Margaret Brueggeman

Natalia Tobar



Anne Bradstreet: a Christ-centered life


            The Puritan migration was a great exodus of determined, self-governing, hard-working middle class families.  This middle class was a collection of yeoman, husbandmen, artisans, craftsmen, merchants, and traders.[1]  They were well educated (Oxford, Trinity, and Cambridge).[2]  The Dudleys and the Bradstreets were part of the limited elite that came from East Anglia to New England, along with the Cottons, Winthrops, Mathers, Stoddards,  Edwardses, Chaunceys, Bulkelyes, and Wigglesworths.  This small elite played a very pivotal role in bringing over the folkways of New England.[3] Along with the immigrants, ninety ministers came in the Great Migration, such as John Cotton, Richard Mather, John Eliot, Peter Pukeley, John Davenport, and many more.  Together, the ministers and the families would unite in the common goal of establishing the City upon a Hill.  That is, a society with one mind and one accord with strict reflection and reference to the Bible.

            The center of all the thought, political organization, church, family and local community of this society was God.  The covenantal bond between the individual and God was reflected in all aspects of life.  For instance, marriage was a civil contract and not a religious ceremony.[4]  The relationships within the family were also covenantal, for each member had obligations and duties to fulfill with one another.

Puritan writer John Mitchell declared, “a Christian may and ought to desire many things as means, but God alone as his end.”[5]  This conception of means and ends, applied to their understanding of family, for family was considered “an instrument of their highest religious purposes.”[6]  Although the love between spouses was not supposed to distract from the devotion to God, marriage and proper rising of children were important to build God’s commonwealth.[7] 

            Anne Bradstreet is a good model of a New England puritan woman.  She was supposedly born in Northampton in 1612.  Raised, as the daughter of the manager of the estate of the Earl of Lincoln, she enjoyed a privileged life.  Although there are very few records of Anne’s mother, the Epitaph “On my dear and ever honored Mother” reveals immense love, respect, and friendship.

                                                Here lyes,

A worthy Matron of unspotted life,

A loving Mother and obedient wife,

A friendly Neighbor, pitiful to poor,

Whom oft she fed, and clothed with her store;

To Servants wisely aweful, but yet kind,

And as they did, so they reward did find:

A true Instructer of her Family,

The which she ordered with dexterity,

The publick meetings ever did frequent,

And in her Closet constant hours she spent;

Religious in all her words and wayes,

Preparing still for death, till end of dayes:

Of all her Children, Children, liv’d to see,

They dying left a blessed memory.


Anne followed her mother’s footsteps, to become a good puritan wife and




From her young years, she was taught in the puritan doctrine.  She writes in her letter “To my Dear Children,”

            In my young years, about 6 or 7 as I take it, I began to make confcience of my wayes, and what I knew was finfull, as lying fisobedience to Parents, &c. I avoided it.  If at any time I was overtaken with the like evils, it was a great Trouble.  I could not be at reft’till by prayer I had confeft it vnto God.  I was also trouble at the neglect of Private Dutyes, tho: too often tardy that way.  I alfo fovnd much comfort in reading the Scriptures, efpecially thofe places I thought moft concerned my Condition, and as I grew to haue more vnderftanding, fo the more folace I took in them.

            But I grew vp to be about 14 or 15 I fovnd my heart more carnall and fitting loofe from God, vanity and the follyes of youth take hold of me.


Although she did not attend school, she “benefited from the Elizabethan tradition that valued female education.”[8]  She read Virgil, Plutarch, Livy, Pliny, Suetonius, Homer, Hesiod, Ovid, Seneca, and Thucydides, as well as Spenser, Sidney, Milton, Raleigh, Hobbes, du Bartas, and the Geneva version of the Bible.[9]  Her favorite authors were Sir Walter Raleigh—considered by his contemporaries a skeptical poet, and Guillarme Du Bartas—labeled as a Calvinist poet. 

            At the age of 16, she married Simon Bradstreet, with whom she had eight children.  Her covenantal marriage displayed affection and commitment.  She deeply admired and loved her husband, and suffered greatly when separated.  She writes in the poem “To my Dear and loving Husband,”

            If ever two were one, then surely we.

If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee:

If ever wife was happy in a man,

Compare with me ye women if you can.

I prize thy love more then whole Mines of gold,

Or all the riches that the Eaft doth hold.

My love is fuch that Rivers cannot quench,

Nor ought but love from thee, give recompence.

Thy love is fuch I can no way repay,

The heavens reward thee manifold I pray.

Then while we live, in love lets fo perfere,

That when we live no more, we may live ever.


In 1630, the Bradstreets and the Dudleys came to the new world.  The move from England to the new world was not an easy one.  Anne enjoyed the life in the Old continent, and America was a place of “savage surroundings… scant privileges, [and] crude, realistic and shaggy forms of society.”[10]  However, she was “convinced it was the way of God,” and she “submitted to it.”[11] Shortly into her move, she was affected by an enduring illness and in this fragile state she bore her first child, Samuel.  After Samuel she had seven children: Dorothy, Sarah, Simon, Hannah, Mercy, Dudley, and John. 

