To My Dear and Loving Husband
Analysis of the Love Poem by Anne Bradstreet
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee, give recompence.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,
The heavens reward thee manifold I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
"To My Dear and Loving Husband" was written by America’s first female poet, the Puritan, Anne Bradstreet. In fact, Anne Bradstreet is one of only a handful of female American poets during the first 200 years of America’s history. After Bradstreet, one can list only Phillis Wheatley, the 18th century black female poet, Emma Lazarus, the 19th century poet whose famous words appear on the Statue of Liberty, and the 19th century Emily Dickinson, America’s most famous female poet.
"To My Dear and Loving Husband" has several standard poetic features. One is the two line rhyme scheme. Another is the anaphora, the repetition of a phrase, in the first three lines. A third is the popular iambic pentameter, and a fourth is the use of metaphors in the middle quatrain.
Iambic pentameter is characterized by an unrhymed line with five feet or accents. Each foot contains an unaccented syllable and an accented syllable, as in "da Dah, da Dah, da Dah, da Dah, da Dah."
The first stanza presents her heartfelt feelings within a logical argument, the repeated use of if/then statements. The second stanza releases the logical argument and becomes truly heartfelt with its metaphors and religious imagery. The last stanza returns to the reasoned nature of the first stanza and concludes with a unique logical element, a paradox. Their love is so enduring that even in death it will survive, a paradox consistent with puritan theology and with great love poems.
The subject of Anne Bradstreet’s love poem is her professed love for her husband. She praises him and asks the heavens to reward him for his love. The poem is a touching display of love and affection, extraordinarily uncommon for the Puritan era of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in which Anne Bradstreet lived.
Puritan women were expected to be reserved, domestic, and subservient to their husbands. They were not expected or allowed to exhibit their wit, charm, intelligence, or passion. John Winthrop, the Massachusetts governor, once remarked that women who exercised wit or intelligence were apt to go insane.
Anne Bradstreet was born Anne Dudley in 1612 in England. She married Simon Bradstreet when she was 16 and they both sailed with her family to America in 1630. The difficult, cold voyage to America took 3 months to complete. John Winthrop was also a passenger on the trip. The voyage landed in Boston and the passengers joined the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The men in Anne Bradstreet’s family were managers and politicians. Both her father and her husband became Massachusetts governors. Her husband, Simon, often traveled for weeks throughout the colony as its administrator.
Anne Bradstreet’s poem, "To My Dear and Loving Husband," was written as a response to her husband’s absence.
Very little is known about Anne Bradstreet’s life in Massachusetts. There are no portraits of her, and she does not even have a grave marker. She and her family moved several times, each time further away from Boston into the frontier. Anne and Simon had 8 children during a 10 year period, and all of the children survived healthy and safe, a remarkable accomplishment considering the health risks and the security hazards of the period.
Anne Bradstreet was highly intelligent and largely self-educated. She took herself seriously as an intellectual and a poet, reading widely in history, science, art, and literature. Her library, before the house burned in 1666, numbered about 800 volumes. However, as a good Puritan woman, Bradstreet did not make her accomplishments public.
Bradstreet wrote poetry for herself, family, and friends, never meaning to publish them. Consider that her friend, Anne Hutchinson was intellectual, educated and led women’s prayer meetings where alternative religious beliefs were discussed. She was labeled a heretic and banished from the colony. Hutchinson eventually died in an Indian attack. Is it any wonder that Anne Bradstreet was hesitant to publish her poetry and call attention to herself?
Anne Bradstreet’s early poems were secretly taken by her brother-in-law to England and published in a small volume when she was 38. The volume sold well in England, but the poems were not nearly as accomplished as her later works.
Bradstreet’s later works were not published during her lifetime. Her poems about her love for her husband were private and personal, meant to be shared only with her family and friends.
Though her health was frequently a concern, especially during childbirth, Anne Bradstreet lived until 60 years of age.
The descendants of Anne and Simon Bradstreet are a remarkable list. Among them are:
Dr. William Ellery Channing - Unitarian Theologian
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. - Writer and Poet
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. - Supreme Court Justice
Richard Henry Dana, Jr. - Author
Herbert Clark Hoover - 31st President
John Forbes Kerry - U.S. Senator, Massachusetts
David Hackett Souter - Supreme Court Justice
Enjoy "To My Dear and Loving Husband," a remarkable accomplishment.
Test your understanding of Bradstreet's poem further by comparing it to Shakespeare's sonnet, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?"
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