Diction, or Puritan Plain Style, can be defined as a simple, yet direct style of writing characterized by the use of short, easily understood words common to colonial times. This was the preferred writing style of the Puritans in seventeenth century New England. Anne Bradstreet, however, added her own twist to the simplistic style of writing. Bradstreet’s take on Puritan Plain Style can be distinctly identified because of her constant stress on the Puritanical ideal of living fully in the divine world without being of it. She also addresses the idea of a constant battle between the visible and invisible worlds (heaven and earth). Her main focus is also on her spiritual, prayer-filled life and the experiences that God has allowed her to endure. Most of her work is written in Puritan Plain Style, and reflects the strict Puritanical concepts through which she was raised. Anne Bradstreet, a mother of eight, underwent various hardships faced by all Puritans of her time, yet she still found the time to write. Most of her poems were completed by the time she was thirty. Bradstreet emigrated from England to America due to the Anglican persecution of Puritans. The Puritanical desire to purify the Anglican Church of Catholic-like practices was one of Bradstreet's main inspirations to write about how strong her faith in her beliefs was. Even though male supremacy was still abundant during her time, Bradstreet is known as the first female poet in the New World, and the publication of her many works aided in the planting of the seeds for women’s rights in colonial America. In the poems “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” “Contemplations,” and “Upon the Burning of Our House,” Anne Bradstreet uses the simplicity of diction, or Puritan Plain Style, and the main beliefs of the Puritan religion to make her own, distinct style of poetry.
“To My Dear and Loving Husband” is a love letter written not only to her husband but to her Creator for allowing her to feel love as greatly as she does for him. This poem can be analyzed as an insight into the Puritan ways of viewing love, marriage, and God. Anne Bradstreet addresses her love and care for her husband as well as his love for her. Bradstreet also speaks of how her love for her husband is much greater than her love for material items. The theme of love is also seen as her spiritual salvation (“Introduction: To My Dear and Loving Husband”). The unconditional love that she has for her husband and God, as well as how love has been like a savior to her shows the reader the way that Bradstreet’s Puritan Plain Style is different than that of other Puritan writers of the time. This unique version of Puritan Plain Style also uses the first person, allowing the reader to see Bradstreet in the raw: “Written in first person point of view, using ‘I’, ‘To My Dear and Loving Husband’ is a personal account of Bradstreet’s. She allows the reader to see her and her emotions as they are, and does not hide behind the use of a fictional speaker” (“To My Dear and Loving Husband” 231). Bradstreet also does a phenomenal job at tying in the four core Puritan values, which include hard work, frugality, self-improvement, and self-reliance. In this poem, Bradstreet incorporates the theme of frugality: “I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold/Or all the riches that the East doth hold.”(“To My Dear and Loving Husband” 228). She introduces the idea that love is priceless, and that no amount of money could amount to the feeling of true love. In line 10, Bradstreet states how she prays for thanksgiving of the love that she has been granted: “The heavens reward thee manifold I pray” (Bradstreet 96). She is not only thanking God for the love with whom she has been able to share, but because of the old views that men were superior to women and that women were to only be seen in the house, she relied on her husband to help her get a sense of who she is. Bradstreet thanks God for allowing her to have someone who brings out her true self (“To My Dear and Loving Husband” 231). Thus, in “To My Dear and Loving Husband” Bradstreet allows the reader to have a deep, intellectual insight into the unconditional love that Bradstreet has for her husband and God.
“Contemplations” is a poem where the reader can see deep into the great love, respect, and faith that Anne Bradstreet gives her God. In “Contemplations,” Bradstreet is in a search for her faith rather than the typical reinforcement of faith used by various Puritanical poets of the time (Richardson). Throughout this poem, Bradstreet takes the spiritual world and applies it to the daily lives of the Puritans on earth, the natural world. She reveals the conflict between blood-thirsty earth and loving heaven by using allusion of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel: “There Abel keeps his sheep, no ill he thinks/His brother comes, then acts his fratricide/The virgin earth of blood her first draught drinks” (Bradstreet 120). Bradstreet’s allusion to Cain and Abel is a perfect example of the diction used by several poets of her time: “Here Cain and Abel come to sacrifice/Fruits of earth and fatlings each do bring/On Abel’s gift the fire descends from the skies/But no such sign on false Cain’s offering.” (Bradstreet 120). However, this is not the only time that the Bible is referenced in this poem, much less any other of her works: “Bradstreet in ‘Contemplations,’ reflected on a series of contrasts between herself and images from her natural environment that served as emblems of powers lost to man by Adam’s sin” (Eberwein). Puritan Plain Style is the title you give a work of literature that ties in the main puritan ideals of religion and self worth. The Bible is one of the biggest inspirations in all of Bradstreet’s poems, and her use of allusion is what sets her apart from other Puritanical writers (Kopacz 810). Although Bradstreet has her own style, her work is still considered Puritan Plain Style. In “Contemplations”, Bradstreet endures this intense search for faith, and she shows the reader and allows him or her to understand the greatness of her love and faith for God.
