In the poem "The Flesh and the Spirit," Anne Bradstreet uses flesh to refer to the fact that Puritans consider themselves to be sinful earthly creatures, and she uses spirit to refer to the fact that Puritans also consider themselves to be innately redeemable holy people. The conflict between spirit and flesh explored in this poem is one that the Puritans struggled with everyday.
When Bradstreet was writing, Puritans believed that the best way to gain admission to heaven was to focus on how sinful they were. In other words, to safeguard the holiness of their souls or spirits, Puritans needed to reflect on the inherent sinfulness of their bodies or flesh.
The poem features animated versions of flesh and spirit arguing with each other. Flesh claims that its earthly pursuits of wealth and pleasure are more satisfying than the spiritual pursuits of meditation and contemplation. Spirit replies that the two will argue until death. This implies that the two entities are actually having a subconscious battle within the mind of a person.
Spirit and flesh are referred to as sisters or twins in the poem, but spirit claims that they do not have the same father. Instead, they were born at the fall of man when Adam ate from the tree of knowledge.