Corresponding Figures: Embodying Sacred and Secular Commonplaces in Anne Bradstreet's Letters to Simon

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Author: Carol Schilling
Date: 1995
From: Literature and Belief(Vol. 15)
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 6,744 words

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[(essay date 1995) In the following essay, Schilling argues that Bradstreet's marriage poems are rooted in Renaissance literary conventions and that modern critics who see a dichotomy between Bradstreet's "imitative" and "original" poetry misrepresent the poet.]

Anne Bradstreet wrote poetry in an age when readers esteemed a poet's ability to imitate significant and admired texts. From the evidence of the prefatory verses praising her poems in the Tenth Muse, Bradstreet's first readers appreciated her ability to produce work manifesting the distinctive markings of English Renaissance literary culture.1 However, since the passing of that age, critical appreciation of Bradstreet's poetry has reflected her readers' search for an original female poetic subjectivity expressed in an independent, subversive, lyrical voice.2 For example, Adrienne Rich's foreword to Jeannine Hensley's 1967 republication of Bradstreet's complete works betrays the compulsion to discover a distinctive voice among work that Rich viewed as saturated with Puritan beliefs and frequently "indistinct from masses of English verse of the period" (xiv). In addition to being republished as part of the project to make audible lost or muted female voices, Bradstreet has also been read as part of an effort, such as Wendy Martin's, to identify a female aesthetic in American poetry. A consequence of these readings has been the bisection of Bradstreet's canon. We now regard the verses printed in the 1650 Tenth Muse, verses which assured her canonization as the first English woman living on the North American continent to be published, as her most imitative, most replete with Renaissance topoi, and least interesting. The opposite view is usually expressed regarding her posthumously published poems, ones that record Bradstreet's responses to disruptive events in her daily life, events that made her conscious of the body's fragility: illnesses, fear of childbirth, separations from her husband, the burning of her house, deaths of family members, her own anticipation of death. These poems are generally viewed as lyrical expressions springing from her heart, as if unmediated by Renaissance literary conventions or Puritan typology. Overall, contemporary criticism has constructed from Anne Bradstreet's work a narrative of heroic female emancipation. In the beginning, this narrative reads, Bradstreet's verses simply rehashed Renaissance literary culture; sometime later, it claims, her own poetic voice emerged.3

I suggest that this imposed narrative misrepresents Bradstreet's work in several ways: First, this story, at its most fundamental level, disregards the chronology of her compositions. Some of the poems considered her most "personal" and "original," the poems written to her husband Simon while he traveled on behalf of the colony, were composed during the same years she was writing "Quaternions," now considered a fusty Renaissance museum piece. Clearly, the voice in the marriage poems could not have evolved sometime later.4 Second, rather than representing a lyrical departure from Renaissance conventions, the marriage poems share with "Quaternions" an interest in medieval and Renaissance topoi and correspondences, an observation that I will discuss. Third, Bradstreet did not simply abandon these topoi over time; they also appear in the poems she wrote about precarious events that occurred decades after she began "Quaternions." These poems include the elegies to her grandchildren, the poems about illness and the burning of her house, and "Contemplations." The Renaissance commonplaces so evident to us in "Quaternions" seem to slip past our critical attention when we read the poems about events in the poet's life.5 Fourth, the evidence of Bradstreet's literary emulation and her interest, if not delight, in striving to imitate well suggests a profound need to belong to Renaissance literary culture rather than to emancipate herself from it. Because we speak of imitation with a pejorative inflection, we may forget that Bradstreet's ability to imitate admired poets denotes her remarkable learning and intelligence.6 Finally, Bradstreet's writing, like most Renaissance literature, represents an elegant summary of commonplace beliefs based upon a vision of the plenitude and unity of divine creation. This vision was expressed, in part, through elaborate sets of correspondences that made agile transitions between opposing orders: abstract and concrete, cosmic and domestic, eternal and temporal, sacred and secular, spiritual and carnal. Like the writers she admired, Bradstreet discovered meaning by reading these orders through one another. Puritan typology, with its search for the manifestation of transcendent categories and historical precedents in particular persons, also encouraged this hermeneutic. Bradstreet's canon represents the quandaries of her effort to link the microcosm of her life to macrocosmic orders, both secular and sacred.7 In other words, her work reproduces Renaissance and Puritan interests in discovering relationships, interests that reflect the human need for belonging as an aesthetic and intellectual counterpoint to a socially stabilizing ideology. Contemporary conjectures about Bradstreet's resisting her place (as we would call it) within those relationships, from cosmic to familial, are weakened by reading some poems as representations of Renaissance poetics and aspirations and perceiving others as expressions of our aesthetics and desires.8

