Many people do not know this, but much like how American history is divided into time periods, American literature is divided into literary periods. The first of these literary periods is known as the Colonial or Puritan period, and they are known as such because of the great influences the colonies and puritans had on the literature of the time. Two good example of this are Anne Bradstreet’s To My Dear and Loving Husband and Upon the Burning of Our House July 10th, 1666. These two works demonstrate the feeling and ideas of their time period, and the messages of both are very influenced by the Puritan beliefs.
The poem To My Dear and Loving Husband is a lyric poem describing Anne Bradstreet’s feelings toward her husband. Its loving tone and almost religious devotion to her husband are very similar to Puritan beliefs in regard to marriage. Puritan’s regarded marriage as a sacred covenant that should be upheld and maintained. Also, Anne Bradstreet’s poem has a great atmosphere of subservience to her husband. This parallels the society of the Puritans, who developed and maintained a patriarchal society where women were supposed to be subservient and obedient to their husbands. In addition, the poem ends with a paradox about living while not living. Many Puritan beliefs are considered to be a paradox, and it was their strong faith that fueled their beliefs in spite of that.
Bradstreet’s other famous work, Upon the Burning of Our House July 10th, 1666, is another great example of the effects of the times on the works of the period. This poem talks about the disaster of a fire that ravaged Bradstreet’s family home. She laments her lost possessions and memories at first, but by the end she has come to terms with what truly matters. This poem uses literary conceit to provide its message, in which God is compared to an architect or a wealthy benefactor. This is very Puritan in nature, as Puritan beliefs portrayed a larger than life figure of benevolence and purity.
The themes of these two are hugely affected by the Puritan society of the time. In the poem To My Dear and Loving Husband, the final stanza is the most important. As stated earlier, the final stanza of the poem contains a paradox. This paradox talks of “living and not living” which is clearly not possible. But as is the nature of paradoxes, the final stanza contains a much deeper meaning. The theme is that of an afterlife where husband and wife can remain together forever. Both the idea of an afterlife and a strong marriage bond are important Puritan beliefs. The second poem, Upon the Burning of Our House July 10th, 1666, speaks of a realization of what is most important in the final lines. This of course is speaking of the idea that material possessions mean nothing in comparison to the rewards of faith. Again the Puritan view of an afterlife plays into the message of the poem. The idea of a strong faith influences the theme as well.
In conclusion, the works of literary periods such as the Colonial/Puritan period are greatly influenced by the society and events of the time. Anne Bradstreet’s To My Dear and Loving Husband and Upon the Burning of Our House July 10th, 1666 are two great examples of this not only by their structure and subject matter, but also their themes. The Puritan ideas of God, the afterlife, society, and marriage greatly affect the content and messages of Bradstreet’s poems.