Meditating on the Creatures in Early American Life and Letters

John Gatta

in Making Nature Sacred

Published in print October 2004 | ISBN: 9780195165050
Published online January 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835140 | DOI:
Meditating on the Creatures in Early American Life and Letters

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The longstanding European tradition of meditating on creatures of the phenomenal world carried both religious and ecological significance for New England Puritans, who were peculiarly disposed to ponder the relation between earth’s visible and invisible domains. This disposition is exemplified by the poetry of meditation composed by colonial writers such as Edward Taylor and Anne Bradstreet. Bradstreet’s meditative poem “Contemplations” is interpreted ecocritically, so as to probe not only the spirituality of the world that the poet sets forth, but also the discretely material spirit of place that helped inspire her reflections. Outside the Puritan colonies, other forms of ecospirituality can be discerned in the Quaker-inspired prose writings of naturalist William Bartram and social reformer John Woolman. Both exponents of Middle Atlantic Quaker piety envisioned a divine love that encompasses animals as well as humans, and that thereby extends humanity’s ethical responsibility beyond social boundaries to the “brute creatures.”

Keywords: meditation; Puritan; Anne Bradstreet; “Contemplations”; Edward Taylor; Quaker; John Woolman; William Bartram; animals; ecospirituality

Chapter.  9196 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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