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A Short Analysis of Anne Bradstreet’s ‘To My Dear and Loving Husband’

Anne Bradstreet’s touching poem to her husband

Anne Bradstreet (1612-1678) was the first person in America, male or female, to have a volume of poems published. A fascinating figure – we discuss her in our book full of literary curiosities, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History – she herself wasn’t American and had been born in England, but she was among a group of early English settlers in Massachusetts in the 1630s. ‘To My Dear and Loving Husband’ is a short poem by Bradstreet; like many of her poems, its language is relatively plain, yet some words of analysis may shed a little more light on the meaning of Bradstreet’s poem.

To My Dear and Loving Husband

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved 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 aught 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 lets so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Bradstreet praises her ‘dear and loving husband’, whom she regards as her complement, the one who completes her. His love is more valuable to her than all the riches of the East, all the gold in the world. Her love for him, too, can never be exhausted. Note the images of money and wealth that populate the poem: gold, riches, recompence, repay, Anne Bradstreetpossibly picking up on the faint pun of ‘dear’ in ‘dear and loving husband’ (not just loved, but valuable to her – in a way that exceeds any monetary value). Bradstreet and her husband lived among the early colonies of Massachusetts in the mid-seventeenth century, where life was hard. It was a nascent civilisation still developing. It’s hardly surprising, then, that love and support are worth more than gold or treasure in such an environment.

The poem takes the form of rhyming couplets, echoing the married couple of husband and wife. By rhyming ‘we’ with ‘thee’ in that first couplet, Bradstreet joins her husband with her through their marriage, but does so in a self-effacing way: rather than coupling herself with her husband through rhyming me with thee, she uses the collective we. Bradstreet is among the least egotistical of poets. The social conventions of her day meant that women were meant to be subordinate to their husbands, following the Christian idea of the father and husband as the head of the household. There is no ‘me’ in the first couplet of Bradstreet’s poem, yet the coupling that the lines describe could not exist without her. But she – that is, me – does not figure in the rhyme.

The closing lines of Bradstreet’s poem declare that, if they are true to each other in this world, she and her husband will live together forever in heaven:

Then while we live, in love lets so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

‘Live’ returns three times in two lines, but each time Bradstreet is using it slightly differently: first of all to refer to their earthly life, then to refer to their time of death (‘live no more’), and finally to refer to an eternal life (‘live ever’). In the last analysis, the poem is both a personal address to her husband and a poem about married love in a Christian society; it speaks for both Bradstreet and for many wives of the time, both at home and in the ‘colonies’ of America. That may help to account for Bradstreet’s popularity in England, when her poems were first published in London in 1651.

We include ‘To My Dear and Loving Husband’ in our pick of the best very short love poems in English. You might also enjoy our analysis of Andrew Marvell’s very different take on love.

Image: Anne Bradstreet, author unknown; Wikimedia Commons.

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Posted on January 18, 2016, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I am a big fan of Anne Bradstreet. She had the courage to write about women’s ordinary experiences–husband, children, and other domestic experiences–in a time and society when those subjects were not considered “worthy” of poetry.

  2. America’s first acclaimed Poetess – love reading her endearing words.

  1. Pingback: A Short Analysis of Anne Bradstreet’s ‘To My Dear and Loving Husband’ @thewritealice – thewritealice MLS – Let Us Write You The World In Our Eyes.

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