“Bradstreet’s poem can be used as an example of bad and evil…”

He’s talking here about Anne Bradstreet’s “The Flesh and the Spirit,” in which this first seriously recognized New World poet creates a dialogue between two “sisters” (Flesh and Spirit) to talk about the relative values of those two aspects of the human being. Appropriately enough, he chooses to pair this poem with one of the many poetic meditations of Edward Taylor, a Congregationalist (Puritan, then) minister whose life dates overlap hers and whose tender poetic voice seems to speak to hers even though there is no reason to think that the two Massachusetts colony residents ever met.

As a whole, my student’s sentence could be viable, but there is that one Wrong Word, uncorrected by proofreading, that makes it absurd:

“Bradstreet’s poem can be used as an example of bad and evil, and Taylor’s poem explains what would happen if you decided to choose one or the other.”

So, Bradstreet writes of (or exemplifies?) “bad and evil,” and Edwards examines exactly that difficult choice. My student offers no third choice, so presumably he doesn’t think these poets see an alternative to bad (or evil).

Of course, he didn’t mean to write such nonsense. But he did, and he never noticed. Would the Puritans’ God be merciful on someone who sinned because he didn’t know he could be good? Doubtful. Edwards’ acquaintance Increase Mather, and Mather’s little boy Cotton, would say No! No Mercy!

No god, but just an English instructor, I changed “bad” to “good” (oh were it only so simple!), wrote “PROOFREAD!!” in the margin, and moved on.

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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