The poet wonders why her head and heart and eyes and life, and her joy and “Magazine of earthly store” –her husband –is away while she remains at Ipswich. It seems like it is so many steps, that the neck separates the head and heart by too many. It is winter on earth and winter in her as well, and she mourns in black for his absence.
She writes that the sun is so far gone in Zodiacal cycle. When he was there she never felt cold or storms, but now her limbs lie 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 their children since they resemble their father so much. It is a strange thing.
He has gone southward and she is weary, feeling that the day is too long. When he northward to her returns, she hopes that the sun will never set again but 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 to die. She calls herself “the flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone” and ends with “I here, thou there, yet both but one”.
This is one of Bradstreet's most famous and oft-anthologized poems. Like "To My Dear and Loving Husband" and "Another", the poet speaks in effusive terms of 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 inhabit the world, waiting to go to heaven, they represent the totality of each other's existence. He is away on business while she has to linger at home. One gets the sense that the domicile, normally a warm and welcoming place, is cold and imprisoning.
The poet uses her understanding of astrology (not in the contemporary, future-predicting manner) to explain the time of year for these events. During the summer the sun was at its highest point above Massachusetts, occupying the area where the constellation Capricorn dwelt. In the winter the nights are longer and the air colder. Bradstreet speaks of this coldness as both literal but also as indicative of 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, he 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", written 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 short days of winter feel longer to the poet than the actual long days of summer. Also alluding to the Quaternions is Bradstreet's association of herself with Earth and with Autumn, which the yields the understanding that she is identifying with Old Age and Melancholy.
Bradstreet's sensuality is on full display here, which, as one might imagine, was rather surprising for a Puritan woman and leads one to surmise this poem may have been intended for her husband's eyes only. She says it is difficult for her to look upon their children, "those fruits through thy heat I bore". It is a "strange effect" to look upon them, for she remembers their conception.
At the end of the poem Bradstreet hopes that he will never leave her again and that their unity will endure. She says, in biblical language and cadence, that she is "Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone, / I here, thou there, yet both but one".