The poems written to her husband Simon lavishly display her intense interest in issues of relationship and its opposite, separation, not only as abstract ideas, but also as lived experience. Her correspondence is full of commonplace correspondences. Anne's relationship with Simon is persistently figured through the relationship between the emblems Sun and Earth that are central to the "Elements" section of "Quaternions." In "The Foure Elements," dominant and active Fire displays both creative and destructive powers. In the marriage poems, Bradstreet appropriates and emphasizes Fire's ability to transmute into Sun, warming the Earth and activating its fertility, a power asserted in "Elements" in these lines:

Good sister Earth, no witnesse needs but thine;
How doth his warmth refresh thy frozen backs,
And trim thee gay, in green, after thy blacks?

Like the Puritan God whose power both creates and destroys, Fire also threatens to consume the world in the apocalypse, "that great day of doome" (11). As I read them, Bradstreet's poems about the fire that razed her house and the burning fevers that she and Simon suffered record the manifestations of Fire's destructiveness in her life. Earth, who claims to be Fire's equal--"th' originall of man and beast" (11)--is compared throughout "Quaternions" to a body that becomes Anne's in the marriage poems. She, like the Earth in the Aristotelian and Ptolmaic universes that inform the cosmology of "Elements," remains stationary while the Sun and Simon travel. Both Earth and Anne are associated with the humour Melancholy and the color black. Earth provides both the dark womb that gives forth life and the cold, dark grave that reclaims the body's remains. Descriptions in "Quaternions" of the flowering and decay of Earth's vegetation are also reproduced in Bradstreet's elegy to her grandchild Elizabeth. Throughout their sections in "Quaternions" the emblems Sun and Earth display an engaging, dependent, sometimes adversarial, often sexual, seemingly human relationship. Whereas the allegorical figures in "Quaternions" appear, according to Elisa New, to "take on lives of their own ... [and] materialize as fleshed combatants" (107), in the marriage poems Anne and Simon have bodies and lives of their own but are costumed as the allegorical emblems Earth and Sun.

Throughout her canon, Bradstreet participates in the dominant representational systems available to her through their shared vocabularies and hermeneutics. In the marriage and other poems impelled by actual separation or loss, this participation gives her presence, enabling her to remain with her family, as well as the beloved English Renaissance culture she left behind, when physical proximity and intimate encounters were impossible. Yet the commonplaces, which frequently analogize the body while richly describing tenets of belief or the fullness of the created universe, limit her ability to describe the fullness and immediacy of her lived experience, even as Puritan belief required her attentiveness to that experience.10

Among the marriage poems, Bradstreet's replication of the emblems in "Elements" is probably most subtle in the one titled "Another" that begins "As Loving Hind that (Hartless) wants her Deer." The three pairs of mated animals described in this poem are associated with the elements: the deer with earth; the dove, who descended on Pentecostal fire, with air; the fish with water. The females of these animal pairs, like Anne and Earth, remain stationary while their mates, like Sun, wander. The transfiguration of Anne and Simon into each of these pairs creates an assuring vision of correspondences and an image of union during an uneasy separation. The pattern of the couple's actual separation and Bradstreet's consequent longing for the restoration of the physical relationship, which the marriage poems link with spiritual redemption, consistently appears throughout her poems to Simon.

