The Lives, Works, and Contributions of Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley

Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley are two of a kind. These two women defied the odds and proved that there‘s a brain behind every woman’s womanly beauty. Phillis Wheatley, an African slave taken from her home at the young age of 7, was the first African American woman poet to be published, as well as the second African American to ever be published. Anne Bradstreet, a puritan housewife and mother of 8, was the first published poet in America Both of these women overcame huge milestones but they couldn’t have done it without the driving force in their literary success, Christianity Christianity provided a means through which each poet could write and publish during this time period that restrained woman’s creativity.

Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley wrote religiously, reflected on spiritual themes, and tested the boundaries of writing in their poetry, Phillis Wheatley was born in Senegal West Africa in 1753.

In 1761 at the age of 7, she was captured in her home place and brought to Boston to be sold into the Peculiar Institution.

In Boston, wealthy tailor John Wheatley purchased Phillis to be a servant to his wife, Susannah. Luckily for Wheatley, her masters were quite sympathetic to her needs and poor health. She was allowed (by her master’s) to learn reading, writing, Latin, Greek, and classical poetry, Susannah Wheatley and her teenage twins, Mary and Nathaniel, taught Phillis most of her learnings. Phillis Wheatley was remarkably intelligent to almost everyone she met, because of this she received an education that most women (even while women) would not typically have received.

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By age thirteen, Wheatley was writing her own poetry, as her poetry became well known she wasn’t forced to work and provide labor like most slaves. Phillis Wheatley was not only educated, but she was religious as well.

The Wheatleys had a circle of Boston Christians who questioned the morality of slave ownership and the “Peculiar” Institution, because of Phillis’ association with such people she could write and publish her poetry. In 1773, Wheatley gained a considerable reputation when Nathaniel took her to England to publish her first poetry book titled, Poems on Various Subjects, Religions and Moral. She then became the first African American woman to be published, as well as, the second African American to ever be published. Phillis Wheatley continued on to read poetry in London, meet George Washington, and she was even sponsored by a group of wealthy white women in Boston. Wheatley was emancipated in 1775 upon the death of her master. Soon after, the wealthy group of women in Boston abandoned her and Phillis married a black grocer. Together they had 2 children who died very young, She herself passed away at age 31 on December 5‘”, 1784, from starvation as well as the childbirth of her last child.

Her last child departed Earth as well, 3 hours after Phillis. Phillis Wheatley wrote in the classical poetry genre, her poetry was always lyrical and full of imagery. She uses many allusions (Christian and Mythological) and Pilgrim motifs in her work, Her poetry style was very sophisticated and usually contained much philosophical meaning and numerous poetic devices. Phillis Wheatley often, if not always, stuck to subjects suitable for the Master and Owner class. Topics that Wheatley frequently wrote about include Christianity/God, and respected figures of the society (such as Whitfield and Washington). Many of Wheatley’s poems have been lost, but to this day she still lives as a literate and wonderful poet of her time. Anne Bradstreet was born (Anne Dudley) in 1612 in Northampton England, she was born into wealth as the daughter of Governor Thomas Dudley. At the age of 16 she married Simon Bradstreet, a graduate of Cambridge University and soon to be next governor of Massachusetts.

Soon after, the Bradstreet’s immigrated to America with the Winthrop Puritan group and settled in Massachusetts. There, Anne Bradstreet and her husband raised eight children all of which who lived, a clear sign of wealth in the seventeenth century. Anne Bradstreet became one of the first poets to write English verse in the American colonies. It was during this time that Bradstreet created many of the poems that would be taken to England by her brother-in-law and published in 1650 without her knowledge. The poems were titled: The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America. This was the only collection of Poetry to appear during her lifetime. In 1644, the Bradstreet’s moved to Andover Massachusetts where Anne lived until the age of 60, she passed away in 1672, 6 years later, the first American edition of Tenth Muse was published and expanded into a collection titled: Several Poems Compiled with Great Wit and Learning.

Anne Bradstreet’s greatest work, however, was a sequence of religious poems entitled Contemplations, and that wasn’t published until mid-nineteenth century, In 1956, poet John Berryman paid tribute to Mrs Bradstreet in Homage to Mistress Bradstreet, a long poem that incorporates many lines and phrases from her writings. it is a great testimony to Anne Bradstreet‘s poetic skillsr Anne Bradstreet was a classic religious poet as well as a modern poet with astute imagist poetry of her daily life and activities around her, Bradstreet’s poetics belong to the Elizabethan literary tradition. She was strongly influenced by the sixteenth century French poet Guillaume du Battasr Anne Bradstreet’s work was written privately with no intention of publication, due to this her writings tend to be much more personal in terms of content/devotional, spiritual, and emotional reflections Bradstreet‘s greatest influence for writing is religion, this is supported by the amount of biblical references and spiritual themes throughout her poetry.

Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley both wrote religiously, reflected on spiritual themes, and tested the boundaries of writing in their poetryr They may have not wrote about the same issues but they did speak to one another across the ages through their religious writings. One thing Phillis Wheatley and Anne Bradstreet had in common is that their lives reflected the Christian faith. Their poetry often contained biblical knowledge, allusions, and symbols that they used to achieve their purposes. Through Wheatley’s poems she tries to use biblical allusion to right society‘s delusions. An example of one technique is in “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” Wheatley uses the word “black” which during this time, had a negative connotation to White Christians. She refers to her soul as “benighted” and calls herself “black as Cain”.

