Puritans led a simple life; they looked for the least complicated approach to living in the world. When we look at their lives through poetry such as “Before the Birth of One of Her Children” or the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” from a 21st century perspective, we see the Puritans as traditional and old fashioned. They believed in predestination and an all powerful, unforgiving God who had everything planned for the future, in terms of who would be part of the elect, and who would move on to an eternal afterlife. Murdock speak about puritan faith, “In the genuine Puritan tradition, character and morality are seen as permanent values achievable only by personal spiritual conquest, life is constantly spiritualized, and the humblest events and acts are related to a divine context.” They also believed that most people were destined for hell, no matter how faithful they were to their people and God. Puritans valued hard work, morality, and found truth through the bible. The works of Anne Bradstreet, Jonathan Edwards, and Edward Taylor, take us into the Puritan world and we can see that they do lead a life that is constantly spiritualized. We will consider Murdock’s quote and see that it is contradictory as we can see that the spirit comes through a physical means. Although they experience the spirituality through physical elements of life, the value of the spirit still exists. These works also stand as important foundations of American Literature.
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Through Anne Bradstreet’s poetry, we can see aspects of the Puritan ideas and lifestyles. These ideas and lifestyles revolve around spirituality as a central theme in their lives. In her poem “Before the Birth of One of Her Children” a woman speaks about the possibility that she is going to die. She wants to take her spirit and put it on the paper for her husband in her words. She says “And kiss this paper for thy love’s dear sake, / Who with salt tears this last farewell did take”(260).
This could be a paradox in the Puritan world. She lets the paper represent herself, kissing the paper is like kissing her. This idea is contradictory to puritan beliefs in that the soul is being placed in the physical form of the paper. In “Before the Birth of One of Her Children” Bradstreet illustrates the power that God had in the Puritan belief system. “And if I see not half my days that’s due, / What nature would, God grant to yours and you”(260).
She speaks as though God had an all mighty power, that he had the ability to grant somebody more or less time to live. This idea of an all-powerful God, who the Puritans bring into their daily lives, is seen frequently throughout the Puritan literature that we have studied. Bradstreet’s idea of an all powerful god is not yet contradictory of Murdock’s statement.
In a different poem, Anne Bradstreet illustrates the Puritan idea of God’s involvement in relationships. She writes, “Thy love is such I can no way repay; / The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray”(260).
In this poem, she describes how much she loves her husband. With the description, comes a link to heaven and to God. She prays that God will reward her husband’s goodness so he will go to heaven and they will be reunited after death. The spiritual elements pervade their lives because of the all-powerful God that they love and fear.
Jonathan Edwards wrote a sermon that he preached to a group of Puritans. The sermon called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is filled with metaphors and visual symbols meant to underline the ideas of the sermon. His objective in using the metaphors was to scare the people into being faithful to God by threatening them.
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“The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood”(80-81).
Edwards describes God as having a bow and an arrow, as if he plays with the Puritans as if they were toys; he shoots the arrows whenever he feels and wherever he wants. One might think that this image of God might make people lose faith, but instead people developed a fear for God. The entire sermon portrays God in this way, with many metaphors throughout, giving different images showing God’s power. These images and physical means of God contradict Murdock’s idea of Puritanism. To perform “humble acts related to a divine context” using extensive metaphors would be contradictory.
In “Upon a Spider Catching a Fly” by Edward Taylor, the poet has created a poem with nursery rhyme qualities. He narrates a tale about the spider and the fly and the web, a simple story. By using these symbols, simple and natural creatures, he speaks of the relationship that the Puritans believed they had with God. In this relationship we can see how the fly fears the spider, as the spider can kill the fly. Taylor writes about a fly that stumbles into a spider’s web. The fly is powerless, but will not be killed if it does not harm the spider’s web by being frantic. Nonetheless the fly still fears the spider because the spider can kill the fly at any moment. The fly represents the human race and the spider represents God. We see how the Puritan people did fear god and let this fear seep into their lives and bring their spirituality into their reality constantly. Again, a metaphor is used to portray god’s spirituality, all contradicting of the Puritan faith as Murdock explains.
In looking at these three Puritan authors, we can see the spirituality that is present in their lives (Bradstreet and Taylor), and can also see where the spirituality comes from (Edward’s sermon).
From the church’s point of view, the people needed to be threatened and needed to fear god in order to have faith. With this, the people would be humble and try to impress God in every way they can, even though they may not be part of the elect. The ideas of spirituality come through physical means (a spider and a fly, a God that holds people in his hands), so part of them is stuck in the physical part of life. But the spiritual side rises out of the physical means that they know. This idea of spirituality through a physical means contradicts the Puritan faith as Murdock explains. The Puritan’s were among the early people of America. We read their writings as a foundation for all that will come as the country grows until it becomes the diverse country that it is today.
Literature has always revealed a great deal about the attitudes and beliefs of different cultures. Puritan authors in the late 17 th and early 18 th centuries wrote poems, persuasive speeches, stories, and first hand accounts that reveal their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Described especially was the Puritan's deep regard for religion and their fear and love of God. William Bradford's Of ...