Bradstreet's use of the cosmic configuration of "Quaternions"--of Sun and Earth as male and female counterparts--is more obvious in "A Letter to her Husband, absent upon Publick employment." Here she enfolds her actual experience as an abandoned wife into a description of a cosmic pattern that seems irrefutable to her, setting the mutability of human life against the ineluctable order of the cosmos:

I like the earth this season, mourn in black,
My sun is gon so far in's Zodiack,
Whom whilst I 'joy'd, nor storms, nor frosts I felt,
His warmth such frigid colds did cause to melt.
My chilled limbs now nummed lye forlorn;
Return, return sweet Sol from Capricorn;
In this dead time, alas, what can I more
Then view those fruits which through thy heat I bore?
Which sweet contentment yield me for a space,
True living Pictures of their Fathers face.

These lines telescope the configuration of Earth and Melancholy (whose color is black) in "Quaternions" and the movement of the sun through the houses of the zodiac that Bradstreet elaborately described in "Seasons." The lines also evoke the sexual relationship attributed to the two elements in "Quaternions" as well as in Revelation, a text that Bradstreet knew well. Here as elsewhere, Bradstreet's dazzling multidirectional energy enables her to fuse all the possible associations she can summon around a single image. Her body, the house of her spirit, becomes one of the houses of the zodiac; and her body is figured as Earth awaiting the fertilizing and redemptive Fire of Sun to illuminate it:

I wish my Sun may never set, but burn
Within the Cancer of my glowing breast,
The welcome house of him my dearest guest.

The rapid transfigurations of Earth/body/house and of Sun/Son of God/Simon poetically enact Bradstreet's vision of her sentient life, as lived with Simon, existing in relationship to cosmic and spiritual orders. The poem simultaneously works out a system of spiritual and secular correspondences, expresses an intimate wish for Simon's return, and carries an elegant injunction to maintain their union.

The figure of a woman with "glowing breast" at the center of this poem is a commonplace trope in meditative poetry, one which suggests a correspondence between erotic pleasure and spiritual illumination.11 The figure also appears in Renaissance visual images, such as Bernini's The Ecstasy of St. Teresa (1645-52), the centerpiece of the baroque Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. Carved in stone, the figures of the sixteenth-century Carmelite nun from Avila and a male angel (putti), holding a golden spear poised over the heart of the saint, seem to float on a cloud. The sculptor partially surrounds the semireclined figure of the saint with resplendent rays of light emanating from a gold medallion. The deep, irregular folds in the thick garment that drapes, weights, and obscures Teresa's body resemble the irregular surface of the earth. The saint's closed eyes suggest a transcendent inner vision, while the limpness of her limbs simultaneously suggests postcoital relaxation. In the presence of light, the sensuous yet solid marble figure seems to dematerialize. The mystical experience was, according to the saint, "the sweetest caressing of the soul by God."12

This trope, shaped by associations between the renascent powers of the pagan Sun and the divine Son upon a female figure, is replicated in attenuated form in "To my Dear and loving Husband." In this poem, the poet's body suffused with love is like Earth in "Quaternions," filled with gold shining as brilliantly as the rising sun: "I prize thy love more then [sic] whole Mines of gold. / Or all the riches that the East doth hold" (180). The gold mines suggest interior illumination, and the East is the site of the rising sun and the source of the gems and precious metals that shine like the sun.13 Both the Catholic sculptor and the Puritan poet suggest the impossibility of representing divinity without representing its embodiment. That this trope transcends the disputed demarcations of Renaissance religious doctrine attests to its vitality. However, Bradstreet's practice of fusing emblematic figures with her immediate experiences quickens the tropes, lending them, through an act of self-extension, an animation they lack in Du Bartas's and Fletcher's poetic descriptions of the Elements.

