry. Ellis 1867 and Hensley 2010 also include Bradstreet’s letter to her children and other writings posthumously left to her family, which are now contained in what is called the Andover manuscript. Whereas Ellis preserves original spellings, Hensley is updated for more accessibility for today’s readers and is, therefore, more appropriate for younger students. McElrath and Robb 1981 differs from the other works cited here in its preference for the 1650 edition of The Tenth Muse, although it does also include poems from the 1678 Severall Poems and the Andover manuscript.

  • Bradstreet, Anne. The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, or Severall Poems, Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight Wherein Especially Is Contained a Compleat Discourse and Description of the Four Elements, Constitutions, Ages of Man, Seasons of the Year: Together with an Exact Epitomie of the Four Monarchies, viz. the Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, Roman: Also a Dialogue between Old England and New, Concerning the Late Troubles: With Divers Other Pleasant and Serious Poems. London: Printed for Stephen Bowtell at the signe of the Bible in Popes Head-Alley, 1650.

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    The first edition of Bradstreet’s poems was submitted for publication by Bradstreet’s brother-in-law Thomas Woodbridge (supposedly without her knowledge). It was from a manuscript that Bradstreet created for her father, and it contains her more secular, formal poetry. It is prefaced by commendatory material written by preeminent men who attest to her status as a Puritan woman and to her worthiness as a poet.

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  • Bradstreet, Anne. Severall Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight: Wherein Especially Is Contained a Compleat Discourse, and Description of the Four Elements, Constitutions, Ages of Man, Seasons of the Year. Boston: Foster, 1678.

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    This collection was published after Bradstreet’s death. Although there is some evidence that Bradstreet revised her poetry in anticipation of this second edition, an unknown editor selected and made changes for this publication; Jeannine Hensley has suggested that the editor was John Rogers. The collection includes revised poems from The Tenth Muse as well as eighteen new poems.

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  • Bradstreet, Anne. The Tenth Muse (1650) and, from the Manuscripts, Meditations Divine and Morall Together with Letters and Occasional Pieces by Anne Bradstreet. Edited by Josephine K. Piercy. Gainesville, FL: Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1965.

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    This edition includes a facsimile of the 1650 edition of The Tenth Muse and of the manuscripts left to her children after her death. The Tenth Muse facsimile shows the original typeset and spellings, and the manuscripts are in the poet’s and her son’s handwriting. There is a brief introduction by Piercy.

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  • Ellis, John Harvard, ed. The Works of Anne Bradstreet, in Prose and Verse. Charlestown, MA: Cutter, 1867.

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    Ellis works from the second edition of Bradstreet’s poetry (Severall Poems) and maintains the original spelling, punctuation, and typographical errors. The editor uses footnotes to indicate differences between the first and second edition and incorporates material from the Andover Manuscript, including Bradstreet’s letter to her children and “Meditations Divine and Moral.” This edition also includes a lengthy biographical introduction and survey of scholarship.

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  • Hensley, Jeannine, ed. The Works of Anne Bradstreet. Boston: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010.

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    Hensley works from the second edition of Bradstreet’s poetry (Severall Poems) but modernizes its spelling and punctuation. She includes all extant works in chronological order (including those from the Andover manuscript), a foreword by Adrienne Rich, and an introduction.

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  • McElrath, Joseph R., and Allan P. Robb, eds. The Complete Works of Anne Bradstreet. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

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    McElrath provides a general overview of the poet’s life and work and a survey of the scholarship through 1980. Unlike most other modern collections of Bradstreet’s poetry, this edition draws significantly from The Tenth Muse versions of Bradstreet’s poems. It provides documentation of manuscript changes in an extensive section on “Editorial Apparatus.”

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Bibliographies

Stanford 1983 is valuable for its commentary and explanation of the relationship and differences among sources. It is also helpful for understanding some of the themes and preoccupations that have been central to Bradstreet studies. Although it updates the earlier checklist in Stanford 1968–1969, it is not comprehensive and includes works only through 1982. Scheick and Doggett 1977 includes dissertations as well as books and articles and is organized chronologically beginning with 1650, but the bibliography ends with 1975 and thus is missing a great deal of recent Bradstreet scholarship. The most complete bibliography is Dolle 1990. This book is truly comprehensive, with references to genealogical registers and obscure sources as well as books, articles, and dissertations, but the entries conclude with publications in 1989. Anne Bradstreet (1612?–1672) is an online source that includes the most-recent Bradstreet scholarship, but the bibliography is very brief and does not have annotations.

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

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    Dolle presents a comprehensive annotated bibliography that is organized chronologically from 1650 through 1989. The author includes sources as varied as dissertations and genealogical registers as well as books and articles. The introduction gives an overview of biographies, manuscripts, and criticism about Bradstreet.

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  • Reuben, Paul P. “Anne Bradstreet (1612?–1672).” In PAL: Perspectives in American Literature—A Research and Reference Guide.

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    This online source contains a brief bibliography of primary and secondary sources without annotations, as well as a general overview of the poet’s life and study questions. Originally published as an e-book (Paul E. Reuben, PAL: Perspectives in American Literature—a Research and Reference Guide, Turlock: California State University, Stanislaus, 1995).

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  • Scheick, William J., and JoElla Doggett. “Anne Bradstreet, c. 1612–1672.” In Seventeenth-Century American Poetry: A Reference Guide. By William J. Scheick and JoElla Doggett, 34–54. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1977.

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    This reference book provides a bibliography of books, dissertations, and shorter writings by year, from the publication of The Tenth Muse in 1650 to 1975, including very brief annotations.

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  • Stanford, Ann. “Anne Bradstreet: An Annotated Checklist.” Early American Literature 3.3 (Winter 1968–1969): 217–228.

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    Stanford gives a brief overview of the publication history and early reception of Bradstreet’s poetry, demonstrating a pattern of appreciation, neglect, and rediscovery. The author includes a list of Bradstreet-related sources up to 1968, with brief annotations. Available online by subscription.

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  • Stanford, Ann. “Three Puritan Women: Anne Bradstreet, Mary Rowlandson, and Sarah Kemble Knight.” In American Women Writers: Bibliographical Essays. Edited by Maurice Duke, Jackson R. Byer, and M. Thomas Inge, 3–14. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1983.

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    In essay form, Stanford discusses various editions of Bradstreet’s work, the contents of the Andover manuscript, biographical studies of the poet, and criticism from 1673 through 1982. The author organizes the critical works by “Contemplations,” “Other Poems and Prose,” “Sources and Influences,” and “Feminist Criticism.”

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Biographies

Most of the specific information that we have about Bradstreet’s life comes from her published poetry and posthumous manuscripts; in Bradstreet’s own words, readers observe the poet’s personal reactions to arriving in an unfamiliar land, recognize references to books that contributed to her education, and gain insight into her relationships with family members. Biographies such as Piercy 1965, Stanford 1975, and Cook 2010 draw most of their conclusions about the poet’s life directly from her poetry, and, thus, all contain significant textual analysis as well as biography. Nichols 2006 combines a biographical overview with a section of literary analysis and an anthology of the poet’s work. Rosenmeier 1991 includes extensive textual analysis but also provides significant context about women’s lives in Puritan New England. Gordon 2005 is one of the most comprehensive of the biographies and gathers the details of Bradstreet’s life into a very readable and compelling narrative, although some critics have suggested that it also includes a significant amount of conjecture. White 1971 contains the most historical detail, particularly about Bradstreet’s early life in England, and it remains one of the best sources for understanding Bradstreet’s life. Wharton 1983 provides a detailed depiction of the Arbella, the ship that brought Bradstreet to the colonies.

