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Anne Bradstreet’s Devotion
to Her Family as a Puritan Woman
Born in England and raised in the Massachusetts Bay colony, Anne Bradstreet experienced a childhood alongside her parents and her brother. According to Heidi Bradstreet received an informal but good education from the influence of her father. (134) Her childhood did not last long since at the tender age of sixteen she married Simon Bradstreet with whom she welcomed eight children. Being a poet and taking care of her children all by herself, while her husband was most of the time away, she had a lot to handle in her life. She was a woman like any other human being who needed to meditate and express herself when she went through happy or difficult times. It could be a friend, a journal, or a family member; in her case she chose to write poems in order to unload those feelings. Serving God through her husband and children was a puritan woman’s responsibility during her time.
Nichols Heidi, an assistant professor of English at Lancaster Bible College, specifies in her book: “of course, Bradstreet often intended that her spiritual meditations might serve not only to reconcile herself to God but also to testify to her family about God’s work in her life.” (55)
Charlotte Gordon, an American Literature professor at Endicott College, describes the life Simon and Anne Bradstreet have during their shared childhood when they live under one roof with the supervision of Anne Bradstreet’s father, Mr. Dudley: “when Simon first arrived at the manor, Anne was still considered as a child, and this allowed their relationship to flourish without any apparent romantic complications or any danger of impropriety (43) They grow up together under the same family value and ethics, and a discussion is a way to deepen that value, such as knowing their God better: “For the truly devout Puritan like Anne and Simon, there were many daily events to discuss in order to dissect their possible divine meaning.” (43) They have known each other since they are really young and share the same value in life, which leads to a better understanding of one person and leads to an unshaken and happy marriage. Simon Bradstreet needs to go away for a long period of time, but that does not shake their marriage. They stay connected; at least he is always in her heart. In her book, Nichols Heidi collects Mrs. Bradstreet’s poems and one of them is dedicated “to her husband, absent upon Publick employment” her poem shows her devotion
to her husband and her love to him no matter what happens in her life. He is most of the time away, but that absence does not have any negative effect on their marriage, she still loves him and expects to see him soon:
My head, my heart, mine eyes, my life, nay more,
My joy, my Magazine of earthly store,
If two be one, as surely though and I,
How stayest thou there, whilst I at Ipswich lye?
Return, return sweet Sol from Capricorn (119)
Bradstreet undying love to her husband is strong; nothing can separate her love from him, even death. Right before her deathbed, she still shows him that even in death, her children will be there to remind him about her love: “ look to my little babes, my dear remains, and if thou love thyself or loved’st me..”(147) She is even showing a little jealousy to the Dame that may be the next Mrs Bradstreet. Jeannine Hensley, a former English assistant professor at Wheaton College, analyzes that; “...Through her dread of dying in childbirth lets us see that her deeper fear is a jealous one that her husband might remarry.”(xxiii) She reminds him that even though she is nothing; her love to him is still strong, and for the sake of their children, her husband should at least remember her. In her time, there is a fine line between death and childbirth; it is a time of uncertainty. Gordon explains: “the last month of pregnancy was not only a time for making “pyes” but also a time of making peace with the idea of approaching death.” (135). She also believes that like any illness she has experienced “the pain of child labor is God’s corrective tool.” (137) For Bradstreet, either she dies or not, she deserves the pain because it is kind of purification of her inner-being: “according to Puritan theology, each woman’s suffering was her personal retribution for Eve’s original trespass and was a kind of purification process…” (137)
Bradstreet’s children are treated no less than her husband; they are her everything, her joy and her pain when she raises them, she expresses in her poem “in Reference to her Children” that: “great was my pain when I you bred, great was my care when you I fed, long did I kept you soft and warm, and with my wing kept off all harm.” (151) She is very involved with their care and that is not easy during her time. She has eight children to care for and the house to take care as well, she mentions about her children in her poems as “eight birds.” No one is mentioned in her poem that helps her during those times, yet her responsibility as being a mother is demanding, it is written in her poem that: “ I had eight birds hatched in one nest, four cocks there were, and hens the rest. I nursed them up with pain and care, nor cost, nor labour did I spare.” (Heidi, p. 128) She does the job pretty much alone since her husband is away working, but she is always there for her children, even during her so called “deathbed” as it is already mentioned. During that sad time, uncertain, and emotional time, she makes sure that in the case of her passing, her husband will still pick a stepmother that will not do any harm to her beloved children, that shows when she unloads her feelings about her in her poems: “and if thou love thy self, or loved’st me, these O protect from step Dames injury.” (128) She shows herself brave when talking about such sensitive and emotional matter in her poems, but that is her way of expressing her feelings and that is important. She wants her children to know how much she loves them, in sickness or happiness. She also makes sure that they know that even though she is gone, they are in her prayers and God cares for them. Gordon specifies: “And it was in this protective vein (mentioning about the step-dame) that she decided to write this spiritual autobiography for the benefit of her children. She explained why in the prefatory lines:
This book by any yet unread
I leave for you when I am dead,
That being gone, here you may find
What was your living mother’s mind.
Make use of what I leave in love,
And God shall bless you form above.” (258)
Having and raising children in God’s way is important to most Puritan women like Bradstreet, it needs a lot of hard work, suffering, a lot of love and understanding, but when the children thrive and become a young Puritan adult; that is their pride: “to most Puritan woman, motherhood was the most important way to serve God. If she could help raise a new flock of the faithful, Anne would help ensure the future of the New England Puritan dream.” (142)
Bradstreet life was all about her God and how to serve Him. In everything she did, God was in the middle of the situation. When she could not bare a child for a period of four years, she believed that she had done something that was sinful in God’s eyes and needed to come back to God and repented, Gordon wrote: “now all she wanted was proof that the Lord had taken her back into His favor, and so she begged him for His mercy and for a baby??"in her eyes, after all, the two were the same.”(124) When she finally became pregnant, it was obvious that Bradstreet felt the harvest of her long time prayers and the result of asking for God’s mercy, she mentioned about those days as a result of “prayers, of vows, of tears” (130). Anne Bradstreet had a choice; she had the riches available to her: “Since Anne and Simon were among the richest of the settlers” (131), but chose to live Godly. She could have been fooled with earthly matters and inappropriate ungodly life, but she made her choice, in everything she touched, she showed herself as a real devoted Puritan woman, real to her husband and real to her children and real to God. In few words, she was an inspirable, remarkable, and godly woman.
Bradstreet, Anne. The Works of Anne Bradstreet. Ed. Jeannine Hensley. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1967. Print.
Gordon, Charlotte. Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of American’s First Poet. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2005. Print.
Nichols, Heidi. Anne Bradstreet: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Puritan Poet. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R publishing company, 2006. Print.
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