Finally, “Upon the Burning of Our House” shows the massive amount of faith that Bradstreet has in all of God’s doings. The main theme seen repeatedly throughout this poem is loss. The title gives an insight into the setting of the poem and how Bradstreet must have felt during this time of great loss. However, Bradstreet dealt with this much differently than one would normally assume. The poem reflects the great strength that Anne Bradstreet had in her faith and how she did not ponder on the loss of her material items because of the Puritans ideal of frugality but instead on the great sign that was brought to her by her great and loving God. Bradstreet uses her faith to help her cope with the loss of something as precious as one's home. The Puritan faith was so strong that it helped her overpower the temptations to be angry towards her God and instead praise him for the glorious sign that he had bestowed upon her (“Upon the Burning of Our House” 246). Another major style used by Bradstreet, not just in this poem but in many others, is simplicity. Like faith, simplicity is one of the major definitions of Puritan Plain Style. It allows for the writer to be blunt about the setting and content of the literature, as well as it allows the reader to have a clear understanding of the themes and main ideas of the literature. No deep thought is required to comprehend the first couple of lines in the poem: “In silent night when rest I took/For sorrow near I did not look/I wakened was with thund’ring noise/And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice./That fearful sound of ‘Fire!’ and ‘Fire!’’(Bradstreet 127). The tone and language used in this poem clearly identifies the combat between heaven and earth. Bradstreet uses the fear of fire and sense of loss to identify earthly feelings, and using the event as a warning to identify the omnipotent God. Another theme of diction brought back by Bradstreet in several of her works is the conflict between the spiritual and natural worlds. Bradstreet reflects on the strife between the natural and the divine: “Written in a formal point of view, ‘Upon the Burning of Our House’ is a conventional Puritan exercise in finding the hand of God behind every apparent disaster” (Richardson). The final lines of this poem state Bradstreet’s own reflection on this major event in her life: “There’s wealth enough, I need no more,/Farewell, my pelf, farewell my store./The world no longer let me love/My hope and treasure lies above.” (Bradstreet 128). Even in this time of stress and sadness, Bradstreet finds time to praise her savior: “Bradstreet continues to speak of the high price of her heavenly home, that price being the death of God’s one and only son.” (“Upon the Burning” 245). Therefore, Bradstreet gives her entire body, mind, and possessions to her almighty creator in the hope that she will one day be united with him in heaven.
These three beloved works all explicate the unique twist that Bradstreet takes on the simple yet effective Puritanical style of writing. She uses real-life accounts of God as well as her religious beliefs to effectively communicate the greatness of God, her savior and creator. In “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” Bradstreet thanks God for all of the glorious gifts bequeathed unto her, more specifically the gift of love. Bradstreet emphasizes not only her love for her husband but her love for her faith in God. On the other hand, in “Contemplations,” Bradstreet is on a journey to find and strengthen her faith. In this poem, Anne Bradstreet uses allusion superfluously to affirm her understanding of faith. Cain and Abel are also used to symbolize the conflict between the divine and natural: Cain being divine and Abel being natural. The strife between these two worlds becomes so evident through all of the examples used by Bradstreet in her writing. Lastly, in “Upon the Burning of Our House,” Bradstreet’s faith in her creator is restored. She uses her faith to aid in her mourning of her material possessions but also allows it to overpower any doubts that she has in her God. Bradstreet sees the melancholy event as a sign from God, not a punishment. She rejoices in the great warning given to her by God and continues to strengthen her faith in him. These three works of literature as well as many other works by Bradstreet truly encompass her unique version of Puritan Plain Style.
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