  • Cook, Faith. Anne Bradstreet: Pilgrim and Poet. Carlisle, PA: EP Books, 2010.

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    Bradstreet’s poems are at the heart of this biography. Cook follows the poetry closely as she tells of Bradstreet’s childhood, migration to New England, and dedication to her faith throughout her eight childbirths, many moves, and serious illnesses in her later life. Cook emphasizes Bradstreet’s close relationship with God and her identity as a Christian woman.

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  • Gordon, Charlotte. Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America’s First Poet. New York: Little, Brown, 2005.

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    This extensive biography emphasizes Bradstreet’s challenging position as a woman writer in Puritan New England, where children were punished for opposing parents, wives were responsible for following commands of husbands, and the community was charged with following dictates of ministers. As Gordon explains, however, Bradstreet had many supporters who championed her work and affirmed her reputation as a faithful and dutiful woman.

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  • Nichols, Heidi L. Anne Bradstreet: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Puritan Poet. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006.

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    Nichols combines biography, literary analysis, and a thematic anthology of Bradstreet’s poetry in her slim volume. She gives an overview of Bradstreet’s life and argues that Bradstreet’s poetry was influenced by the British Renaissance as well as by Puritan culture. She discusses Bradstreet’s Puritan context and the role of writing as a way for Puritans to promote their ideals and influence politics.

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  • Piercy, Josephine K. Anne Bradstreet. New York: Twayne, 1965.

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    Piercy creates a biography through analysis of Bradstreet’s poetry and prose, paying careful attention to the poet’s English Renaissance sources. Piercy emphasizes Bradstreet’s initial resistance to Puritan dogma and interprets her early emphasis on secular themes as evidence of subtle rebellion. Bradstreet’s later poetry, Piercy suggests, represents a more confident poet who has become at once more independent and more reconciled to her Puritan world.

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  • Rosenmeier, Rosamond. Anne Bradstreet Revisited. Boston: Twayne, 1991.

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    Rosenmeier is presented as an update of Piercy’s Anne Bradstreet. Rosenmeier draws on scholarship about the lives of women in early New England and demonstrates that Bradstreet does not represent in her poetry a monolithic or predictable Puritan role. Rosenmeier focuses on how Bradstreet defines herself as daughter, wife, and mother, finding a “flexible” intersection of life and poetry through these identities.

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  • Stanford, Ann. Anne Bradstreet, the Worldly Puritan: An Introduction to Her Poetry. New York: Burt Franklin, 1975.

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    Stanford emphasizes the tension between Bradstreet’s pleasure in the world and her ultimate goal of releasing worldly attachments in favor of the afterlife. She contends that Bradstreet’s early poetry is rooted in the world, and her later poetry, somewhat reluctantly, embraces the divine. Stanford also includes a chronology of approximate dates for Bradstreet’s poems, a list of books with which Bradstreet was familiar, and a bibliography of criticism.

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  • Wharton, Donald P. “Anne Bradstreet and the Arbella.” In Critical Essays on Anne Bradstreet. Edited by Pattie Cowell and Ann Stanford, 262–269. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.

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    Wharton draws mainly from John Winthrop’s journal to create a detailed description of the Arbella, the ship that took Bradstreet and her family to New England. He provides an overview of the physical space of the ship and where passengers such as Bradstreet would have slept and spent their time, and he also discusses the passengers’ difficulties with food, weather, and disease.

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

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    White’s study includes the most biographical and historical detail of the Bradstreet biographies. She provides extensive information about Bradstreet’s ancestry, the Dudley family’s religious life in England, Bradstreet’s likely childhood Puritan education, and the books and lessons she would have encountered at the Earl of Lincoln’s estate. Her discussion of Bradstreet’s life in New England is drawn from Bradstreet’s writings and from historical sources.

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Publication History

Her brother-in-law’s submission of Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America manuscript (Bradstreet 1650, cited under Primary Works) and the commendatory material that prefaced her own work helped to establish Bradstreet’s respectability and worthiness in a culture in which the circulation and publication of women’s writing were fraught with social dangers. Engberg 2010 provides a very useful, historically contextualized discussion of the advent of the publishing industry and its impact on Bradstreet’s work; the work makes important observations about how the prefatory material in The Tenth Muse enabled Bradstreet to participate in male-dominated public discourse. Derounian-Stodola 1990 and Schweitzer 1991 offer important analyses of the complex and sometimes ambivalent commendatory material published with Bradstreet’s first volume of poetry. Eberwein 1994 is a broader overview of Bradstreet’s life and work, but it contains an interesting discussion of the controversy over whether the London or Boston edition better reflects the author’s intent. White 1951 and Cowell 1983 give important overviews of Bradstreet’s publications and include useful information about the reception of the poet’s work.

  • Cowell, Pattie. “The Early Distribution of Anne Bradstreet’s Poems.” In Critical Essays on Anne Bradstreet. Edited by Pattie Cowell and Ann Stanford, 270–279. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.

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    Cowell argues that Bradstreet’s poetry had a significant readership from its first publication in London in 1650 through the 19th-century publication of The Works of Anne Bradstreet, edited by John Harvard Ellis (Ellis 1867, cited under Primary Works). Cowell offers information from early publication records in London and Boston and supplements these data with textual evidence of Bradstreet’s poetic influence on later writers.

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  • Derounian-Stodola, Kathryn Zabelle. “‘The Excellency of the Inferior Sex’: The Commendatory Writings of Anne Bradstreet.” Studies in Puritan American Spirituality 1 (December 1990): 129–147.

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    Derounian-Stodola describes commendatory writings as part of a framework of book promotion in 17th-century England. The author discusses the identities of the commendatory contributors to Bradstreet’s poetry and suggests that their writings reveal Bradstreet’s paradoxical place as a woman and writer in Puritan society.

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  • Eberwein, Jane Donahue. “Anne Bradstreet (c. 1612–1672).” Legacy 11.2 (1994): 161–169.

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    This concise overview of Bradstreet’s life and poetry contains a discussion of the publication history of Bradstreet’s work, including controversies over whether the original 1650 manuscript or the revised 1678 manuscript is more representative of Bradstreet’s poetic intent, given that neither one was published with her supervision. Available online by subscription.

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  • Engberg, Kathrynn Seidler. “Anne Bradstreet: With Her ‘Owne Sweet Hand.’” In The Right to Write: The Literary Politics of Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley. By Kathrynn Seidler Engberg, 1–34. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2010.

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    Engberg argues that the prefatory material introducing The Tenth Muse and Woodbridge’s participation in publishing the manuscript were a savvy way for Bradstreet to engage in public discourse while protecting herself from the rigid expectations and harsh punishments of the Puritan community. Engberg interprets the poetry of The Tenth Muse as a political statement in favor of tolerance of diverse religious views.

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  • Schweitzer, Ivy. “Anne Bradstreet: ‘In the Place God Had Set Her.’” In The Work of Self-Representation: Lyric Poetry in Colonial New England. By Ivy Schweitzer, 127–180. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

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    The author’s overall focus is the way Bradstreet is made to speak for a male culture and is, thus, inhibited from self-representation. Schweitzer includes an interesting discussion of the 1650 publication of The Tenth Muse, showing how Woodbridge’s title and the commendatory material written for the volume confine Bradstreet to a feminine role while simultaneously endorsing her poetry. See also Rebellion and the Female Voice.