The fusion of Bradstreet's experience with the emblems of Earth and Fire also appears more than two decades after she wrote "Quaternions" when in "Upon the Burning of Our House" she transformed the radiant power of Sun back into its element, Fire. The poem is both an emblem of Fire's power to reduce the earth to ashes, "mouldring dvst [sic]" (237), and an emblem of a perishable body with an immortal soul. That is, pierced by flames, the house "on high erect" (237) resembles the radiant woman, the resurrected body, the illuminated soul. As in the letters to Simon, this poem joins affliction and affection, affection for the house, addressed as "Thee," and for the family it signifies. Bradstreet's house, like her body, sustains and protects intimate human life, the life of the family, which is, according to Elaine Scarry, "the most intimate extension of personhood" (266). The house contains Bradstreet's earthly riches, both material treasures and evanescent stores of human memory, especially memories of married life: "Nor bridegroom's voice ere heard shall bee" (237). The natural order of the material universe and the realm of the spirit, both expressed in Fire's potency, fuse in this meditation with Bradstreet's lived experience. This experience, registered along sentient nerves and expressed in her "sorrowing eyes" (236), figuratively linked with Water yet breaking through the figure with real pain, is soon checked by another trope. The destruction of her house is transfigured when the poet shifts her focus from the horrific sight before her eyes to a vision of spiritual transcendence, an exchange figured in the final lines:

Farewell my pelf, farewell my Store.
The world no longer let me Love,
My hope, and Treasure lyes Above.

The exchange of earthly for heavenly treasures (reminiscent of the parable in Matthew 6:19-21 that urges believers to "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth") corresponds with Bradstreet's poetics of symbolic transactions, unites this text with admired texts, and joins the poet's life with abstract cosmic and theological orders. Here again, a loss evokes a vision of belonging, a poetics of correspondences, and a longing for restoration.

Throughout the marriage poems intimate human relationship becomes coterminous with spiritual redemption. In this way the marriage poems, while reprising the essential relationships among the Elements, transcend the fallen state represented in the tableaux and contentious debates of "Quaternions." For example, in "Elements" Bradstreet describes the fiery heat of the late Summer Sun acting upon laborers in the fields and well-ripened fruits on the trees, burdening both, causing both to drop in synchronous exhaustion. The tableau creates a sympathetic reminder, from a woman who experienced "breeding sicknes" and "bearing pangs" (37), that labor, in both senses of the word, is earthly punishment for original sin. The postlapsarian world of "Quaternions" is, however, more dramatically represented by the competitive relationships among the sister Elements, whose boastful, internecine quarreling is passed down to their daughters, the petulant "Foure Humours." Instead of achieving transcendent redemption, the Elements and Humours settle on uneasy resolutions to their quarrels. At best, their resolutions dampen the noise of cacophonous family feuding and, thereby, accommodate the siblings' and cousins' necessary but reluctant interdependence. The vision of the necessity of relationship in "Quaternions," as an abstract idea or moral lesson, is superseded in the marriage poems by the longing for an actual relationship.14

For example, Bradstreet's "Letter" concludes with a vision of physical union and a repetition of familiar phrases: "Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone, / I here, thou there, yet both but one" (181). Procreative, conjugal love, whose intimate relationship is made visible by the birth of children ("True living Pictures of their Fathers face"--a dual paternity), is for Bradstreet emblem and embodiment of the idea of relationship evident in Renaissance correspondences and in Puritan typology and theology. Here as elsewhere, Bradstreet's emotional and intellectual resistance to acts of separation are at the core of her vision. Here as elsewhere, shared vocabularies are restorative.

In the poem to Simon often referred to as "Another," that begins "Phoebus make haste" (181), Bradstreet once again reprises "Elements" and its sets of correspondences. While "Quaternions" converted Du Bartas's and Fletcher's third person narrations and expositions of creation into a competitive debate among categorical equals, in "Another" Bradstreet, overwhelmed by the forces of the created universe, issues orders to its ruler:

But stay this once, unto my suit give ear,
And tell my griefs in either Hemisphere:
(And if the whirling of thy wheels don't drown'd)
The woful accents of my doleful sound,

The anxious imperatives accumulate and reach a strident register through the last line of the poem: "Phoebus make haste," "But stay," "give ear," "Commend me," "Shew him," "Tell him," "conjur him." Here Bradstreet, fearing that her human voice will be "drown'd" by the overwhelming noise of Phoebus's celestial chariot, summons a threatening image of primordial chaos:

Behold a Chaos blacker then the first.
Tell him here's worse then a confused matter,
His little world's a fathom under water,
Nought but the fervor of his ardent beams
Hath power to dry the torrent of these streams.

