The poet wonders why her head, heart, eyes, her life, her joy, and her “magazine of Earthly store” –her husband – is away while she remains in Ipswich alone. She feels as though the neck is too long, separating the head and the heart by too many steps. It is winter on Earth and winter inside her as well, and she mourns her husband's absence by wearing all black.
She writes that the sun is far along in the Zodiac cycle. When her husband is there, she never feels the cold or storms, but now her limbs feel cold and forlorn without him. She calls for the “Sol” to return from Capricorn and bring him back, ending her “dead time.” It is difficult for her to look at her children since they resemble their father so much. It is a strange thing.
Her husband has gone southward and she is weary, feeling that the days are too long. When he comes back north and returns to her, she hopes that the sun will never set again but instead, burn within her and in their house where he is the “dearest guest.” She hopes he will stay there forever and never leave again until finally, it is time for them to die. She calls herself “the flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone” and ends the poem by saying, “I here, thou there, yet both but one.”
This is one of Bradstreet's most famous and frequently anthologized poems. Like "To My Dear and Loving Husband" and "Another," the poet writes effusively about her love for her spouse. It is one of her most personal and intimate poems.
Bradstreet begins by explaining just how much her husband means to her – he is truly her entire life, and her "magazine of Earthly store." While the two of them are together, preparing to go to Heaven, they represent the totality of each other's existence. However, now, he is away on business while she lingers alone at home. She presents the idea that their domicile is a warm and welcoming place when the whole family is together, but while the poet's husband is away, it feels cold and prison-like.
The poet uses her understanding of astronomy to describe the time of year when these events take place. During the summer, the sun is at its highest point above Massachusetts, so that Capricorn is visible. In the winter, the nights are longer and the air is colder. Bradstreet uses the coldness literally and also to indicate her loneliness and perhaps her sexual desire for her husband ("my chilled limbs now nummed lye forlorn.") In the summer, when the sun is in Cancer, her husband will return, and both the warmth of the sun and the warmth of his body will return as well.
Because of the references to the Zodiac, critics have linked this poem to the Quaternions, especially "the Four Seasons." Jane Donahue Eberwein explains that in "Letter," which Bradstreet wrote years after the Quaternions:
The principal image is seasonal and relates closely to the Fourth Quaternion with its presentation of the annual cycle... the metaphor follows the conventional pattern of the seasons, but emotional experience differs qualitatively from natural cycles, and heart-time often contradicts almanac assertions.
The poet feels that her husband's absence makes the short days of winter longer than the actual long days of summer. Bradstreet also alludes to the Quaternions by associating herself with Earth and with Autumn, which suggest Old Age and Melancholy.
Bradstreet puts her sensuality on display in this poem, which was uncommon amongst Puritan women. Critics and scholars believe that Bradstreet intended this poem for her husband's eyes only. She writes that it is difficult for her to look at their children, "those fruits through thy heat I bore." It is a "strange effect" to see them, because they remind her of their conception, which makes her miss her husband even more. This is also a very sexually loaded image, as it would have been rare for Puritans (especially women) to connect motherhood to sexuality. It is a very contemporary and forward-thinking point of view.
At the end of the poem, Bradstreet hopes that he will never leave her again and that their unity will endure. She writes in Biblical language and cadence, that she is "Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone, / I here, thou there, yet both but one." She accepts that even though they are separated, they will always be united as one, and therefore, her perspective evolves over the course of the poem.