Anne Bradstreet: Female Poet In Puritan Society
Anne Dudley Bradstreet is regarded as one of the most influential poets to have ever lived. She is born in England and has a unique life compared to the other girls of her time. Specifically, she has the opportunity to receive private lessons from tutors, as well as other educational opportunities uncommon for girls during the 17th century. Furthermore, in 1628, she marries Simon Bradstreet and later moves to Massachusetts. Surprisingly, she will stay in Massachusetts until the end of her life (Lauter, 437-438). However, during her life, Anne Bradstreet is faced with numerous obstacles. This is mostly due to the fact that she lives during the Puritan society. Notably, the Puritans believe to be God’s chosen people to build a “New Jerusalem”. They believe that once built, this “New Jerusalem” will be a model for other communities to follow (Study). Furthermore, this also means that the Puritans are very strict and are not lenient in their beliefs or faith. Moreover, against all odds, Anne Bradstreet successfully preservers through the difficult life as a female poet living during the Puritan society.
To start, life as a woman in the Puritan society seems oppressive in today’s standards, especially for a female poet. In fact, women in the Puritan society typically go unnoticed and get overlooked. This is because Puritan men believe that they are the sole authority in the household and that they are responsible for leading their families down a path of righteousness (Gender). Unfortunately, this way of thinking tends to make most men living in the Puritan society, belittle women. In fact, this way of thinking is no different for the male poets at the time because they also feel dominant and superior to women. With this is mind, Janice Knight writes that “the lives and bodies of women were circulated by male writers as material types for the spiritual progress” (Van). It seems that most men, especially poets, see women only as ways to better the Puritan society’s spirituality. However, even though women are often overlooked and belittled, some men believe that women have important roles in the Puritan society. These roles include gardening, farming, being a wife, and most importantly being a mother to their children and not anything else. Now even though this way of living may seem confining, most women at the time believe this way of living is the only right way to live. However, Anne Bradstreet is the exception to this standard because she is investing her time writing poetry rather than putting her assigned roles as a woman at the center of her attention. As a result of Bradstreet’s actions, the Puritan society looks down on her. In fact, Pattie Cowell from Colorado State University writes, “despite opposition from carping tongues who said her hand a needle better fits than a pen, Bradstreet continued to write” (Lauter, 438).
Secondly, as a female poet living in the Puritan society, Anne Bradstreet faces problems and anxieties she must overcome. These problems and anxieties she faces, are mostly due to how she spends her time. Being that she is a poet, Bradstreet focuses a lot of her time on writing. For this reason, the men believe she is not an adequate wife and mother. Furthermore, this is just one dilemma Bradstreet has to constantly deal with. In fact, she writes in The Prologue, “A poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong, for such despite they cast on female wits” (Lauter, 440). Bradstreet is saying that the male critics in her society have nothing but abhorrence for her attempts in writing poetry and that they believe she will mess up the art of poetry because she is a woman. Additionally, Bradstreet writes, “They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance” (Lauter, 440). Here she is saying that the men will count her success for nothing. In other words, the men believe that since Bradstreet is a woman, she cannot possibly be successful in writing poetry, therefore, she steals her work. However, Bradstreet later writes, “Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours” (Lauter, 440). She wants the men to give women some credit. She wants them to realize that just because she is a woman, that does not mean she cannot produce good poetry.
Lastly, as a female poet living in the Puritan society, Anne Bradstreet has to be strategic in how she responds to her critics. In fact, Bradstreet handles her criticism in a very intelligent and sly manner. Notably, she chooses to write her poems in a modest yet sarcastic way. To most, this way of writing would be seen as Bradstreet belittling herself and being humble. However, Bradstreet desires to be accepted by her society, so she writes in a way that will please them. For example, in The Author to Her Book, Bradstreet writes, “Where errors were not lessened(all may judge), at thy return my blushing was not small, my rambling brat(in print) should mother call” (Lauter, 445). These lines show Bradstreet’s dissatisfaction with her work. However, they are written in a modest way to please her society. On the other hand, in The Prologue, Bradstreet writes in a sarcastic way to sort of get back at her critics. Specifically, she writes, “But sure the antique Greeks were far more mild, else of our sex, why feigned they those Nine” (Lauter, 440). These lines show that Bradstreet is really clever and incredibly brilliant. Specifically, in these lines, she is alluding to the Nine Muses in Greek Mythology (Cassie). She is saying to her critics that if females are such terrible artists, then why are the Nine Muses all women. Surprisingly, this is a very strategic and intelligent way to defend herself. To add, Bradstreet later writes, “and poesy made Calliope’s own child, so ‘mongst the rest they placed the arts divine” (Lauter, 440). Again, Bradstreet is alluding back to the Nine Muses and says that Calliope (who is the Muse of epic poetry), is a woman herself (Cassie). This shows that Bradstreet is not a pushover, but that she is smart enough not to publicly oppose the men in her society. Instead, Bradstreet cleverly puts little phrases in her writings to get her true emotions across.
In conclusion, as a female poet living during the Puritan society, Anne Bradstreet, successfully preservers through the difficult life against all odds. In fact, Bradstreet is constantly seen as lesser and not important. Perhaps, she succumbs to her male critics, then maybe Anne Bradstreet would not be a household name like she is today. Furthermore, to be able to produce the type of outstanding poetry she does, Bradstreet deserves tremendous acclimation. Notably, she goes through tremendous amounts of controversy and is still able to provide hope for women living in the Puritan society. In fact, she even provides hope for women in this day and age. Furthermore, her poetry reflects the struggles of what women go through who want to express their individuality in a society that is inevitably oppressive to women’s rights. Moreover, how Bradstreet addresses the sexism of the Puritan society is now seen today as some of the earliest forms of feminism.