English Poetry Overview – William Bradford, Anne Bradstreet, Mary Rowlandson

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William Bradford serves as the governor of the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts and as a puritan himself, he bemoans the spiritual state of corruption of the Church of England and the persecution against its dissidents (non-conformists). He shows contempt for the Roman Catholic Church and desires purity in the Church. As he voyages to America and settles, he unequivocally expresses his opinions on crucial issues, challenges, and gives a religious standpoint on problems in daily life. The puritans encounter the Amerindians. Noteworthy is the description of the encounter between the Amerindian and the puritan colonizers which is vastly different from that of Cabeza de Vaca and De Las Casas. The Indians are distrustful and hostile to the Europeans because they become inured to their customary cruelty. During Bradford’s tenure, he drafts and signs an important document which becomes the embryonic social contract which binds the small group together as a body politic. This pact unites the British settlers as a community where everyone agrees to abide by certain laws. Hard times decimate the numbers of the original group. The organization of the community involves land distribution, the dispensation of justice, diplomatic relations with their Amerindian neighbours. Bradford also tailors a unilateral compact with the Indians which clearly favours the colonizers. Here Bradford gives evidence of ethnocentric views. Although Bradford’s views are prejudiced, we see that the way is gradually being paved for American independence, jurisprudence, and the concept of social contract which mirrors quite closely John Locke’s theory. Internal conflict (Thomas Morton) and external conflict (Amerindians) affecting the fledgling community. Bradford’s typological narrative echoes the sentiments of the early colonists who apply Biblical stories to their own lives and experiences thus enforcing their faith and legitimizing their actions by the hand of Providence.

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Anne Bradstreet

Anne Bradstreet’s poetic works relate her experience as a new Puritan settler in America and her concerns while fulfilling the roles of wife, mother, dedicated Christian and poet in a very conservative society where the woman is not granted freedom to employment outside of the domestic sphere. Her poems focus on her life and more specifically her family life as her works are redolent with her love and devotion to her husband, children and her God. The motherhood imagery is utilized to portray the relationship between the author and her work and impresses the reader with the gravity with which she treats her role as mother of her children. Her husband occupies a major role in her life and she reveals unbounded love and passion for him – an action very uncommon among the Puritans. The flesh versus spirit imagery paints a picture of the incompatibility of carnal desire and appetite and spiritual purity. Throughout her poems, she longs for spiritual reform and desires to arrive at her celestial home. The primary themes are sin, decadence, salvation and regeneration. Living in a non-materialistic society, non-attachment to earthly possessions is highly valued. Eschatological concerns such as heaven, hell, death and life emerge in her writings. The relevance of her poetry lies in the fact that hers was the very first book of poems to be published by a female author.

Mary Rowlandson

Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative relates her experience in the hands of her captors the Amerindians during the time of King Phillip’s war [Metacom’s War or Metacom’s Rebellion] in 1675-1676. Her narrative further highlights deepening rift and the worsening of ties between the Indigenous settlers and the new British settlers. This dissolution of friendly relations between the English settlers and their Amerindian counterparts tells of British Imperialism where the colonizers appropriate to themselves justified rights to the land of those that preceded them. The war marks the escalation of political tension and land conflict. Mary Rowlandson’s narrative evokes pity at her situation. The trials that the early settler and Amerindian have to endure are hunger, privation, mutual violence, prevalent and common diseases, rampant death, and political strife between one group and the other. During King Phillip’s war, while held hostage. Rowlandson makes reference to praying Indians and praying towns and draws her strength from Biblical passages. This allusion tells of the partial success of the missionary efforts in converting Indians to Christianity. The expected role of the woman to fulfill the duties of wife and mother are plainly evinced as Rowlandson’s main concerns during her captivity is the welfare of her child(ren) and husband. The publication of her captivity narrative further stokes the already incendiary relation between the Indian and the European.

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