Anne’s love and devotion for her children is understood undeniably through her poetry. However, sorrow often accompanied such love and dedication.  This is displayed in Anne’s poem “In reference to her Children, 23. June, 1659.”

I had eight birds hatched in one nest,

Four Cocks there were, and Hens the rest,

I nurst them up with pain and care,

Nor cost, nor labour did I spare,

Till at the last they felt their wing…

Among your young ones take your rest,

In chirping languages, oft them tell,

You had a Dan that lov’d you well,

That I d what could be done for young,

And nurst you up till you were strong,

And ‘fore she once would let you fly,

She shew’d you joy and misery;

Taught what was good, and what was ill,

What would save life, and what would kill.

Thus gone, amongst you I may live,

And dead, yet speak, and counsel give:

Farewel my birds, farewell adieu,

I happy am, if well with you.


As a good New England puritan woman, she never neglected her duties towards her family to write poetry, as she affirmed in the title page of the publication of The Tenth Muse….  The poems “were fruit but of some few hours, curtailed from sleep and other refreshments.”[12]  In 1950 in England, her brother published The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America.  Eight years after it was first published, it was listed by William London in his Catalogue of the Most Vendible Books in England and George III “is reported to have had the volume in his library.”[13]

Everything in her poetry reflected her beliefs.  Thus, in the poem “Contemplations,” there are 33 stanzas, with seven lines per stanza, and with rhyme ABABCCC, reflecting the divine ordering of the Universe.  It was characterized by puritan simplicity and plain style.  As a woman, she predominantly wrote regarding her spiritual journey and her family.

Her enjoyment of Raleigh and du Bartas reflected a common tension in the puritan life, and in particular, in Bradstreet’s life.  She continually struggled with this world and the divine, with the Flesh and the Spirit.  Thus, her poem, “The Flesh and the Spirit,” she portrays this tension between being absorbed in earthly pleasure and recognizing the supremacy of the heavenly; between divine and depraved bound up in the same body.

            Ile stop mine ears at these thy charms,

            And count for my deadly harms.

            Thy sinful pleasure doe hate,

            Thy riches are to me no bait,

            Thine honours doe, nor will I love;

            For my ambition lyes above.


            Bradstreet went through various tests in her faith.  She writes to her children about her pride and vanity and about her doubts on the Scriptures and God.  However, at the end, she was confirmed in the faith,

That hath ftayed my heart, and I can now fay, Return, O my Soul to thy Reft, vpon this Rock Chrift Jefus will I build my faith; and, if I perifh, I perifh.  But I know all the Powers of Hell fhall neuer prevail agaift it.  I know whom I haue trvfted, and whom I haue believed, and that he is able to keep that I haue committed to his charge.


There is a general misconception of Bradstreet’s poetry as being feminist.  However, from our reading of her poetry and from the puritan understanding of spiritual equality—but inequality of roles, we have concluded that this claim is false.  Her poetry and works reflect an attitude of joyful submission to God and contentment in her role as a dutiful wife and loving mother.

Let Greeks be Greeks, and woman what they are,

Men have precedency and still excel,

It is but vain, unjustly to wage war;

Men can do best, and women know it well;

Preheminence in each and all is yours,

Yet grand some small acknowledgement of ours.


She died in 1672, at the age of 60.

Anne Bradstreet, a wife, a mother, a social inspiration, and most of all a Christian, gave her life to her loved ones as well as those who read her poetry.  In her tender words, soft melody, and her stern belief, we can observe her faith and devotion.  This faith marked all aspects of her life: the awareness of her depravity, the rising of the family, the struggle between the flesh and the spirit, the understanding of a divine purpose for all circumstances, and the vertical and horizontal covenantal relationships.  Anne is a pious and humble model to all women who fear God.  Her life gives us a taste of the New England puritan culture in the 17th Century.

[1] Fischer, David Hackett. Albion’s Seed: The Four British Folkways In America.  Oxford University Press: New York, 1989. p. 27

[2] Amore, Adelaide, ed.  A Woman’s Inner World.  University Press of America.  Washington, DC: 1982.  p. xvi

[3] Fischer, David Hackett. Albion’s Seed: The Four British Folkways In America.  Oxford University Press: New York, 1989. p.41

[4] Fischer, David Hackett. Albion’s Seed: The Four British Folkways In America.  Oxford University Press: New York, 1989. p. 77

[5] Ibid. p. 69

[6] Ibid. p. 68

[7] “Anne Bradstreet.”  Literature Resource Center.  Gale Group: 2003.

[8] “Anne Bradstreet.”  Literature Resource Center.  Gale Group: 2003.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Cowell, Pattie, and Stanford, Anne, ed.  Critical Essays on Anne Bradstreet.  G. K. Hall & Co.  Boston: 1983. p. 30

[11] Bradstreet, Anne.  The Works of Anne Bradstreet, ed.  John Harvard Ellis. quoted in Cowell, Pattie, and Stanford, Anne, ed.  Critical Essays on Anne Bradstreet.  G. K. Hall & Co.  Boston: 1983. p. 30

[12] “Anne Bradstreet.”  Literature Resource Center.  Gale Group: 2003.

[13] “Anne Bradstreet.”  Literature Resource Center.  Gale Group: 2003.