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  • White, Elizabeth Wade. “The Tenth Muse—a Tercentenary Appraisal of Anne Bradstreet.” William and Mary Quarterly 8.3 (July 1951): 355–377.

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    White discusses the three editions of The Tenth Muse, explaining the publication history and discussing prefatory materials as well as poems. The author surveys early reviews of the book and comments on the differences between 19th- and 20th-century reception of Bradstreet’s work. Available online by subscription.

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Literary Criticism

Almost every major anthology of American literature today includes Anne Bradstreet’s poetry, and interest in the poet has grown steadily since Ellis’s publication of her works in the latter half of the 18th century (see Ellis 1867, cited under Primary Works). Although 19th-century critics were intrigued by her position as the first published poet in the colonies and as a Puritan woman writer, they were often begrudging in their praise of her poetic skill. Her more recent critics have more fully recognized the significant depth and impact of Bradstreet’s work. Critical consensus is that the later, more personal poems are the most moving and most skilled, although scholars have also demonstrated the continuity of her work and embraced the importance of her early more secular, formal poetry. The literary criticism that follows has been divided into many themes, but most intersect with two important aspects of Bradstreet’s identity: her spirituality and her experiences as a woman.

Collections

There is just one significant book-length collection of Bradstreet scholarship, Cowell and Stanford 1983. It is thematically well balanced and its chronological organization gives the reader a sense of the development of criticism and response to Bradstreet’s work since its first publication. This is a good starting place for anyone doing research on Bradstreet.

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

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    This collection begins with a section on “Colonial Responses” that contains writing from Bradstreet contemporaries such as Nathaniel Ward and Cotton Mather. Many well-known Bradstreet scholars are represented, with articles from Elizabeth Wade White, Ann Stanford, Jane Donahue Eberwein, and others. The book also includes an introduction that discusses manuscripts and editions of Bradstreet’s poetry, biographies, bibliographies, and literary criticism.

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Literary Influences and the English Renaissance

The focus on Bradstreet’s role as a Puritan writer in early New England has sometimes limited recognition of her participation in English literary traditions and her place in the Renaissance world. This section includes articles about her poetic connections with well-known English Renaissance writers: Stanford 1966–1967 demonstrates Bradstreet’s fascination with Sir Philip Sidney, and Oser 2000 shows that Bradstreet draws both from Sidney and Spencer to explore fruitful tensions within Puritanism. Several of the authors listed here examine Bradstreet’s participation in larger literary movements; Stanford 1966 places Bradstreet’s work in the context of emblematic literature, and Wright 1996 discusses Bradstreet’s use of epitaphic conventions to assert a literary voice. Rosenfeld 1970 analyzes “Contemplations” in terms of its relationship both to American Puritanism and English Romanticism. This section also includes two important articles about Bradstreet’s participation in the Renaissance tradition of humility: Margerum 1982 asserts that Bradstreet’s seeming apologies for her work follow established conventions, but Schweitzer 1988 responds that women necessarily use this tradition in a way that highlights their simultaneous exclusion from it. Discussions about Bradstreet’s expressions of humility appear throughout Bradstreet criticism, and these two articles are a good starting place for understanding the debate. Finally, Bradstreet openly indicates her debt to the French poet Du Bartas in her early works, but Requa 1974 is important for understanding the lasting impact of his influence.

  • Margerum, Eileen. “Anne Bradstreet’s Public Poetry and the Tradition of Humility.” Early American Literature 17.2 (1982): 152–160.

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    Margerum argues that Anne Bradstreet wrote within the poetic traditions of the 17th century and followed the conventions for expressing humility. What some critics have interpreted as apologies that express the poet’s insecurity Margerum perceives as part of the formula of Renaissance writing. Available online by subscription.

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  • Oser, Lee. “‘Almost a Golden World’ Sidney, Spenser, and Puritan Conflict in Anne Bradstreet’s ‘Contemplations.’” Renascence 52.3 (Spring 2000): 187–202.

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    Oser examines the intricate relationship between religious and artistic goals in “Contemplations” and argues that Bradstreet found a tradition of Puritan art and examples of theological and poetic expression in the works of Sidney and Spenser. Bradstreet, the author suggests, draws on these poets to explore fruitful tensions within Puritan views. In particular, Bradstreet’s poem considers the concept of grace within the contentious and fractured context of the Antinomian Crisis.

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  • Requa, Kenneth A. “Anne Bradstreet’s Use of DuBartas in ‘Contemplations.’” Essex Institute Historical Collections 110 (January 1974): 64–69.

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    Requa argues that critics have emphasized Bradstreet’s dismissal of imitation and influence in her later work to such a degree that they overlook the influence of Du Bartas’s His Divine Weekes and Workes (London: Lowndes, 1605) on “Contemplations.” Requa contends that the poet’s references to the nightingale, the sea, and the grasshopper all come from Du Bartas, but that Bradstreet significantly reworks this material to create her own poetic style. See also the Natural World.

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  • Rosenfeld, Alvin H. “Anne Bradstreet’s ‘Contemplations’: Patterns of Form and Meaning.” New England Quarterly 43.1 (March 1970): 79–96.

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    Rosenfeld considers scholarly arguments that define Bradstreet’s “Contemplations” as a product of its American Puritan context or as a lyrical precursor to English Romanticism. The author concludes, after close, line-by-line examination, that the work exhibits a duality wherein Bradstreet reins in her natural, lyrical voice and switches to “brood on intimations of mortality,” a more acceptable emphasis for her community (p. 91). Available online by subscription.

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  • Schweitzer, Ivy. “Anne Bradstreet Wrestles with the Renaissance.” Early American Literature 23.3 (1988): 291–312.

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    In response to critical works such as Margerum 1982, Schweitzer argues that the topos of humility, and other traditional Renaissance literary forms, carry different meaning when employed by women. Throughout her poetry, Schweitzer suggests, Bradstreet establishes her participation in a lineage of British poets and literary traditions while, at the same time, exposing ways in which her female voice is excluded. Available online by subscription.

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  • Stanford, Ann. “Anne Bradstreet as a Meditative Writer.” California English Journal 2 (Winter 1966): 24–31.

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    Stanford reads Bradstreet’s “Contemplations” in the context of 17th-century English meditative poetry. The author draws comparisons to 17th-century emblematic literature to illustrate Bradstreet’s meditative structure of describing a subject, detailing the truths, and stating a moral lesson. See also The Natural World.

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  • Stanford, Ann. “Anne Bradstreet’s Portrait of Sir Philip Sidney.” Early American Literature Newsletter 1.3 (Winter 1966–1967): 11–13.

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    Stanford discusses Bradstreet’s portrait of Sir Philip Sidney in her elegy for Sidney and in “The Four Ages of Man.” Stanford shows that even in Bradstreet’s critique of the Arcadia, the poet goes on to praise Sidney’s virtues as a great writer of the Elizabethan age. Available online by subscription.

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  • Wright, Nancy E. “Epitaphic Conventions and the Reception of Anne Bradstreet’s Public Voice.” Early American Literature 31.3 (1996): 243–262.

