Previously, we’ve offered poems about mothers, poems about fathers, poems for sons, and poems for daughters. Now, it’s the turn of the spouses: here, specifically, ten of the best poems for husbands, or about husbands, whether real or fictional. Some of these husband poems are tender, some are sweet, some are sad, some are humorous.
Anne Bradstreet, ‘To My Dear and Loving Husband’. Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) was the first person in America, male or female, to have a volume of poems published. In this, one of the earliest poems in English by a wife about her husband, 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.
Phyllis Wheatley, ‘To a Lady on the Death of Her Husband’. As Laura Linker observed in a guest blog post for us, Phillis Wheatley (1753-84) was an eighteenth-century black slave who was taught to read by her owners and went on to compose over 100 poems, many of them drawing on the Bible as a source of infallible authority. The first slave to publish a book, Wheatley often urges America to repent of its participation in the slave trade. In this poem, however, Wheatley’s focus is altogether more domestic: it is one woman writing to another, consoling her over the death of her husband and seeking to reassure her that her husband is now in a better place.
Robert Burns, ‘The Henpecked Husband’. Burns, great poet and Bard of Scotland though he was, didn’t always take the most progressive view towards women: here he offers a caustic take on other men who let their wives walk over them: ‘Curs’d be the man, the poorest wretch in life, / The crouching vassal to a tyrant wife!’
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘The Happy Husband’. This poem, by one of English Romanticism’s leading figures, is slightly different yet again, in that it is written by a husband to his loving – and beloved – wife: ‘Oft, oft methinks, the while with thee, / I breathe, as from the heart, thy dear / And dedicated name, I hear / A promise and a mystery, / A pledge of more than passing life, / Yea, in that very name of Wife!’
Robert Browning, ‘Any Wife to Any Husband’. We might instead have opted for one of the poems Browning’s own wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, wrote to him here: her Sonnets from the Portuguese is a series of poems written by Barrett to her future husband. In this poem, Browning universalises the same feeling of love and companionship he and Barrett Browning shared: ‘Thy love shall hold me fast / Until the little minute’s sleep is past / And I wake saved.’
Christina Rossetti, ‘Wife to Husband’. Like so many of the poems of the prolific Victorian poet Christina Rossetti (1830-94), this poem is about death as much as it is about husbands. The wife addresses her husband as she dies: ‘Pardon the faults in me, / For the love of years ago: / Good-bye. / I must drift across the sea, / I must sink into the snow, / I must die.’
Thomas Hardy, ‘Her Late Husband’. Another poem about death – and, specifically here, the interment of the man who provides the poem with its title – from the Victorian Laureate of pessimism. Not the cheeriest poem about a husband, but as a Thomas Hardy poem it earns its place on this list.
Edith Nesbit, ‘The Husband of To-Day’. Although she is now chiefly remembered for her pioneering and endlessly inventive novels for children, E. Nesbit (1858-1924) was also a writer of many other things, including supernatural fiction for adults and, of course, poetry. In this poem, a husband reassures his wife that his soul remains hers, even if his eye is drawn to other women. Charming!
Amy Lowell, ‘To a Husband’. One of Lowell’s imagist poems inspired by Chinese lyrics and the Japanese haiku, this poem is short enough to reproduce in full here: ‘Brighter than fireflies upon the Uji River / Are your words in the dark, Beloved.’ Beautiful.
Ogden Nash, ‘The Perfect Husband’. According to the witty American humourist Ogden Nash, the perfect husband tells his wife when she’s wearing too much lipstick and helps her with her girdle when her hips stick. What more could one want?
If you enjoyed this pick of the best poems for husbands, you might also like our selection of great poems to be read at weddings.