(Review) The Works of Anne Bradstreet (The John Harvard Library)

Publisher and Publication Date: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 2010.
Genre: Poetry.
Pages: 310.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Poetry readers. Readers who are interested in Puritan beliefs and history.
Rating: Very good.

Amazon link

Anne Bradstreet 1612-1672

Recently, I read and reviewed another book about Anne Bradstreet. That book was more biography than poetry. This book, The Works of Anne Bradstreet, is more poetry than biography. I recommend both books. Together they give a full picture of Bradstreet, both her life and poetry.

It’s interesting, and a coincidence, that a book I’ve just read, Beheld, begins in 1630. This is the same year Anne Bradstreet arrived in Salem, Massachusetts. Beheld is the story of the first murder in the settlement of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Beheld is historical fiction.

Sometimes when I read books of poetry I don’t read every poem. I read this book cover to cover. I wanted to see if there was a transition of maturity in her writing. I wanted to see her character in the poetry. I wanted to see her life perspective. Lastly, I wanted to know Bradstreet, the person she was.

This is what I learned about Anne Bradstreet:

  • She was an intelligent, wise, and deep thinking person.
  • She wrote with a deep desire and need to express what was in her heart.
  • She was passionate.
  • The Bible and her relationship with God was important.
  • Her Puritan beliefs was the standard for which everything else was decided.
  • She experienced tragedy. She had close family members who died, and she wrote poems about those losses. She had smallpox as a young woman, and she expressed that time in life.
  • In two poems written about her husband, I learned she was extravagant and passionate in her love for him. She was proud of him. Thankful. She considered them to be one flesh.
  • She wrote poems about youth, middle age, and being older.
  • She was an amazing woman for her times.

It is cliché to believe Puritans were all one particular type person. Just as it is cliché to believe all Baptists are the same or all Catholics are the same. Stereotypes are branded on people and it’s hard to remove that. It is a stereotype for Puritans to be Pharisaic and bland. Anne Bradstreet’s poetry changes this. She had passion for her husband and told him so. She told the people who read her poetry that her “love is such that rivers cannot quench.” 

My favorite poems are “Middle Age,” “Contemplations,” “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” “New England,” and poems written after the death of her grandchildren. 

Favorite lines from “Contemplations.” 

2nd stanza
I wist not what to wish, yet sure thought I,
If so much excellence abide below, 
How excellent is He that dwells on high,
Whose power and beauty by his works we know?
Sure he is goodness, wisdom, glory, light, 
That hath this under world so richly dight;
More heaven than earth was here, no winter and no night. 

20th stanza
Shall I then praise the heavens, the trees, the earth
Because their beauty and their strength last longer?
Shall I wish there, or never to had birth, 
Because they’re bigger, and their bodies stronger?
Nay, they shall darken, perish, fade and die,
And when unmade, so ever shall they lie,
But man was made for endless immortality.

32nd stanza 
So he that saileth in this world of pleasure,
Feeding on sweets, that never bit of th’ sour,
That’s full of friends, of honour, and of treasure, 
Fond fool, he takes this earth ev’n for heav’n’s bower.
But sad affliction comes and makes him see
Here’s neither honour, wealth, nor safety;
Only above is found all with security. 

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