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    Wright analyzes Bradstreet’s epitaphs for Sir Philip Sidney, Du Bartas, and Queen Elizabeth and argues that epitaphic conventions allowed Bradstreet to assert her own agency and assume a poetic voice in ways that other forms did not. In her elegy for Sidney, in particular, Bradstreet subtly refers to the literary role of women in the Sidney family, thereby aligning herself with a female poetic tradition. Available online by subscription.

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The Natural World

Bradstreet’s “Contemplations” is the center of most scholarship focusing on Bradstreet’s relationship with the natural world. Richardson 1967 shows Bradstreet’s unification of the material and divine worlds by demonstrating how imagery of the green world in “Contemplations” leads to the divine and how meditating on the divine world leads back to the natural one. Saltman 1983 focuses on this movement from the natural world to the divine as an important expression of Bradstreet’s Puritan identity and state of grace, and Stanford 1966 shows how the poet uses the emblematic literary tradition to express the presence of divine glory in nature. Hildebrand 1973 explores this theme of the connection between God and nature and demonstrates consistencies between the quaternions and “Contemplations.” Both Requa 1974 and Stanford 1983 emphasize that the poet’s portrayal of nature is more akin to a carefully ordered garden than the American wilderness. Boschman 1992 sees Bradstreet’s ordering of nature as acquiescing to a patriarchal Puritan view. Boschman 2009 extends the author’s discussion of Bradstreet’s view of nature in the context of her life relationships and events.

  • Boschman, Robert. “Anne Bradstreet and Elizabeth Bishop: Nature, Culture, and Gender in ‘Contemplations’ and ‘At the Fishhouses.’” Journal of American Studies 26.2 (August 1992): 247–260.

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    Boschman juxtaposes works by Anne Bradstreet and Elizabeth Bishop in order to highlight their approaches to nature and the community, especially “in the context of early American Puritanism.” He posits that Bradstreet, while acknowledging the feminine voice, ultimately adopts a patriarchal Puritanical view that presumes the ordering and subjugation of nature by the community. Bishop, he argues, by contrast offers a feminine approach that accepts the culture’s dependence on nature. Available online by subscription.

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  • Boschman, Robert. In the Way of Nature: Ecology and Westward Expansion in the Poetry of Anne Bradstreet, Elizabeth Bishop, and Amy Clampitt. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

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    The author’s introduction delves into the complex meanings of the word “nature” and philosophies that include or exclude humanity from this definition. In the two chapters devoted to Bradstreet (“Anne Bradstreet: Questions of ‘Travail’ to New England,” pp. 31–60, and “Anne Bradstreet: ‘Contemplations’ and the Problem of Nature,” pp. 121–141), Boschman explores the growing conceptual distance between England and the colonies, Bradstreet’s relationship with her father as the “first reader” of her poetry, and, thus, the impact of his death on her work, and her conflicted thoughts about God after the death of her grandchildren.

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  • Hildebrand, Anne “Anne Bradstreet’s Quaternions and ‘Contemplations.’” Early American Literature 8.2 (1973): 117–126.

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    Although one is analytical and the other meditative, Anne Bradstreet’s quaternions and “Contemplations” are similar in message, according to Hildebrand. The author provides a close examination of lines from both works and concludes that the quaternions provided a basis for the concepts of nature and God found in the later “Contemplations” and that the two works could be considered, in fact, to address the same foundational problem from different perspectives. Available online by subscription.

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  • Requa, Kenneth A. “Anne Bradstreet’s Use of DuBartas in ‘Contemplations.’” Essex Institute Historical Collections 110 (January 1974): 64–69.

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    Requa demonstrates the influence of Du Bartas’s Divine Weeks on “Contemplations” and asserts that Bradstreet’s poem is not an unmediated celebration of the New England wilderness but rather a carefully ordered view of nature that turns natural objects into emblems for a didactic purpose. See also Literary Influences and the English Renaissance.

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  • Richardson, Robert D., Jr. “The Puritan Poetry of Anne Bradstreet.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 9.3 (Autumn 1967): 317–331.

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    In “Contemplations,” Richardson shows that Bradstreet envisions the natural world as an intersection of her material world and the afterlife she hoped to achieve. According to Richardson, elements of the green world lead her to contemplate God’s majesty and then return her again to the natural world. Available online by subscription.

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  • Saltman, Helen. “‘Contemplations’: Anne Bradstreet’s Spiritual Autobiography.” In Critical Essays on Anne Bradstreet. Edited by Pattie Cowell and Ann Stanford, 226–237. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.

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    In her close reading of “Contemplations,” Saltman shows that the poem’s shift from a sensual depiction of nature to a spiritual one indicates the poet’s conversion to a “state of grace” and reconciles her poetic and Puritan identities. See also Puritan Contexts.

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  • Stanford, Ann. “Anne Bradstreet as a Meditative Writer.” California English Journal 2 (Winter 1966): 24–31.

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    Stanford closely analyzes Bradstreet’s “Contemplations,” showing how the poet combines meditative and emblematic literary traditions to explore divine power by contemplating earthly creatures. Although the poem is infused with the joy found in nature, this pleasure is subordinate to the didactic purpose of demonstrating God’s glory. See also Literary Influences and the English Renaissance.

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  • Stanford, Ann. “Anne Bradstreet’s Emblematic Garden.” In Critical Essays on Anne Bradstreet. Edited by Pattie Cowell and Ann Stanford, 238–253. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.

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    Stanford discusses the significance of gardens in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. The author suggests that even though Bradstreet does not use the word “garden” in “Contemplations,” the poet creates garden imagery based on her emblem books and her knowledge of the gardens of gentlemen’s estates. Stanford emphasizes that “Contemplations” depicts not wilderness but a cultivated landscape.

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Public and Private Voices

Requa 1974 is an influential article that articulates the much-discussed dichotomy of Bradstreet’s earlier, more publically oriented poetry and her later, more personal work. Salska 1984 attributes this dichotomy to a polarization of public and private modes in Puritan writing more generally. Requa 1974 argues that Bradstreet’s early poems convey a self-consciousness that inhibits their effectiveness. Laughlin 1970 agrees that the later poems are more successful and argues that, over time, Bradstreet begins to experiment more with poetic form and achieves a greater degree of personal expression. Although most critics agree that Bradstreet’s later poetry is more moving and effective, Eberwein 1974, Eberwein 1991, Maragou 1988, and Kopacz 1988 make important contributions that help readers value and understand her early, politically oriented poetry. Eberwein 1974 explains the influence of the early poems on her later work, and Eberwein 1991 demonstrates that Bradstreet was deeply invested in participating in public discussion about English politics and the state of the monarchy. Maragou 1988 is useful for considering Bradstreet’s secular interests and her fascination with Alexander the Great. Kopacz 1988 complicates the public-private dichotomy by emphasizing the thematic continuity of the early and later poems. Van Engen 2011, a very recent contribution, shows the complexities of these categories as Bradstreet increasingly publicizes the life of a Puritan woman.

  • Eberwein, Jane Donahue. “The ‘Unrefined Ore’ of Anne Bradstreet’s Quaternions.” Early American Literature 9.1 (1974): 19–26.

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    The neglected long poems of Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse, Eberwein suggests, helped the writer to demonstrate and categorize knowledge that would be important for her later, more celebrated personal poems. The debate structure of the quaternions, for example, contributes to the passion and style of her later poetry. Available online by subscription.

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  • Eberwein, Jane D. “Civil War and Bradstreet’s ‘Monarchies.’” Early American Literature 26.2 (1991): 119–144.

