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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

3. Utopian

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Activities: Author Activities

Anne Bradstreet - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: Bradstreet's seventeenth-century language and syntax can be confusing. Pick one of her poems and write a line-by-line paraphrase of it in contemporary American English. What difficulties did you encounter in rewriting Bradstreet's images and ideas? What has the poem lost in translation?

  2. Comprehension: Anne Bradstreet composed a number of "elegies," that is, poems that relate the experience of loss and the search for consolation. In an important sense, elegies are designed to defend the individual against death. Whose loss is mourned in "Before the Birth of One of Her Children," and how does Bradstreet console either the mourners or herself?

  3. Context: What are some of the recurring themes and images in Bradstreet's poetry? How does she balance abstract, theological concerns with personal, material issues? What does Bradstreet's poetry tell us about motherhood and marriage in Puritan New England?

  4. Context: In the poem "Here Follows Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House," how does Bradstreet struggle with her Puritan commitment to the doctrine of "weaned affections" (the idea that individuals must wean themselves from earthly, material concerns and focus only on spiritual matters)? How does she turn the experience of losing her possessions to spiritual use? Does she seem entirely resigned to casting away her "pelf" and "store"? In what terms does she describe the "house on high" that God has prepared for her?

  5. Exploration: How sincere is Bradstreet's evaluation of her poetry as the "ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain"? Should we read this kind of self-abasement as a calculated rhetorical pose, a poetic convention, a defensive maneuver, or as evidence of extreme insecurity? Why does she make a point of avowing "Men have precedency" and "Men can do best"? Keep in mind that Bradstreet was writing in the immediate aftermath of the Antinomian controversy and the banishment of Anne Hutchinson. How might a consciousness of the dangers of female speech and female writing inform her work?

  6. Exploration: Anne Bradstreet's poetry has often been compared to that by Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, the first female poet to write in the Spanish American colony of New Spain (the area that is now Mexico and the southwestern United States). How does Bradstreet's "Prologue" compare to Sor Juana's "Prologue"? What justifications does each poet give for women composing poetry? How do their attitudes toward death compare?

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