The boldness of her imperatives and the projection of her emotional turmoil onto the cosmos, which enlarges that turmoil, threaten to violate the elegance and balance of the correspondences.

At one point, Bradstreet asks Phoebus to imagine himself separated from his "beloved." Her inversions and her play with the scale of the correspondences suggest that the (even temporary) breaking of a human bond resonates with macrocosmic implications. Calling herself "his [Simon's] little world" self-deprecatingly, humorously, and somewhat ironically plays with that scale and checks the destabilization her sorrow and her commands threaten. Bradstreet's figuring of herself as a "little world" brings to mind Elaine Scarry's description of the experience of pain as a seeming contraction of the world to the space around the body or the expansion of the body to full and replace the world (34-35). Bradstreet's remaking of the earth trope, with its image of her simultaneous expansion to the macrocosmic scale of a world and that world's contraction to a single, weeping human, suggests the disorienting effects of pain. Bradstreet's pain throws the correspondences themselves into chaos, testing the capacity of the emblems to represent her experience. The poem calls attention to the dilemma of the Puritan impulse to view afflictions as occasions for self-examination that rally intellectual and spiritual action but leave the emotions without a vocabulary for their expression. How could the available Renaissance and Puritan representational systems that elegantly describe the order and plenitude of the created universe describe the plangency and immediacy of individual, lived experience? Bradstreet's effort in "Another" not only to describe her place and Simon's place in a larger cosmic vision but also to direct the workings of the cosmos distinguishes this noisy poem from the others to her husband and partly answers that question. She attempts to hurry time's chariot, trying to make the rhythms of an immutable celestial mechanics correspond sympathetically with her experience in lived, bodily time.

By the final line, Bradstreet audaciously attempts to make an ally of Phoebus: "By all our loves conjur him [Simon] not to stay" (182). Conjur, which has come down to us as an act of solemn, earnest, and sometimes magical entreaty, originally meant to swear together or to take an oath of conspiracy (OED). In this line, she imagines creating a conspiracy among two human beings and a deity to manipulate the forces of nature, providence, and the politics of the colony that sent Simon away. These forces and politics, from Bradstreet's point of view, are responsible for the calamity brought on by upsetting relationships. These forces threaten chaos, evoking the "Quaternions"'s vision of the Fall, the most available image to describe her experience and the sanctioned metanarrative that limned her life. This marriage poem, which is, in part, an injunction to Simon/Phoebus, also suggests the instrumental, restorative potentials of language. Bradstreet's poem links the use of language with the originating speech acts of Genesis, giving her work as a poet mimetic and competitive status with acts of divine creation. "Another" is also a deliberative love poem that bravely attempts to exhort both the very human Simon and the unseen forces of the cosmos.15 To overcome the threat of chaos, a potent enemy in Puritan theology, the poem evokes another vision of relatedness, here enacted by the performative speech act of swearing together an oath in the word conjur, an act that recalls the oath of marriage and the capacities of language to enable human belonging and participation. Her participation in making an oath affirms her communal status as a speaker.