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    Eberwein argues that Bradstreet struggled in “The Foure Monarchies” both to disguise and convey her deep concern about the threat to monarchy during the English Civil War. The flaws in the poem, Eberwein contends, demonstrate her investment in the political strife in England and betray “Bradstreet’s inability either to affirm monarchy as a necessary good or to conceive of a world without it” (p. 126). Available online by subscription.

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  • Kopacz, Paula. “‘To Finish What’s Begun’: Anne Bradstreet’s Last Words.” Early American Literature 23.2 (1988): 175–187.

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    Kopacz argues that although some critics have found weaknesses in the endings of poems such as “The Four Monarchies,” Bradstreet was intensely invested in finishing her poems and created effective endings that provide closure and evoke eschatological concerns. Kopacz contends that both Bradstreet’s earlier, more public poems and her later, more personal poems approach poetry as a form of prayer. Available online by subscription.

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  • Laughlin, Rosemary M. “Anne Bradstreet: Poet in Search of Form.” American Literature 42.1 (March 1970): 1–17.

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    Laughlin shows that Bradstreet begins to experiment with structure and rhyme schemes as she moves from her more public, conventional verse to her more personal poetry. She abandons rigid forms to more fully achieve personal expression. Available online by subscription.

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  • Maragou, Helena. “The Portrait of Alexander the Great in Anne Bradstreet’s ‘The Third Monarchy.’” Early American Literature 23.1 (1988): 70–81.

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    Maragou argues that Bradstreet uses multiple sources to create her own unique view of Alexander the Great in “The Four Monarchies.” Although Bradstreet echoes her sources in critiquing Alexander the Great’s quest for power and fame, Maragou argues that the poet also demonstrates a fascination with Alexander the Great’s “awesome adventure of mastering the material world” (p. 78). This interpretation demonstrates Bradstreet’s participation in a secular world view. Available online by subscription.

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  • Requa, Kenneth. “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetic Voices.” Early American Literature 9.1 (1974): 3–18.

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    Requa argues that Bradstreet’s poems contain two distinct voices: the public poet/historian and the private, personal poet. The author suggests that Bradstreet was uncomfortable in the role of public poet, and thus her early poems are marred by self-consciousness and insecurity. According to Requa, Bradstreet’s more personal poems are characterized by greater originality, unity, and control. Available online by subscription.

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  • Salska, Agnieszka. “Puritan Poetry: Its Public and Private Strain.” Early American Literature 19.2 (1984): 107–121.

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    Salska discusses the writings of Michael Wigglesworth, Edward Taylor, and Anne Bradstreet, pointing out that Puritan culture led to a “polarization into public and private modes of expression” (p. 108), each with separate goals and characteristics. According to Salska, whereas Bradstreet’s early socially oriented poems adhere closely to conventions and seek to articulate established truths, her later poems provide a platform for self-expression that is “existential and psychological” (p. 119). Available online by subscription.

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  • Van Engen, Abram “Advertising the Domestic: Anne Bradstreet’s Sentimental Poetics.” Legacy 28.1 (2011): 47–68.

    DOI: 10.5250/legacy.28.1.0047Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Van Engen analyzes Bradstreet’s work in the context of her transition from public to private voice and her subsequent focus on publicizing, or “advertising,” the private life of a Puritan wife and mother. Additionally, Van Engen maintains that, particularly in her elegies, Bradstreet foreshadowed and possibly informed the sentimentalist movement. Available online by subscription.

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Feminism

Feminist critics offer various interpretations of how Bradstreet’s poetry is shaped by her position as a woman in colonial New England. Creating a Tradition of Women Writers places Bradstreet’s work in the context of other women writers, showing common themes and practices that emerge from the perspectives of women. The sources listed in Women in Colonial New England offer historical perspectives on the obstacles, hardships, and activities of women’s lives in the colonies, and they give us a better sense of the challenges that Bradstreet faced. Seventeenth-century England and the Americas often provided bodily explanations for women’s inferiority, and the critics listed in Depicting the Female Body demonstrate Bradstreet’s use of body imagery to engage in this conversation and defend women. In Rebellion and the Female Voice, Bradstreet scholars demonstrate that women’s writing is shaped by its formation in oppressive cultures that try to limit women’s voices and undermine their literary authority. Many of the feminist critics in this category call our attention to subtle and direct ways in which Bradstreet asserted her own voice and defended women’s intellect in her poetry.

Creating a Tradition of Women Writers

Many feminist critics have placed Bradstreet’s work within a larger context of women writers, demonstrating that common themes and poetic strategies emerge from women’s shared experiences of asserting a female voice within an often-oppressive culture that devalues women’s lives. Watts 1977 is important for its emphasis on common themes such as the role of women in history and the relationship between mother and child. Walker 1982 and Martin 1984 include extensive discussions of Bradstreet’s work that focus on her powerful assertion of women’s worth in a restrictive cultural context, and both books have been influential for later Bradstreet scholars. Ostriker 1987 and Showalter 2009 are less in-depth in their treatment of Bradstreet’s work, but both see the poet as important to the development of later American women writers. The most-recent scholarship in this area makes connections between Bradstreet and colonial women writers in other parts of the Americas: Shimek 2000 examines Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s and Anne Bradstreet’s poetic responses to colonial womanhood, and Hilliker 2007 explores commonalities between Marie de l’Incarnation’s and Bradstreet’s treatment of gender and religion. This recent scholarship demonstrates the meaningful resonance of Bradstreet’s work outside the borders of the United States.

  • Hilliker, Robert. “Engendering Identity: The Discourse of Familial Education in Anne Bradstreet and Marie de l’Incarnation.” Early American Literature 42.3 (November 2007): 435–470.

    DOI: 10.1353/eal.2007.0036Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In a direct comparison with Marie de l’Incarnation, Hilliker discusses the respective approaches of the two colonial authors to familial education as a vehicle for reproducing national and religious identities. In addition, Hilliker describes commonalities in their treatment of gender and their struggles to balance secular and religious worlds. Available online by subscription.

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  • Martin, Wendy. “Anne Bradstreet: ‘As Weary Pilgrim.’” In An American Triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich. By Wendy Martin, 15–76. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.

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    By placing Bradstreet in the context of later poets Emily Dickinson and Adrienne Rich, Martin begins to elucidate a tradition of American women poets who create alternative responses to patriarchy. Martin examines themes of power and powerlessness in The Tenth Muse poems and argues that Bradstreet’s voice grows more confident in her later poetry, as she dismisses male poetic models and focuses on her own experiences as a woman in Puritan New England.

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  • Ostriker, Alicia Suskin. “I’m Nobody: Women’s Poetry 1650–1960.” In Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America. By Alicia Suskin Ostriker, 15–58. London: Women’s Press, 1987.

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    Ostriker’s expansive study of American women’s poetry includes a brief discussion of Bradstreet that focuses primarily on her early Tenth Muse poems (see pp. 16–28). Ostriker emphasizes the secularity of Bradstreet’s early poetry and suggests that the poet elevates cooperation over hierarchy and subordination. The author argues that many of the central themes in Bradstreet’s poetry can be traced throughout the development of American women’s poetry.

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  • Shimek, Suzanne. “The Tenth Muses Lately Sprung up in the Americas: The Borders of the Female Subject in Sor Juana’s First Dream and Anne Bradstreet’s ‘Contemplations.’” Legacy 17.1 (2000): 1–17.

