Review: The Works of Anne Bradstreet

The Works of Anne Bradstreet Review
4 of 5 stars to The Works of Anne Bradstreet by poet, Anne Bradstreet. Perhaps my favorite poet, I want to focus on one poem specifically, which she wrote in the 1670s… though it has the usual classical feel, the message is beautiful.

The use of language in the poem “The Flesh and the Spirit”, by Anne Bradstreet, a devout Puritan, is what gives the work meaning. Through imagery and symbolism, two sisters, named Flesh and Spirit, defend their beliefs on what really is the beauty and greatness of life. The most inspiring meaning that a reader can obtain from the work is whether or not man is occasionally allowed to have temptations of something that isn’t exactly following in the footsteps of God.

In “The Flesh and the Spirit”, Flesh represents “life on Earth of a mortal man”, which is sinful by nature, greedy at times, and materialistic. Her sister, Spirit, represents the “soul of a mortal man”, which is pious in nature, holy at all times, and moralistic. They both are beautiful, but Flesh is flawed in that she is depraved and is only mortal. They have the same mother, but Flesh was begotten by Adam, who created sin. Yet, Spirit, is the true daughter of God. She follows in his footsteps both in word and beauty. Flesh, as all mere men are made of, concentrates on the reaps that one can sow from life. When she says “Earth hath more silver, pearls and gold than eyes can see or hands can hold” (lines 31-32) she is trying to convince her sister, Spirit, that life on Earth is better than the spiritual and moral life she is already leading. Later, Flesh asks her sister “what liv’st thou on-nothing but meditation?” (lines 9-10). Anne Bradstreet uses specific language to convey the thoughts of Flesh and Spirit. The way that Flesh keeps asking questions to Spirit can be taken satirically. Throughout her words to her sister, Flesh criticizes and ridicules Spirit and the way she leads her life. Spirit absorbs Flesh’s words and fights back with her own feelings. “How do I live thou need’st not scoff, for I have meat thou know’st not of; The hidden manna I do eat, the word of life it is my meat” (lines 65-69). Spirit also says, “My crown not diamonds, pearls, and gold, but such as angels’ heads infold.” (Lines 83-84). Spirit is a part of God, differently than mere man is, and she has already been chosen. She tells Flesh, “This City pure is not for thee, for things unclean there shall not be. If I of heaven may have my fill, take thou the world, and all that will.” (Lines 105-109). The language in the poem flows very smoothly because Anne Bradstreet makes the poem rhythmic. By including rhymes at the end of all the lines, the poem is more beautiful and symbolic.

Bradstreet uses symbolism and imagery so brilliantly that it makes the sisters both jump off the page at you. The words within the lines of the poem create various images of angels, glory, God, the pearly gates of Heaven, beauty, etc. Even though imagery is fairly important, symbolism plays the key role in uncovering the meaning of the poem. Flesh is a symbol for men who are materialistic and Spirit is a symbol for those people who are always pious. The perfect example of Spirit would be the author of the poem herself, Anne Bradstreet. Anne Bradstreet was a devout Puritan follower who embarked on the passage of life with great piety and the traditional beliefs of Puritans in predestination, depravity, and the Protestant work-ethic. In Puritan life, there is no room or time for fun and pleasure. Therefore, Anne Bradstreet is directly related to Spirit and all the men around her can be seen as Flesh. Anne Bradstreet creates tension between the two sisters by picking a common rivalry. One is the good sister and the other is the bad sister. Bradstreet includes several phrases in her poem to make the sisters have “parents” that decide who is right and wrong. Examples are shown in the early parts of the poem when Flesh says to Spirit, “Doth Contemplation feed thee, so regardlessly to let earth go? Can speculation satisfy notion (knowledge) without reality?… Come, come, I’ll show unto thy sense, Industry hath its recompense.” (lines 11-14… lines 21-22). Tension plays a key role when Flesh is trying to tempt her sister, Spirit, by showing that no mere mortal man is omniscient enough to say what the best kind of life is. Spirit answers her by saying, “Be still thy unregenerate part; Disturb no more my settled heart, for I have vowed (and so will do) thee as a foe, still to pursue, and combat with thee will and must until I see thee laid in th’ dust.” (Lines 37-42). Spirit obviously has doubts about her beliefs, but quickly dismisses them although they will lay in the back of her head for the time being. The “parents” here could be God himself, the reader, or even Spirit herself; Since Spirit represents Anne Bradstreet herself, she must have doubts about her holy Puritan ways. By having doubts, Spirit judges for herself which one of the two is correct. Anne Bradstreet also had to decide which was correct. As we all know, Anne Bradstreet remained the pious woman she was and ignored the temptations just as Spirit did. Even though Anne Bradstreet and Spirit decided not to succumb to temptations, does that mean it is the right thing? Should all men reach the same conclusion?

According the Anne Bradstreet’s poem, even the most reverent of people can have temptations of all kinds. However, what they do with them is another story. Anne Bradstreet lets the reader feel comfortable with their beliefs and questions through her extraordinary talent and use for language. She is a marvel of wisdom and intelligence in her use of symbolism and imagery when she shows people the light. All (wo)men have temptations, but only the greatest like Anne Bradstreet can show you the way to reject them… {yeah, right!}

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

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