The Puritan woman who spent her childhood reading in the library of Sempringham Manor in Lincolnshire under the tutorage of her father, Thomas Dudley, Steward to the Earl of Lincoln's estate, acquired from her literary education a vision of a copious world of correspondences. She found in the aural culture of her Puritan community a vision of the possibility of a fallen world redeemed by covenant and grace. At the center of this Puritan vision was the image of an immaterial divinity made flesh, an embodiment symbolized by marriage. Eighteen-year-old, newly married Anne Bradstreet heard John Winthrop identify this symbol as the central representation of a Christian community in his sermon "A Model of Christian Charity," a moral discourse on human relationship delivered on board the Arbella during its 1630 voyage between southern England and the Massachusetts shore. Winthrop told the assembled members of this floating "household of faith" (32), whose mission had been legally chartered and whose relationships were entailed in contracts and oaths, that bonds among humans needed to embody God's regenerate relationship with the faithful. This relationship, Winthrop declared, "propounds one man to another, as the same flesh and image of God" (32). Young Anne Bradstreet heard Winthrop describe the exercise of inward love in intimate relationship, such as that of a mother who "thoroughly conceives a resemblance of herself in [her child]" (38). She heard that divine love most closely resembles the "bond of marriage" (40) and that the bond of love is like the ligaments of the body that "knit together ... [a]ll its parts" (36). The Puritan God whose faithful took seriously the commandment forbidding them to create material images of him could be represented, according to Winthrop, in the bodies of the faithful and the relationships they created. In the culture they created, subjectivity and identity were made and sanctioned within a community, rather than through acts of rebellion.

Bradstreet's poetics of familiar tropes and correspondences reproduced what she read and heard. Her words enabled her to belong to her family and her culture, which offered a vision of relationship and regeneration during those bleak, threatening moments when her "heart rose."16


1. Bradstreet's engagement with Renaissance literary culture has been well documented. Ann Stanford (1974) offers a list of the books with which Bradstreet was probably familiar (135-44). Critics have given particular attention to relationships between her poetry and the work of Guillaume Du Bartas (especially Joshua Sylvester's translation of The Divine Weeks and Works, originally La Sepmaine du Creation), Spenser, Sidney, and Raleigh. Readers have also noted her rewriting of the Old and New Testaments; of medieval and Renaissance compendiums on cosmology, medicine, and anatomy; and of Phineas Fletcher's The Purple Island, an elaborate geographical allegory of human anatomy and a source for the "Elements" and "Humours" sections of her "Quaternions." Popular Emblem books may have provided another source for emulation; see Stanford in Cowell and Stanford. For comparisons between Bradstreet's work and other texts, see, for example, the introduction to John Harvard Ellis's edition of her Works; Wendy Martin, especially chaps. 2 and 3 and pp. 70-71; Ann Stanford (1983); Kenneth A. Requa, "Anne Bradstreet's Use of Du Bartas in 'Contemplations'"; Helen McMahon; and Elizabeth Wade White, who discusses comparisons throughout her critical biography. My purpose here is not to break new ground in making connections between Bradstreet's emulation of existing texts; instead, my goal is to demonstrate that the poems that we have perceived as "original" share both visions and tropes with those Bradstreet poems, especially Quaternions, that we acknowledge as clearly imitative.

2. A couple of challenges to the search for a lyrical female voice in Bradstreet's work have recently been offered in articles about her elegies of public figures. See Ivy Schweitzer and Timothy Sweet. Concerned with anachronistic readings of Bradstreet, Sweet finds that "it has been too easy to apply to Bradstreet's career a romantic fiction of a struggle for and progress toward a 'personal voice'" (170). Barbara Kiefer Lewalski's Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric does not specifically discuss Bradstreet, but she reminds readers that, in their religious lyrics, Protestant poets sought a voice that would be acceptable to God, rather than a distinctively "personal" or "original" voice. Mitchell Robert Breitwieser describes Puritanism as "a collective subjectivity speaking through different voices, but not really with different voices" (51). For an interesting general critique of the search for a female voice, see Maria Lugones and Elizabeth Spelman. While Bradstreet's work has bearing on the question of constructing poetic subjectivity by and through the category of gender, my point here is that discussions of such subjectivity need to consider the rules by which she was playing language games, to borrow Wittgenstein's formulation. Of course, in Bradstreet's case, this issue is complicated by the fact that the admired texts available to her for imitation were the work of male writers, an issue Schweitzer considers.