White Christians at the time regarded black skin as an automatic relationship with the devil, but in these lines, Wheatley expresses that everyone’s souls are “black,“ and that only Christ can cleanse that away to join the “angelic train”. When it came to her poetry, Anne Bradstreet was careful about being “mindful of her God and her mission on Earth”, According to the Puritan housewife, this mission included pious living, humility, and a strong belief in God’s sovereignty despite difficult living. Bradstreet’s poetry was very personal, and in some instances it seemed like she was “testing the boundaries” of writing with her poetry. According to Paul Reuben’s critical analysis he writes that, “Bradstreet was concerned, throughout her life, with religious issues such as sin, redemption, physical and emotional frailty, and death and immortality. Bradstreet’s work demonstrates that she had difficulty “resolving the conflict she experienced between the pleasures of sensory and familial experience and the promise of heaven” (sustained).

Bradstreet often wrote about her husband and their love, for example in “To My Dear and Loving Husband”, “1 prize thy love more than whole mines of gold, or all the riches that the East doth hold. My love is such that rivers cannot quench, Nor ought but love from thee give recompense, at the time this was frowned upon because of their Puritan beliefs. Anne Bradstreet struggled with the Puritan way of life because she sometimes felt more strongly connected to her husband, children, and community than to God. Bradstreet also wrote about the injustice of her grandchild’s death as well as the misfortunate house fire that took place. Through these tough times of difficult living Bradstreet did her best to hold tight to her faith, although in some writings such as, “In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Anne Bradstreet” you can see the frustration in between the lines.

An excerpt from the poem is as follows: “With troubled heart and trembling hand I write, The heavens have changed to sorrow my delight. How oft with disappointment have I met, When I on fading things my hopes have set” Within the first line you know and feel Anne‘s sorrow, by the second line you know the sorrow she feels was caused by the heavens. The bitterness Anne reflects in this poem is due to God predestining the child’s death and her not being able to foresee or predict it, Anne Bradstreet may “test the boundaries” with her writings and the bitterness she felt towards her God, but as a Puritan woman it was against her to directly challenge Himi As the poem continues, Anne Bradstreet directs the accusations more toward herself “I-Iow oft with disappointment have I met”; “Experience might ‘fore this have made me wise”; “I knew she was but as a withering flower”; “More fool then [to look on that was lent/ As if mine own”. Bradstreet is in response to the disaster at this point, she’s saying that she should’ve seen the death coming and been prepared for it.

The irony is that death is inevitable and we rarely see it coming. Still Bradstreet does such a great job at displaying her misery and showing how God had cruelly battered her soul, because of this we are drawn into empathizing her 1055. Although Anne Bradstreet tested the boundaries of writing in some of her poetry, in most others she continued the Puritan tradition of putting her faith first See here in “Upon the Burning of Our House”, In silent night when rest I took, For sorrow neer I did not look, I wakened was with thundring noise And Piteous shreiks of dreadfull voice, That fearfull sound of fire and fire, Let no man know is my Desire. 1, starting up, the light did spye, And to my God my heart did cry, To strengthen me in my Distresse, And not to leave me succourlesse”. In the lines “And to my God my heart did cry, to strengthen me in my distress, and not to leave me succor less” Anne demonstrates the religious quality of being detached from her personal belongings.

This poem shows her trust in God and her understanding of his works, God created everything and he has the ability take what he wants back, Towards the body of the poem Anne begins to show remorse for the possessions she lost demonstrating in lines: “Here stood that trunk, and there that chest, there lay the store I counted best”, It seems that as much as Anne loves God and lives by her faith, she is only human and humans become attached to some possessions, In the last lines Anne reverts back to tradition of her religious roots: “A Prise so vast as is unknown, Yet, by his Gift, is made thine own. Ther’s wealth enough, I need no more; Farewell my Pelf, farewell my Store The world no longer let me Love, My hope and Treasure lyes Above ”. Anne Bradstreet is expressing that all she needs is God. Even after her house burns down she thanks Him for still having life that is the best possession one can have.

This was a personal poem so it was expressing her true feelings, we can observe that there is a conflict between puritan theology and her true feelings but her faith prevails in the end. This is how Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley speak to one another in their poetry, even though they can’t control the mishaps and disasters around them they try to put their faith and trust in God firsts Phillis Wheatley seemed to be much more careful in her poetry, picking topics that were approved by society She chose wisely to write about God and respected figures in society. Wheatley did test the boundaries of writing with her poetry, her most controversial poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America” begins with her acceptance of the Christian religion and the redemption it brings. In these lines she was thanking God for allowing her to come to America, ‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land, Taught my benighted soul to understand That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too: Once I redemption neither sought nor knew”.

By the end of the poem however, Wheatley tells the audience of her unhappiness in regards to the race issue. We can view her sadness in these lines, “Some View our sable race with scornful eye, ‘Their colour is a diabolic dietv Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, may be refin‘d, and join th’ angelic train” (Heath 1357). Her poem questions the different treatment between races even though they believe in the same God. According to The Analysis of Selected Poetry of Phillis Wheatley by Angelene Jamison, “Phillis Wheatley’s self—image as it is reflected in her poetry is strongly related to her religious attitudes. This poem “On Being Brought From Africa to America” shows her gratitude for having been taken from what she perceived as a Pagan land, brought to America, and taught Christianity To Phillis, God was a partial and merciful savior who deserved all praises form mankind (Jstor).

Wheatley, like Anne Bradstreet states that in the end regardless of anything religion will save her. Phillis Wheatley and Anne Bradstreet may not address the same issues, but together they do challenge the tradition of poetry and test the boundaries of writing. They speak to one another through their faith and as women it makes the comparison even more powerful. These women overcame great challenges and milestones with the help of strong faith and Christianity. This strong faith in God was the driving force in their literary success. Both of these women wrote religiously, reflected on spiritual themes, and tested the boundaries of writing in their poetry Bradstreet and Wheatley were both able to overcome any difficulties they were faced with, and in the end it resulted in great poetry.

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The Lives, Works, and Contributions of Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley. (2023, May 14). Retrieved from

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