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    Shimek compares the poetry of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Anne Bradstreet, arguing that although their ideas are expressed in different languages, both writers explore selfhood and the limits of knowledge, contending with restrictive cultures to bravely “create a poetic world in which women can play an authoritative role” (p. 2). Available online by subscription.

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  • Showalter, Elaine. “A New Literature Springs Up in a New World.” In A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. By Elaine Showalter, 3–14. New York: Knopf, 2009.

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    This literary history of American women writers begins with a chapter on Anne Bradstreet and Mary Rowlandson in the context of Puritan New England. Showalter emphasizes Bradstreet’s hardships in the New World but also demonstrates the tremendous freedom Bradstreet enjoyed as a woman whose writing was supported by her family and community. For Showalter, Bradstreet is the beginning of a powerful tradition of American women writers.

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  • Walker, Cheryl. “Methodology and Mystery: Anne Bradstreet.” In The Nightingale’s Burden: Women Poets and American Culture before 1900. By Cheryl Walker, 1–20. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.

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    Walker argues that we must read the works of women poets such as Anne Bradstreet with the full understanding that these poets lived in an oppressive culture that did not encourage their writing lives. Walker suggests that by recognizing the context of women’s experiences, we can envision a tradition of women’s poetry that includes acts of aspiration, rebellion, and, sometimes, resignation.

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  • Watts, Emily Stipes. “1632–1758.” In The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945. By Emily Stipes Watts, 9–27. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977.

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    Watts asserts Bradstreet’s part in a female poetic community by showing thematic connections between Bradstreet’s poetry and the work both of English Renaissance and later American women writers. She emphasizes such themes as the role of women in history and the relationship between mother and child.

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Depicting the Female Body

Feminist critics see the body as central to women’s experiences but also to cultural definitions of gender that contribute to oppressive hierarchies and restricted roles. Brandt 1980 questions common perceptions of Puritan culture by demonstrating the sensuous imagery of Bradstreet’s poems. Lutes 1997 and Harvey 2000 focus on 17th-century medical and philosophical views of the differences between men’s and women’s bodies, which often developed from and contributed to gender hierarchy. These two articles are particularly useful for understanding how Bradstreet uses Helkiah Crooke’s medical encyclopedia, Mikrokosmographia (London: Laggard, 1615), to question male superiority in her poetry. Reid 1998 is particularly useful for those interested in the connections between Anne Bradstreet and Anne Hutchinson; it uses the discourse of women and childbirth to demonstrate the oppressive culture that both women shared.

  • Brandt, Ellen B. “Anne Bradstreet: The Erotic Component in Puritan Poetry.” Women’s Studies 7.1–2 (1980): 39–53.

    DOI: 10.1080/00497878.1980.9978501Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brandt carefully analyzes the sensual language and imagery in Bradstreet’s poems about nature, her husband, and her relationship with God.

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  • Harvey, Tamara. “‘Now Sisters . . . Impart Your Usefulnesse and Force’: Anne Bradstreet’s Functional Feminism in The Tenth Muse (1650).” Early American Literature 35.1 (2000): 5–28.

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    Harvey contends that Bradstreet borrows from Helkiah Crooke’s description of the medical philosophy of functionalism, a philosophy that defined women’s body parts by their use and action, thereby envisioning both men’s and women’s bodies as purposeful and active. In this way, Harvey argues, Bradstreet engages in Renaissance debates about the sexes and presents an argument against medical views of male superiority. Available online by subscription.

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  • Lutes, Jean Marie. “Negotiating Theology and Gynecology: Anne Bradstreet’s Representations of the Female Body.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 22.2 (Winter 1997): 309–340.

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    Lutes offers an in-depth discussion of the medical literature and widely held beliefs about women’s bodies and disease that influenced Bradstreet’s poetry. The author shows how Bradstreet uses the language of reproduction and childbirth to empower her poetic voice. Available online by subscription.

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  • Reid, Bethany. “‘Unfit for Light’: Anne Bradstreet’s Monstrous Birth.” New England Quarterly 71.4 (December 1998): 517–542.

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    Reid argues that although Anne Hutchinson and Anne Bradstreet are often seen on opposite ends of a spectrum of cultural acceptability and Puritan conformity, they shared an intense struggle to assert their voices in a male-dominated society. Reid contends that childbirth metaphors in “The Author to Her Book” echo the real-life controversies surrounding Anne Hutchinson’s miscarriage and Mary Dyer’s premature delivery of a malformed baby. Available online by subscription.

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Rebellion and the Female Voice

Although 17th-century Puritan women were encouraged to read, writing belonged to the realm of men and had the dangerous potential to draw women away from the private sphere and into the public world. In this context, developing a poetic voice and becoming a published author were themselves an act of rebellion for Bradstreet. The literary criticism in this section shows that although Bradstreet conformed to Puritan expectations in her daily life as a wife and mother, her poetry became a way for her to resist oppressive cultural views of women and assert a strong female voice. Stanford 1966 is a seminal work, and its contention that Bradstreet was both dogmatist and rebel is still the starting point for recent Bradstreet scholarship. Scheick 1994 responds to critics who have rejected Bradstreet’s rebellion and emphasized the poet’s conformity to Puritan values; the author argues compellingly that Bradstreet’s poetry evidences tensions between dominant (male) and subordinate (female) versions of the world. Martin 1979 and Eberwein 1981 also contribute influential works that emphasize Bradstreet’s assertion of female intellectual power and autonomy. Schweitzer 1991 focuses on the way that Bradstreet’s voice was appropriated by the masculinist culture around her. Blackstock 1997 is interesting for its theoretical approach to showing how Bradstreet performs multiple roles in order to achieve a voice within such a restrictive cultural context. Sweet 1988 explores the muse in Bradstreet’s work and highlights the poet’s awareness of writing as a gendered discourse that excludes women’s voices. Finally, Spencer 1994 is especially interesting for those familiar with John Berryman’s poem about Anne Bradstreet (“Homage to Anne Bradstreet” [New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1956]); Spencer sees the poem not as a true homage but rather as another example of the repression and manipulation of women’s voices in a male-oriented society.

  • Blackstock, Carrie Galloway. “Anne Bradstreet and Performativity: Self-Cultivation, Self-Deployment.” Early American Literature 32.3 (1997): 222–248.

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    According to Blackstock, through the performative act of expressing multiple roles and identities in her poetry, Bradstreet is able to achieve a degree of self-assertion otherwise impossible within a restrictive culture that questioned and denigrated women’s voices. Available online by subscription.

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  • Eberwein, Jane Donohue. “‘No Rhet’ric We Expect’: Argumentation in Bradstreet’s ‘The Prologue.’” Early American Literature 16.1 (1981): 19–26.

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    Eberwein argues that “The Prologue” is consistently ironic and that it uses rhetorical strategies to create the appearance of humility while, at the same time, making a strong argument in favor of women’s (and Bradstreet’s) abilities both in logic and poetry. Available online by subscription.

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  • Martin, Wendy. “Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry: A Study of Subversive Piety.” In Shakespeare’s Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets. Edited by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, 19–31. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979.

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    Martin emphasizes Bradstreet’s resistance to Puritan patriarchy, showing the poet’s daring celebration of unregulated female power in her poem on Queen Elizabeth and her focus on cooperation rather than dominance in “The Four Elements.” Martin demonstrates Bradstreet’s rebellious attempts to assert her female voice and develop a powerful sense of self within a hierarchical culture that excluded individual autonomy and required women to be subservient.