3. Explanations vary for where and why Bradstreet's canon bifurcates. For example, Wendy Martin sees the turning point coinciding with the death of Bradstreet's father, Thomas Dudley, in 1653, believing that she first attempted to join "a community of male writers" (31) and later drew upon her own experiences. Ann Stanford (1974) finds that the issue of visibility divides Bradstreet's canon: in the early poems the visible world dominates; in the later ones the invisible world does. In Elizabeth Wade White's narrative, the change occurred with the 1650 publication of Bradstreet's poems, which concerned "large impersonal subjects," while the rest of her work concerned "personal and domestic matters" (344). Kenneth A. Requa describes Bradstreet moving from a public, "imitative" voice to a private, "original" voice in "Anne Bradstreet's Poetic Voices." For a useful survey of Bradstreet criticism, see Pattie Cowell's introduction to Cowell and Stanford. Critical perceptions of Bradstreet's canon can be traced in Raymond F. Dolle's excellent annotated bibliography.

4. Elizabeth Wade White concludes that the marriage poems were written between 1642 and 1647, years that Simon probably traveled to Boston on behalf of his settlement. The first two Quaternions, "The Foure Elements" and "The Foure Humours," very likely composed during 1642 and 1643, were presented to Bradstreet's father in 1643. "The Foure Seasons" and "The Foure Ages of Man" had to be completed during the 1640s, since they were published in the 1650 Tenth Muse. For explanations of White's method of dating, see chap. 7. Joseph R. McElrath and Allan P. Robb usually take a skeptical view of assumptions made about the dating of Bradstreet's work in scholarly literature, yet they find convincing White's calculations regarding the first two Quaternions. See their introduction in The Complete Works of Anne Bradstreet and the textual note on p. 244.

5. A few readers have noticed correspondences between the poems considered imitative and the ones regarded as personal and original, but most of these readings are limited. For example, Jane Donahue Eberwein describes Quaternions as "apprentice" work which made possible Bradstreet's aesthetic and intellectual development and which is able to "illuminate her more familiar work" (166). I agree with this position but take it further. For instance, while Eberwein urges that "A Letter to Her Husband ..." be read in relation to all sections of Quaternions, I find that the other marriage poems also resemble important features of Quaternions. Anne Hildebrand convincingly compares Quaternions with "Contemplations," asserting that differences between the poems have been "overstressed" (117). Robert D. Arner demonstrates the poetic unity within Tenth Muse. Ann Stanford (1966) discusses similarities between Bradstreet's three public elegies and the marriage poems.

6. For a respectful assessment of Bradstreet among Renaissance women writers, see Jennifer Waller.

7. For an extended description of Bradstreet's use of Puritan typology and pagan symbols to link and transfigure various orders of reality, see chap. 3 in Robert Daly. For a discussion of Bradstreet's use of religious symbols and Puritan typology in the marriage poems, see Rosamond R. Rosenmeier.

8. Elisa New perspicaciously questions the reading of twentieth-century feminist concerns into the writing and lives of colonial women and calls for a "new understanding of colonial feminism" (99).

9. References to Collected Works are page, not line, number citations. I quote Bradstreet's writings from McElrath and Robb's edition of her Complete Works. Numbers in parentheses refer to pages in that volume.

10. My understanding of Bradstreet's use of Renaissance and Puritan commonplaces resembles Mitchell Robert Breitwieser's reading of the commonplaces in Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative. He sees that the Puritan typologies through which she interpreted her experience offer her the comfort of rejoining her family and culture, and he rejects the notion that the commonplaces signal a thoughtless compliance. I am grateful to Gregg Camfield for noticing the similarities between Breitwieser's argument and mine and for recommending his book, which has enriched my understanding of the dilemma of Puritan expressions of loss.

11. For a discussion of the figure of the glowing heart and other commonplaces in meditative poetry, see chap. 2 in Louis L. Martz.

