Illustrating Puritan Life
The Puritans have taken a bum rap. You may have seen them characterized as sour-faced, dull, never smiling, haters of fun and happiness. This distorted impression of Puritanism comes from the nineteenth century, however, and does not reflect the vibrant lives most Puritans lived. Take, for example, Anne Bradstreet--a model Puritan woman whose soaring spirit, zest for life, intense love for her husband and children, and beautiful poetry refute the false stereotype of Puritan.
At age eighteen, Anne was among the hundreds of English Puritans who sailed for America under the leadership of John Winthrop in 1630. Also among this great migration were Thomas and Dorothy Dudley, Anne's parents, and her husband, Simon Bradstreet. In England, Thomas Dudley had been a steward to the Earl of Lincoln, and Anne and her family had enjoyed the advantages of wealth. Anne was fond of learning, and when she was about seven, several tutors were hired to teach her dancing, music, and languages, among other subjects. When she was sixteen, Anne married Simon Bradstreet, the son of a Puritan minister and himself a member of the Earl of Lincoln's household. Although the young couple could anticipate a comfortable life materially, they chose to leave much of their wealth in England and move to America to serve their God.
Both Anne's father, Thomas Dudley, and her husband Simon were active in the governmental affairs of Massachusetts Bay Colony; both served several terms as governor of the colony. Anne's household was to be an influential one in the new land.
Rich in love
In the midst of her household duties, Anne found time to write poetry. Several of her poems were written to her husband expressing how much she missed him while he was absent on government business (One time he was sent to England for several months as Massachusetts' envoy to the new king, Charles II.) The simplest of these poems beautifully told of her love:
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 ye can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
Ten years after arriving in Massachusetts, Anne published a book of her poems in Boston. Many of the poems were lengthy, poetic treatments of learned subjects, such as the ages of men, the four monarchies of Daniel, and the seasons. They are scholarly poems in a formal style such as one would expect more from a poet at a European court than from a woman on the American frontier. The book was well-received in America and England; John Newton (author of "Amazing Grace") highly praised Anne's work.
Although at the beginning of her marriage Anne was saddened by lack of children, the Lord heard her prayers, and she and Simon eventually had eight children! Many of her poems were written as prayers in the midst of the events of her active family's life. Such was the poem "Upon my Daughter Hannah Her Recovery from a Dangerous Fever":
Bles't be thy Name who did'st restore To health my Daughter dear
When death did seem ev'n to approach And life was ended near.
Grant she remember what thou'st done And celebrate thy praise
And let her Conversation say She loves thee all her Days.
Poetry out of pain
Many of Anne's poems were written at times of hardship or tragedy. Her poetry was a means for her to again focus on her God and his matchless plan and love for her. This can be seen in the "Verses Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10th, 1666":
Thou hast an house on high erect,
Fram'd by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.
It's purchased, and paid for too
By him who hath enough to do.
A Price so vast as is unknown,
Yet, by his Gift, is made thine own.
There's wealth enough, I need no more;
Farewell my Self, farewell my Store.
The world no longer let me Love,
My hope and Treasure lies Above.
Overcoming hardships and doubt
Coming to the American wilderness to settle was a venture filled with hardships, and Anne suffered repeated illnesses throughout her forty years in America. She recognized, however, that life is filled with testing and that hardships bring a greater reliance on the Lord. She thanked her God for bringing her closer to Himself through her ailments. In an age filled with religious controversies and wars, Anne also faced doubt and uncertainty about Christianity. But she persevered to sure faith. Shortly before her death, she concluded an account of her spiritual pilgrimage written for her children:
"Upon this Rock Christ Jesus will I build by faith, and if I perish, I perish, But I know all the powers of Hell shall never prevail against it, I know whom I have trusted, and whom I have believed and that he is able to keep what I have committed to his charge."
Pictured below: A Memorial dedicated to Bradstreet