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Literary Puritan Influence on Present Day American Culture

Robert Dozier Jr. English 216 Dr. Cicardo 29 September, 2011 Literary Puritan Influence on Present Day American Culture Two of the most well known Puritan poets in colonial history, Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor, display in their verse the humble, pious, and disciplined life of early American Separatists. Mirroring its Calvinist background, Puritan Separatism was brought across the Atlantic during the early 1600’s as the religious “Pilgrims” were in search of a land that could offer them the opportunity for practicing their form of European Protestantism without scrutiny or oppression by monarchial powers.

Their voyage, their attempt at self legislation, and their reason for refuge would be the foundation for the eventual beginning of a new nation whose principals would be based on freedom of religion. As these Pilgrims began to mix with other European nationalities, protestant denominations, and ideological demographics, their literature would be heavily influenced by their belief in the absolute sovereignty of God. For these dissenters of the Church of England, the biblical Deity held the monarchial power over their lives, not Europe’s kings and queens.

Because this tradition became popular among the colonies of New England, Calvinist adherents such as Bradstreet and Taylor used their fear of The Almighty for the style of their poetry. These, mostly shorts poems, are some of the most important pieces in American literature because they symbolize this nation’s belief in religious liberty. This unalienable right will later make up one of the three components of the United States Constitutional first amendment. Of the two poems that will be compared by Bradstreet, the most dismal is “The Author to Her Book”.

In her writing, it seems as if Bradstreet has little confidence of her literary ability, yet the reason for this lack of assurance symbolizes the author’s belief that no matter how she tries, she could never be worthy of God’s grace. Bradstreet’s many references to her own person give an example of the unpretentious manner in which she views herself. Comparing her writing to an ill formed offspring, images of her irksome and blemished face, and mention of her absent hearse give definite relation to the meek life of Puritanism.

This relation is also a metaphor showing the likeness between the meager beginnings of what would soon become the world’s financial power (United States) to that of a “refugee” Separatist. The mentality of this brilliant poet is important to modern day Americans because it gives respect to the foundation of what eventually becomes materialistic capitalism. Another piece by Bradstreet a bit less self humiliating, “To My Dear and Loving Husband”, leaves the reader with a good idea of the quintessential Puritan marriage.

Bradstreet describes her devoted love for her husband by using several persuasive verses in her poem. She vividly states how she adores him more than rivers can quench, more than all the riches of the East, and more than whole mines of gold. While she never openly gives reference to being an inferior Puritan spouse, the implication can definitely be realized. She explains how she can never give back enough in order to repay the benefits that loving her dear husband have allowed her. Hints of the symbolic colonial marriage are still present in the family structure today.

Bradstreet’s verse becomes a timeless study concentrating on the origins of American generational customs. These very themes of Godly humility make up the basic dogma of colonial Puritan life and will be better displayed in the comparisons of Taylor’s works. Being the extremely reverent man that Edward Taylor was, his poems portray a life of total devotion to biblical scripture and absolute servitude to the Christian God. Two of his “meditations” that were created from his personal thoughts before he administered the Lord’s Supper to his congregation are “Meditation 22” and “Meditation 38”.

These poems again carry the theme of Bradstreet’s unworthiness, yet the imagery used by the author allows the reader to more clearly imagine the supreme authority of The Almighty. In both poems, scenes of heavenly angels and use of the word glory give an idea of Edward’s respect for the reward of an afterlife with the creator. While “Meditation 22” creatively praises God through verse, “Meditation 38” again uses a metaphor liking God to a supreme justice and Jesus as his advocate. This analogy is still relevant in contemporary American life.

From the beginnings of a search for a Puritan asylum to the current judicial system of law, a country arose to ensure liberty to God fearing citizens and to establish basic rights. Now the reader will find that the metaphor used in a shorter poem by Edwards, “Huswifery”, uses a simple colonial spinning wheel to represent his allegorical discipleship. He is making a request that God use him as a tool of salvation as a spinning wheel uses its loom, reel, and spool to create fine yarn.

The idea that everyday housework can be applied to explain a life of piety continues to display the Puritan belief that we are just mere servants of The Almighty. This component of Puritan life continues to be significant as all American citizens strive to be a part of something greater than ourselves; “One nation under God”. From the dogmatic, primitive origins of the American Colonies to the pomp and wealth which capitalism has brought to the United States, Puritanism has remained an essential aspect of American culture.

If not for the morals it has set up for this country, then for the excellent literature that is still studied among high school and college students alike. Puritan literature, especially that of Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor, gives American citizens the historical basis for the foundation of a land where legality and religion work together for the benefit of its people. It was the driving force that brought the Separatists across the Atlantic in hopes of discovering the promise land; religious freedom.

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