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  • Scheick, William J. “Logonomic Conflict in Anne Bradstreet’s ‘A Letter to Her Husband.’” Essays in Literature 21.2 (Fall 1994): 166–175.

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    Scheick argues that although some critics resist feminist claims of Bradstreet’s rebellion and instead emphasize her consistency with literary convention and Puritan doctrine, her poems reflect “logonomic conflict,” a tension between dominant and subordinate versions of the world. Bradstreet’s resistance, Scheick suggests, occurs in poetic dislocations in which mechanical scriptural allusions from a male tradition intrude and call attention to a sincere poetic voice.

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  • Schweitzer, Ivy. “Anne Bradstreet: ‘In the Place God Had Set Her.’” In The Work of Self-Representation: Lyric Poetry in Colonial New England. By Ivy Schweitzer, 127–180. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

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    Schweitzer presents a compelling study of how Bradstreet’s subjectivity and agency are appropriated by what she calls “Puritan gynesis,” masculinist culture’s abstraction of women for its own purposes. Schweitzer argues that the Puritan patriarchy’s construction of Bradstreet as a cultural figure inhibits Bradstreet’s acts of self-representation. See also Publication History.

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  • Spencer, Luke. “Mistress Bradstreet and Mr. Berryman: The Ultimate Seduction.” American Literature 66.2 (June 1994): 353–366.

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    Spencer analyzes John Berryman’s “Homage to Mistress Bradstreet,” arguing that although Berryman has moments of trying to empathize with womanhood, he ultimately colonizes Bradstreet, asserting his poetic and masculine authority to make her his “mistress.” Available online by subscription.

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  • Stanford, Ann. “Anne Bradstreet: Dogmatist and Rebel.” New England Quarterly 39.3 (1966): 373–389.

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    Stanford emphasizes tensions between dogma and feeling in Bradstreet’s writing and calls the poet’s resistance to dogma a “quiet rebellion” (p. 378). Stanford contends that Bradstreet’s ability to conform to restrictive social expectations allowed her to transgress conventions and defend women’s abilities in her poetry. In themes such as her relationship with family and her attachment to her home, Bradstreet repeats conventional Puritan views while subtly undermining them. Available online by subscription.

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  • Sweet, Timothy. “Gender, Genre, and Subjectivity in Anne Bradstreet’s Early Elegies.” Early American Literature 23.2 (1988): 152–174.

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    Sweet carefully analyzes the language of Bradstreet’s elegies on Sidney, Du Bartas, and Queen Elizabeth, examining how Bradstreet’s complex invocation of the convention of muses critiques a gendered discourse that excludes feminine subjectivity. Available online by subscription.

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Women in Colonial New England

Given the lack of available historical records regarding Anne Bradstreet specifically, recent studies of the lives of women in colonial New England have helped Bradstreet scholars gain a better understanding of the poet’s life. Ulrich 1982 and Ulrich 1990 are particularly useful for understanding the quotidian details of women’s daily lives, including the difficult work of running a household and the dangerous experience of childbirth. Cowell 1994 discusses a larger cultural context that restricted women’s opportunities for writing and limited success to those women who had supportive families and elevated social status.

  • Cowell, Pattie “Early New England Women Poets: Writing as Vocation.” Early American Literature 29.2 (1994): 103–121.

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    Cowell describes obstacles faced by women writers such as misogyny, lack of education, and religious insistence on the suppression of the (female) self. Writers who succeeded often enjoyed supportive families, nearby libraries, and the example of published works of other women. Cowell concludes that some early American women chose the “vocation” of writing and, in doing so, reinvented themselves to include a public persona. Available online by subscription.

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  • Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England 1650–1750. New York: Knopf, 1982.

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    Ulrich moves our attention away from famous stories of Anne Hutchinson and the Salem witch trials to chronicle everyday lives of women in colonial New England. She touches on Bradstreet’s marriage (and her sister’s divorce), as well as the poet’s views on motherhood. Discussion of Bradstreet is brief, but the book provides a useful historical context for understanding Bradstreet’s life as a New England woman.

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  • Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. “Of Pens and Needles: Sources in Early American Women’s History.” Journal of American History 77.1 (June 1990): 200–207.

    DOI: 10.2307/2078652Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ulrich chronicles the practical difficulties in finding information about women in early colonial America. The author maintains that the history of these women, including authors such as Anne Bradstreet, is often found in the domestic evidence of their lives, and urges consideration of unconventional oral and material sources.

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Religion

Bradstreet came to the colonies as part of a Puritan mission to establish a new community of the faithful. Her Puritan identity was central in her life and had a great impact on her poetry. The sources listed in Puritan Contexts examine how Bradstreet expressed and explored her Puritan faith in her poetry. Although Bradstreet was well educated and read literature, histories, medical encyclopedias, and other writings, the Bible was central to her Puritan identity and served as a source of inspiration and material for her poetry. Biblical References includes sources that identify and explore her biblical allusions.

Biblical References

Particularly in her later poems, Bradstreet drew heavily from the Bible as she contemplated her relationship with God. The articles in this category examine a wide range of poems and a diversity of biblical references. Irvin 1975 and Rosenmeier 1977 are influential in their discussion of Bradstreet’s use of biblical typology. Doriani 1989 provides important historical context about the importance of the Bay Psalm Book in Puritan life and makes a compelling case for its influence on Bradstreet’s poetry. Ditmore 2007 emphasizes Bradstreet’s use of the Book of Ecclesiastes to contemplate human suffering. Finally, Rosenmeier 1985 and Giffen 2010 explore Bradstreet’s allusions to female biblical figures; whereas Rosenmeier 1985 emphasizes Bradstreet’s Puritan concerns in her use of Bathsheba, Giffen 2010 suggests that Bradstreet’s references to Lot’s wife point to a gendered religious discourse that excludes women.

  • Ditmore, Michael G. “Bliss Lost, Wisdom Gained: Contemplating Emblems and Enigmas in Anne Bradstreet’s ‘Contemplations.’” Early American Literature 42.1 (2007): 31–72.

    DOI: 10.1353/eal.2007.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ditmore presents a thorough and complex reading of Bradstreet’s “Contemplations,” showing that this poem is not the example of devotional verse that it is sometimes assumed to be. Ditmore argues that the poem presents a somewhat secular outlook that draws from the Book of Ecclesiastes to demonstrate the suffering and uncertainty of human life. Available online by subscription.

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  • Doriani, Beth M. “‘Then Have I . . . Said with David’: Anne Bradstreet’s Andover Manuscript Poems and the Influence of the Psalm Tradition.” Early American Literature 24.1 (1989): 52–69.

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    Doriani explores the importance of the psalms in Puritan life and, in particular, in the lives and work of Puritan writers. For Puritans, and for Bradstreet, the psalms demonstrated a pious way to serve God through human language. Doriani shows that Bradstreet closely follows the tone, themes, and metrical form of psalms from the Bay Psalm Book to express her worldly suffering while praising God and instructing her children. Available online by subscription.

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  • Giffen, Allison. “‘Let No Man Know’: Negotiating the Gendered Discourse of Affliction in Anne Bradstreet’s ‘Here Followes Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House, July 10th, 1666.’” Legacy 27.1 (2010): 1–22.

