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Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor
The popular notion that the Puritans were wholly focused on their religion is not much of an exaggeration. Even a casual exploration of writing from the colonial period in America underscores this thematic dominance: Puritan authors felt duty-bound to use their writing to support believers to stay the righteous course. The Puritans believed that life on earth was test of faith in God and an opportunity to demonstrate an unalterable dedication to living righteous lives. The quotidian existence was a battle against evil, the victory of which required intimate knowledge of God's will and absolute avoidance of hazards to the spirit. Writers such as Anne Bradshaw and Edward Taylor used their talents to help their brethren stay on a very straight and narrow path, indeed.
The Puritans were a surprisingly well-educated group of people (Rowe). Edward Taylor was a teacher and studied at Harvard (Rowe, Edward Taylor). Writing was a pastime for Taylor; he was kept busy with his duties as a minister, civic leader, and doctor (Rowe, Edward Taylor). Interestingly, Taylor's poetry was not discovered until the 1930s (Rowe, Edward Taylor). His best work is considered to be his petitions to God and Christ to prepare him to preach God's word to his congregation (Rowe, Edward Taylor). Taylor didn't feel worthy of God's grace or the act of administering the Lord's Supper; these Preparatory Meditations were scaffolding to his doubts and a form of personal devotion (Rowe, Edward Taylor). As in Huswifery, many of his poems were prayers of supplication: "Make me, O Lord, thy Spinning Wheele compleat / Thy Holy Worde my Distaff make for mee / Make mine Affections thy Swift Flyers neate / And make my Soule thy holy Spoole to bee." Taylor's spirituality seemed to be nurtured by what he believed was a mystical communion with Christ (Rowe, Edward Taylor). Indelible traces of this close relationship with Christ are seen throughout his poetry (Rowe, Edward Taylor).
For Puritans who felt compelled to write, there was a need to balance their duty-bound lives with their creative impulses. In Taylor's case, the daily demands of life and multiple civic roles won out. Taylor may not have felt he could afford to appear engaged in something as frivolous as poetry, or he may simply not have valued his poems enough to share them (Rowe, Edward Taylor). By all reports, he was sincerely very pious and his responsibilities to his community were great (Rowe, Edward Taylor). His writing, when it did reach the public eye, was functional, serving as funeral elegies for public figures, or transcriptions of metrical paraphrases of the Psalms (1-9, 18). (Rowe, Edward Taylor)
The degree to which Taylor held to the strictest of Puritan rules and expectations is perhaps be illustrated by his ongoing debate with Soloman Stoddard about communion (Rowe, Edward Taylor). Stoddard eschewed many of the more rigid Puritan beliefs and was focused on maintaining the church membership more than he was policing the congregation for breaches of protocol (Rowe, Edward Taylor). Stoddard believed that everyone who was known to live uprightly in the community should be able to partake of communion; Taylor insisted that only those who had experienced a spiritual conversion and were full-fledged members of the congregation were fit to participate in the Lord's Supper (Rowe, Edward Taylor). Taylor's reasoning is a natural extension of religious thought at the time, in which rigidity was part of the position of righteousness (Rowe, Edward Taylor). Taylor was bound to the Calvinist belief in the literalness of the Scriptures as the Word of God (Rowe, Edward Taylor).
For women -- albeit, there were few women writers at the time who were the caliber of Anne Bradshaw -- becoming a popular poet was an occurrence of substantive suspect. So much so that a prologue to Anne Bradshaw's book, offered to the public by John Woodbridge, Bradshaw's brother-in-law, offers the following clarification -- lest anyone harbor suspicions (Cowell).
"…the worst effect of his reading will be unbelief, which will make him question whether it be a woman's work and ask is it possible. If any do, take this as an answer from him that dares avow it; it is the work of a woman, honored, and esteemed where she lives, for her gracious demeanor, her eminent parts, her pious conversation, her courteous disposition, her exact diligence in her place, and discreet managing of her family occasions, and more than so, these poems are…[continue]
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The Flesh attempts to tempt her sister, the Spirit, with physical wealth and beauty. She argues that meditation alone is not enough to live on, and that earth cannot be divorced from the spirit. Bradstreet however demonstrates that there is a basic imbalance in this view. Flesh does not argue for a balance between the Flesh and the Spirit, but rather suggests that the world of the Flesh is
American Poetry Michael Wigglesworth, Edward Taylor, and Anne Bradstreet can all be classified as American Puritan poets. God makes an appearance in nearly every poem penned by each of these three writers. Yet the poetry of Wigglesworth, Taylor, and Bradstreet differs significantly as well. Bradstreet exhibits neoclassical trends: especially in poems such as "The Prologue," in which the poet refers directly to the Greeks: "shure the ancient Greeks were far more
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