At first perusal, Anne Bradstreet’s writing adheres to a very Puritan sensibility: she argues that women, though they are worthy individuals, are naturally inferior to men and that earthly treasures are mere distractions from heavenly eternity. But, woven beneath the surface of her poems is the subtle revelation of her sexuality. Bradstreet eroticizes the complex relationship between nature, religion, her husband and herself, seemingly contradicting her religion, but by contextualizing the sexuality in religious terms, she shows that sexuality can be reconciled with spirituality.
In “Contemplations,” Bradstreet interacts with and glorifies nature in a surprisingly sexual manner. The first several stanzas talk about the Sun in a euphoric way that reflects almost Romantic wonder in the sublime. She uses adjectives like “glistering” (4.22) and says that she was “Rapt…at this delectable view” (1.7). The use of the word “rapt,” specifically, means she is experiencing intense delight; the Oxford English Dictionary further provides a sexual connotation for “rapt,” when a woman is ravished (OED Online). Besides simply personifying the Sun into a desirable entity in this way, she goes even further in describing it as a sexual being. In the fifth stanza, Bradstreet paraphrases the Biblical passage equating the Sun with a bridegroom leaving the bedroom, full of sexual release (5.29). She additionally creates the image of the morn ushering in the Sun with “smiles and blushes,” like a young maid flushed with sexual desire (5.31).
After Bradstreet establishes her relationship with nature as one with sexual undertones, we can then see that she contextualizes that relationship within the parameters of religious language. The image of the sexualized Sun as bridegroom comes straight out of Psalms in the Bible, though Bradstreet adds some poetic flourish. Similarly, the glorifying of natural things is consistently grounded in the glorifying of the entity that made them that way, God. In stanza seven she writes, “Art thou so full of glory that no eye / Hath strength thy shining rays once to behold? ... How full of glory then must thy Creator be / Who gave this bright light luster unto thee?” (“Contemplations,” 7.43-49). Through this passage, Bradstreet attributes any attraction she feels for nature to the fact that God, who created it all, is so wonderful. In fact, she says that if what she sees in nature is “so full of glory,” God’s glory must be so much more than that. At the same time that this passage excuses the sexual nature of Bradstreet’s relationship to nature, however, it transfers some of that sexual passion to God. This leads us to look at how Bradstreet relates to religion in a sexual manner.
Anne Bradstreet conflates sexual feeling with her personal religious devotion. First there is, of course, the constant personification of God as a man. But more than that, she also participates in the same Romantic language when talking...