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    Giffen begins by discussing the binary of “dogmatist or rebel” articulated by Ann Stanford (cited under Rebellion and the Female Voice) and taken up by many Bradstreet critics. The author’s close reading of “Here Followes Some Verses Upon the Burning of Our House” tries to complicate this binary, by sidestepping intentionality and instead analyzing Bradstreet’s complex use of the emblem of Lot’s wife within a gendered religious discourse that “posits the Christian soul as masculine” (p. 9). Available online by subscription.

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  • Irvin, William J. “Allegory and Typology ‘Imbrace and Greet’: Anne Bradstreet’s ‘Contemplations.’” Early American Literature 10.1 (1975): 30–46.

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    Irvin discusses the distinctions between allegory and typology and how the two become merged in Puritan writing, in order to “provide a means of extending the significance of typological connections beyond the framework of the Bible into any era, and to the individual, all the while retaining the certitude accorded revelation” (p. 32). Available online by subscription.

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  • Rosenmeier, Rosamund R. “‘Divine Translation’: A Contribution to the Study of Anne Bradstreet’s Method in the Marriage Poems.” Early American Literature 12.2 (1977): 121–135.

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    According to Rosenmeier, Bradstreet uses biblical typology to examine the relationships between oppositions, such as body and spirit, earth and heaven, and old England and New England. Rosenmeier shows that even in poems such as “Upon the Burning of Our House” that refer explicitly to real-life events, Bradstreet depends on biblical references and language to create meaning and explore God’s purpose. Available online by subscription.

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  • Rosenmeier, Rosamund R. “The Wounds upon Bathsheba: Anne Bradstreet’s Prophetic Art.” In Puritan Poets and Poetics: Seventeenth-Century American Poetry in Theory and Practice. Edited by Peter White, 129–146. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1985.

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    Rosenmeier argues that Bradstreet’s Puritan community believed that they were living in perilous times that would lead to the Last Judgment, and that Bradstreet, in response, created a prophetic voice that merges the world with the afterlife. Rosenmeier shows that, like the figure of Bathsheba, Bradstreet emphasizes the afflictions that help to unite her with God and prepare her for salvation.

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Puritan Contexts

Whereas feminist critics have often emphasized Bradstreet’s doubts and resistance to the Puritan culture in which she lived, many scholars of Puritanism have suggested that her poems demonstrate theological concepts consistent with Puritan philosophy. Daly 1978, an extensive study, has been influential for asserting the positive impact of Puritan philosophy on Bradstreet’s poetic voice. Hammond 1985 and Hammond 1993 similarly argue that Bradstreet’s expressions of doubt are consistent with the Puritan goals of continual self-scrutiny in search of humility. Like Hammond 1985 and Hammond 1993, Saltman 1983 emphasizes Bradstreet’s didacticism and demonstrates the similarity between “Contemplations” and the spiritual-conversion narrative of Bradstreet’s letter to her children. Ball 1973 demonstrates Bradstreet’s use of the structure of the Puritan conversion narrative in her later poetry and emphasizes the theme of humility as a precursor to salvation. Richardson 1967 and Scheick 1992 both provide interesting analyses of “Contemplations” and its expression of Puritan philosophy; Richardson 1967 explores Bradstreet’s attempt to reconcile her love of the world with the preeminence of the divine, and Scheick 1992 examines her efforts to create artistry while subordinating her artistry to the power of divine creation. Mawer 1980, however, emphasizes Bradstreet’s moments of doubt and finds, in Bradstreet’s “Farewel Dear Babe,” an “implicit rebellion” (p. 36).

  • Ball, Kenneth. “Puritan Humility in Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry.” Cithara 13 (1973): 29–41.

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    Ball demonstrates that humility is a necessary stage in the conversion narrative central to early New England Puritan congregations. The author traces the theme of Puritan humility through Bradstreet’s later poetry and concludes that it leads to hope for salvation.

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  • Daly, Robert. “Anne Bradstreet and the Practice of Weaned Affections.” In God’s Altar: The World and the Flesh in Puritan Poetry. By Robert Daly, 82–127. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.

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    Daly writes against claims that Puritanism inhibited poetic expression. The author argues that Bradstreet’s poetry embodies rather than resists the goals of Puritanism and that her obvious pleasure with things of the world is not inconsistent with Puritan beliefs; both the world and heaven bring joy, but the natural world is transient whereas the divine is permanent and therefore superior.

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  • Hammond, Jeffrey. “‘Make Use of What I Leave in Love’: Anne Bradstreet’s Didactic Self.” Religion & Literature 17.3 (Autumn 1985): 11–26.

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    Hammond casts Bradstreet in the role of teacher of Puritan values, instructing readers through her own struggles with faith and grace. Elegies for family members and reflections on a house fire provide evidence of a humble didacticism in which the speaker demonstrates personal struggle to achieve faith; Bradstreet’s ambivalence and constant meditation on her doubts purposefully instruct her family and the reader in the Puritan faith. Available online by subscription.

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  • Hammond, Jeffrey. Sinful Self, Saintly Self: The Puritan Experience of Poetry. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993.

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    Hammond devotes three chapters to Anne Bradstreet: “‘Setting Up My Ebenezer’: Anne Bradstreet and the Examined Self” (pp. 83–102), “‘Hidden Manna That the World Knows Not’: The Pilgrim’s Inner Life” (pp. 103–122), and “‘Make Use of What I Leave in Love’: The Saintly Self on Trial” (pp. 123–141). The author places the poet’s work in its religious and historical context, arguing that Bradstreet’s seemingly rebellious questioning of Puritan ideology and her expressions of devotion are not inconsistent; devout Puritans were expected to profess their struggles as part of continual self-examination and the pursuit of humility. Hammond argues that Bradstreet’s poetry goes beyond self-expression to serve a didactic purpose.

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  • Mawer, Randall R. “‘Farewel Dear Babe’: Bradstreet’s Elegy for Elizabeth.” Early American Literature 15.1 (1980): 29–41.

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    Mawer emphasizes the poet’s recurring struggle to respond to suffering and loss with resignation and recognition of divine purpose and justice. Whereas other critics have emphasized the seemingly quiet resignation of “Farewel Dear Babe,” Mawer reads it as ironic, conveying an “implicit rebellion” (p. 36). Available online by subscription.

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  • Richardson, Robert D. “The Puritan Poetry of Anne Bradstreet.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 9.3 (Autumn 1967): 317–331.

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    Richardson discusses the Puritan goal of recognizing the natural world as God’s worthy creation while acknowledging its transience in comparison to a lasting and perfect afterlife. Richardson argues that Bradstreet’s early poems focus on the natural world or the afterlife, whereas in “Contemplations” the poet finds a balance that allows her to “live in the world without being of it” (p. 331).

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  • Saltman, Helen. “‘Contemplations’: Anne Bradstreet’s Spiritual Autobiography.” In Critical Essays on Anne Bradstreet. Edited by Pattie Cowell and Ann Stanford, 226–237. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.

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    Saltman offers a close reading of “Contemplations” that emphasizes its similarities to Bradstreet’s prose spiritual autobiography, “To My Dear Children.” “Contemplations,” Saltman argues, is a spiritual-conversion narrative that expresses faith through poetic form. See also The Natural World.

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  • Scheick, William J. Design in Puritan American Literature. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992.

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    Scheick as a whole focuses on Puritan views of language as simultaneously embodying the ability to praise divine power and the dangerous potential for self-idolatry. The author analyzes the structure of “Contemplations” and exposes a tension between achieving authorial artistry and celebrating divine creation that also locates an intersection of the temporal and eternal.

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