America Essay, Research Paper
Bradstreet was the first poet in America to publish a volume of poetry. The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America was published in England in 1650. Bradstreet had lived in England until 1630, when at the age of 18 she arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where she spent the rest of her life. Although Bradstreet wrote many poems on familiar British themes and produced skilled imitations of British forms, her most remarkable works responded directly to her experiences in colonial New England. They reveal her attraction to her new world, even as the discomforts of life in the wilderness sickened her. Her poetry contains a muted declaration of independence from the past and a challenge to authority. Although Bradstreet’s verses on the burning of her house in 1666 and poems on the death of three grandchildren end by reaffirming the God-fearing Puritan belief system, along the way they also question the harsh Puritan God. Further, Bradstreet’s work records early stirrings of female resistance to a social and religious system in which women are subservient to men. In “The Prologue” (1650), Bradstreet writes, “I am obnoxious to each carping tongue / Who says my hand a needle better fits, / [than] A poet’s pen. ” Bradstreet’s instincts were to love this world more than the promised next world of Puritan theology, and her struggle to overcome her love for the world of nature energizes her poetry.
Taylor, a poet of great technical skill, wrote powerful meditative poems in which he tested himself morally and sought to identify and root out sinful tendencies. In “God’s Determinations Touching His Elect” (written 1680?), one of Taylor’s most important works, he celebrates God’s power in the triumph of good over evil in the human soul. All of Taylor’s poetry and much of Bradstreet’s served generally personal ends, and their audience often consisted of themselves and their family and closest friends. This tradition of private poetry, kept in manuscript and circulated among a small and intimate circle, continued throughout the colonial period, and numerous poets of the 17th and 18th centuries remained unknown to the general public until long after their deaths. For them, poetry was a kind of heightened letter writing that reaffirmed the ties of family and friends. Taylor’s poems remained unpublished until 1939, when The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor appeared. Many of Bradstreet’s most personal poems also remained unpublished during her lifetime.
Public poetry for the Puritans was more didactic or instructive in nature and often involved the transformation into verse of important biblical lessons that guided Puritan belief. Poet and minister Michael Wigglesworth wrote theological verse in ballad meter, such as The Day of Doom (1662), which turned the Book of Revelation into an easily memorized sing-song epic. Puritan poetry also included elaborate elegies, or poems honoring a person who had recently died. Puritans used these poems to explore the nature of the self, reading the character of the dead person as a text and seeing the life as a collection of hidden meanings.