Anne Bradstreet: Poems Summary and Analysis
"To My Dear and Loving Husband"
The poet speaks to her husband, celebrating their unity and saying that there is no man in the world whose wife loves him more. If there was ever a wife more happy with her husband, the poet asks those women to compare themselves to her. She prizes her husband's love more than gold or the riches of the East. Rivers cannot quench her love and no love but his can ever satisfy her. There is no way she can ever repay him for his love. She believes they should love each other so much that when they die, their love will live on.
Anne Bradstreet’s passionate love poems to her husband are some of the memorable in her canon because of the rawness of her expression. “To my Dear and Loving Husband” is frequently read at weddings due to its succinct yet bold expression of marital love. It resembles a Shakespearean sonnet and is twelve lines long.
The poem begins with Bradstreet describing herself and her husband as one being. She states that there is no other woman in the world who is as happy with her husband as she is. She then offers examples of material wealth and beauty, but she prizes her husband's love more than gold and all the riches of the East. She describes her love as thirst by writing that Rivers cannot quench her yearning. The implied image is sensual, subtly alluding to sexual desire. She needs his love and cannot live without it - she claims that only his love can “give re-competence.”
Then, Bradstreet shifts into a spiritual perspective, writing that there is no way she can repay her husband for his love and that she hopes Heaven will “reward thee manifold.” She believes that while she and her husband are living on Earth, they should love each other as fully as possible so that when they ascend to Heaven, their love will be eternal as well.
Marriage was a central relationship in Puritan society. Men and women married young and were expected to remain together until they died. Puritan society did not tolerate divorce or adultery, although cases of both are certainly present in the historical record. Husbands and wives were supposed to adhere to the Biblical definition of marriage, which emphasized mutual love and respect. However, Puritans were not supposed to place all of their efforts in the relationship on Earth, but rather, to glorify God through their union. As the Poetry Foundation's page on Bradstreet explains, marriage was very important and the focus on family was crucial; however, “the love between wife and husband was not supposed to distract from devotion to God. In Bradstreet’s sonnets, her erotic attraction to her husband is central, and these poems are more secular than religious.”
Robert J. Richardson writes that the development in "To My Dear and Loving Husband" is “clear and logical." The poet's husband loves her so much that in order to find something that equals it, she must turn her sights Heavenward. The lovers’ union in Heaven “is the outcome of their Earthly love” which is an emblem of what awaits the saved. As in many of Bradstreet’s poems (see “Contemplations”), Earth and Heaven “validate each other” because “Love is the way to Heaven, and the best image of Heaven is a realm of eternal love.” Bradstreet aspires to ascend to Heaven, and expects that the love that she shares with her husband will exist in the afterlife.
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