12. Quoted in H. W. Janson (410). For biographical information about St. Teresa and an excerpt of her account of her spiritual ecstasy, see Linnea H. Wren (124-26). I thank Lane Heise for providing this book and the images of Bernini's sculpture.

13. The figures of the radiant woman and of the violence of the heavens upon the earth appear in the visions of Revelation. I quote from the Geneva Bible: "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven: A woman clothed with the sunne, and the moon was under her feete, and upon her head a crowne of twelve starres" (XII.1). The gloss reads: "In this third vision is declared how the Church, which is compared about with Jesus Christ the sunne of rightousnesse, is persecuted of Antichrist." The violation of the earth in the other vision is regenerative: "And another Angell came out of the Temple crying with a loude voyce to him that sate on the cloude, Thrust in thy sickle, and reape: for the time is come to reape: for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sate on the cloude, thrust in his sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped" (XIII.15-16). For an interesting contemporary reading of the relationship between religious ecstasy and pain, see David B. Morris, chap. 6. Morris also discusses Bernini's Saint Teresa in a reading similar to mine. The issue of gender in the figuring of heaven and earth in these visions and tropes stares contemporary readers in the face, but it is beyond the scope of this discussion to give full play to the significance of the gender constructions of these tropes. Jane Donahue Eberwein has already suggested that a psychological biography of Bradstreet might be constructed by reading the figure of Earth throughout her canon (25). I also think that the Earth/Sun configuration could be pursued for the issues it raises about metaphoric cross-gendering in Puritan theological and literary culture. That is, in the context of Bradstreet's writing, critical discussions are frequently concerned with the problem, significance, and consequences of a female writer undertaking what was understood as a male vocation. However, the tropes available to Bradstreet were appropriately gendered for a female writer and believer. That is, the receiver of grace, figured as a sexual act by a male deity, is always female. As a result, regenerate Puritan males became metaphorically female in their devotions, an act of cross-gendering that Bradstreet and the female faithful did not need to perform. Peter Conn has suggested to me that interesting questions can be asked about publicly powerful, authoritative men taking on female roles during the private, spiritual moments that sanctioned their public authority. I mention these points only to suggest that the issue of a writer's gender within Bradstreet's culture exists within a complex matrix of gender constructions and confusions.

14. Wendy Martin takes a more sanguine view of relationship in these sections than I do. Martin finds a redeeming gynocentric vision of "mutuality" and "cooperation" in which "relationship ... replaces hierarchy" (44-45). By contrast, Elisa New's ear for the cranky inflection of the Elements' and Humours' debates leads her to conclude that "each poem betrays signs of female feuding that are at extreme variance with the vision of unity toward which the poem appears to build" (110). New finds that for Bradstreet, as for Anne Hutchinson, politics with its attendant "struggle for preeminence" (108) is the fallen world. In fact, the collapse of order, and orderly debate that occurs in Quaternions, is foreshadowed in the prologue to the first section of "Elements." There the language of academic debate, "contest," "could shew," "declare" (8)--in the revised Muse the line "In placid terms they thought now to discourse" (Hensley, ed., 18) is added--is quickly abandoned and deconstructed by a vivid image of "Chaos, or new birth" (8). There ensues a "roaring," "rumbling, hissing, puffing" (8) upheaval of the Elements: "the worlds confusion" (8).

15. Ann Stanford's (1974) brief but suggestive reading of Bradstreet's marriage poems in relation to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century love poetry opens the way, I think, for further readings of these works in that literary context. See chap. 2.

16. Elisa New suggested that I reread Winthrop. I am grateful to her and to Peter Conn for reading earlier drafts of this essay and offering comments that enabled me to improve it. I presented a briefer version of this article, called "Anne Bradstreet Was Always Re-imagining Renaissance Texts," at the 1995 Northeast Modern Language Association Conference, Boston, and my essay subsequently received the Association's Women's Caucus award for "the best essay on women." I thank Marilyn Rye for inviting me to read this essay at NEMLA and Phyllis Perrakis for her generous responses to it.

Works Cited

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Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420073863