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Washington State University
Donna M. Campbell Bradstreet, Anne

Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor: Discussion Questions

Brief Discussion and Analysis Questions for Bradstreet and Taylor

Bradstreet, “A Letter to Her Husband, Absent upon Public Employment” (272)1.

  1. What is the controlling image of the first six lines?  In what ways does it set the stage for the expression of the poem’s other sentiments?  Would you describe this image as conventional or unconventional?  Where does it recur in the poem?

2.  Lines 7 and 8 introduce several new patterns of imagery that extend throughout the poem.  What allusion to classical myth do these lines introduce?

3.  Who is the “Sun” in this poem?  Think about the kinds of associations that this word typically evokes and its use in earlier writers (Shakespeare, for example): Sun/Son.

4.  Discuss the complex relationship in this poem between compass directions (Ipswich/Boston, north/south), seasons of the year, and signs of the Zodiac.  Does Bradstreet use paradox to convey her meaning?

5.  In what ways does the poem play upon concepts of natural law and man-made law?  Look at the allusions to time and also at the poem’s use of legal terminology.

6.  “Like Donne and Marvell, Bradstreet in this poem describes an attempt to stop natural processes through the power of love.”  Discuss.  Does she use imagery of enclosure and containment here?  For what purpose?

7.  In what ways might this be considered a surprising poem for a Puritan woman to write?  Does it celebrate the body?

8.  Does Bradstreet’s use of the Zodiac qualify as a metaphysical conceit?

Bradstreet, “Here Follows Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House, July 10, 1666”

1.  Like a meditation, the poem has three distinct movements or parts.  What are these parts, and how do they contribute to the poet’s acceptance of her loss?

2.  What expressions of conventional Christian sentiment occur here?  How are they used?  Does Bradstreet appear to take comfort in them, or does her expression of consolation appear to be somewhat forced, as some critics have argued?

3.  The image of a heavenly home is clearly conventional.  Does it provide a fitting conclusion to the poem?  Or does it suggest an easy answer to a difficult situation?

4.  Describe the function of repeated words such as “here” and “there” in this poem.

5.  What is the purpose of the catalogue of negation in lines 30-35?

6.  Comment on Bradstreet’s use of favorite Puritan concepts such as “sufficient” and “dwelling place.”  Why does she use this latter term instead of “house”?  How does it foreshadow her conclusion?

7.  Critic William Scheick suggests that Bradstreet uses Scripture in this poem to thwart insurgent feelings of sentiment and protest.  Is he right?  Discuss.

Bradstreet, “Before the Birth of One of Her Children”

1.  Why would Bradstreet have felt it necessary to write this kind of poem?  Why is childbirth associated with death?

2.  What is the movement of the poem?  From abstraction and conventional sentiments to specific and individual experiences?  From experience to conventional consolation?

3.  In what ways does Bradstreet use paradox and negation in lines 10-12?

4.  What are her requests?  Why does she juxtapose abstract sentiments with specific statements about “stepdame’s injury”?

5.  Why does Bradstreet use the term “remains” for her children?  What several meanings does this word have?

6.  Discuss lines 25-28 and their use of time.  Do they represent a synchretic moment in which the past is brought into the present (like Keats’s poem “This living hand, now warm and capable”)?

7.  In what ways does Bradstreet make use of these analogies and  paradoxes?  Body/paper, present body/absent body, works or poems/ children, present time/future time, life/death, fresh memory/oblivious grave, body/spirit.

Taylor, “Prologue” (332)

General question:  How do Taylor’s and Bradstreet’s poems differ?

1.  How does this prologue differ from Bradstreet’s?

2.  Who or what is God’s instrument here?  The Pen? The poet?

3.  Note the rich imagery of stanza two and the extended metaphor.  What is Taylor’s purpose in creating this imaginary scene?

4.  In what ways does Taylor use sound in line 11?

5.  Why does Taylor use “a crumb of dust” in line 1 but “thy Crumb of Dust” in line 22, 24, and 25?  What does this suggest about the movement of the poem?

6.  What is the relationship between God and the poet here?  Is God the muse? the critic? the reader? the audience?

7. Why does Taylor include extensive imagery of grinding and polishing?  In what ways does that imagery prepare the reader for the final lines of the poem?

8.  What is Taylor’s voice and tone?

Taylor, “Meditation 8” (279)

1.  Critics have suggested that Taylor’s work has a recurring tripartite structure: 1. The poet expresses a desire to write. 2. He complains about his inability to do so in a way that will praise God effectively. 3. He finds an affirmation of the process of writing and concludes with a hope of God’s grace; he finds closure thereby.  Does this poem fit the pattern?

2.    What is the symbolic meaning of the extended metaphor in stanza two?  What Biblical allusions does it contain?

3.  Explain the complex communion symbolism in stanza 4.  Does Christ grind the bread?  Or is He Himself the bread?  Or both?  Discuss.

4.  What parts of this poem are difficult because of the syntax?  In what ways does Taylor use words or sentence structures idiosyncratically?

5.  In what way is the paradox in the final lines prefigured by the preceding paradoxes in the poem?

6. Taylor’s verse, like Bradstreet’s has been characterized as rough, not least by the poets themselves. Does this amount of paradox and difficult syntax make for good poetry?

7.  If some in your group have read the poetry of John Donne, George Herbert, Thomas Crashaw, or Andrew Marvell, compare Taylor’s poems to theirs.

Taylor, “Upon a Wasp Chilled with the Cold”

1.  How does the tone and structure of this poem compare with that of the Preparatory Meditations?

2.  Why does Taylor begin at a cosmic level before zeroing in on the wasp?

3.  Would a wasp be a traditional or appropriate subject for poetry in Puritan times?  Why does Taylor choose the wasp?

4.  Note the use of specific detail in this poem.  What words contribute to the overall picture of the wasp?  How is she described?  Would you describe the verbs as strong? delicate? exact?

5.  Who or what does the Sun represent in this poem?  Why is it important that the wasp turns naturally toward the sun?

6.  Comment on the four “As if” statements beginning at line 15.  Why does Taylor move from metaphor to simile here?

7.  In what way does the wasp become an emblem for the poet?  How does he interpret her as a “school and schoolmaster”

8.  What are the “pipes” referred to in line 43?  What dual senses can this word have?