Societies over the ages have called into question the basis of reality and how things came to exist. Religion is one significant way society explains the formation of the Earth, which is the belief in a higher power or powers. Religions have sacred narratives, which people may preserve in symbols, scriptures, and holy places, that aim mostly to give meaning to life. One major institution of religion is the Catholic Church. The corruption of the Church reached a climax during the 16th century resulting in the religious turmoil of the Protestant Reformation. One sect of the Reformation was the Puritans, who believed the Church of England was still too alike to the Catholic Church and wanted a more simple, Bible rooted religion. Anne Bradstreet was a notable Puritan who traveled to the New World to find religious freedom. Her extensive body of work exemplifies the values of a Puritan woman, and she is heralded as one of the first North American poets. Bradstreet’s poem, ‘Before the Birth of One of Her Children’, showcases her spiritual crises as she attempts to accept her possible death and her strong attachment to her family.
The tone of this piece is ambivalent. It is dually, realistic, and nostalgic; it has conflicting feelings of morbidity and hopefulness. Bradstreet is about to have a baby. However, she is preparing herself and her husband for her potential death during childbirth. She starts her poem pondering on the temporary nature of life and the reality of death, declaring, “all things within this fading world hath end”. Bradstreet notes that one cannot have joy without grief and that death stops all life. God’s “sentence”, she reflects, is “irrevocable”. Bradstreet points to God’s punishment of Eve for violating his command and eating from the Tree in the Garden of Eden. Bradstreet understood that the pain of childbirth and the risk of dying was her God-given fate; however, she instinctively felt pessimistic about the idea of being apart from her family and could not fully process the idea of their lives continuing after her death.
After reflecting on the prospect of death, Bradstreet addresses her husband, warning him that her death may be approaching, and he could lose his “Friend”. She specifies how she would like him to remember her, asking her husband to remember any “worth or virtue” she had in life. She also urges him to protect their children, whom she refers to as “my dear remains”, signifying that they are the pieces of her. She asks him to defend their offspring from a heartless stepmother. Bradstreet’s acceptance of her husband’s inevitable remarriage represents the way that a mother was at the center of the Puritan family unit. Here, Bradstreet portrays the stepmother as a caretaker instead of a new wife for her husband. When speaking to her husband, Bradstreet remarks on a knot “that made us one”. She refers to a time that it will come untied. This knot is life; it will come untied when the narrator dies. At the end of the poem, Bradstreet elicits a disheartened but a moving image of her husband honoring her and kissing the paper she wrote these verses. As Bradstreet writes in multiple of her other love poems, she alludes to her sexual relationship with her husband when she urges him to kiss her poem. The piece, like their children, is all that will survive of her if she dies, and by kissing the paper, it will be the way for him to kiss her when she dies.
While the majority of more current poems on childbirth are heartwarming verses, they often appear monotonous. Nevertheless, childbirth, with the lack of modern medicine, was a terrifying occurrence. It might encourage new life, rebirth, and joy, but it also ended in the death of both the child and the mother countless times. Poems rarely capture this mixture of terror, anticipation, and love for the current children as this poem. It is, in its way, the most excellent and memorable poem of its kind.