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What is the best way to express your love for a loved one? It may differ from person to person, but for English-American Puritan poet, Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672), love was best explored and presented through poetry. In her poem, 'To My Dear and Loving Husband' (1678), Bradstreet intriguingly explores the themes of earthly and heavenly love through biblical allusions and imagery.
Fig 1: Bradstreet writes about the Christian ideal of marriage as a self-giving love and relationship.
|'To My Dear and Loving Husband' Information Overview|
|Poet:||Anne Bradstreet (1612‐1672)|
|Type of Poem:||Variation of a Sonnet|
|Literary/ poetic devices:||Imagery, Metaphor, Anaphora, Allusion, Rhyming Couplets, Antithesis|
|Theme:||Marriage, Earthly and Heavenly Love|
'To My Dear and Loving Husband' is a 12-line poem written by Anne Bradstreet (1612‐1672), an English Puritan woman who moved to New England and became the first American poet. 'To My Dear and Loving Husband' was published after the poet's death in the poetry collection, Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight (1678). This poetry collection is a revised and expanded edition of Bradstreet's acclaimed poetry book, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America (1650). The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America was the first book to be published in both England and the American colonies.
English Puritans were 16th and 17th century English Protestants who sought greater reform within the Church of England. The Puritans wanted to rid the English Church of all Roman Catholic traditions. Many English Puritans left England because they were nonconformists and suffered economic hardships and religious persecution in their homeland.
The poem 'To My Dear and Loving Husband' is assumed to have been written between the years 1641 and 1643. It is a love poem to Anne Bradstreet's husband, Simon Bradstreet. The two came from prominent English Puritan families and were some of the first settlers in America as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Anne Bradstreet married Simon when she was sixteen and the two had a happy marriage and eight children together.
It is important to remember that the intended audience for this poem is Anne Bradstreet's husband, as she wrote for personal reasons and not for a public audience.
Bradstreet's poem is written from the perspective of her Puritan faith. Puritanism placed great emphasis on the importance of marriage and family life and relationships. Bradstreet's poem expresses her love and devotion to her husband through Biblical imagery and allusions, as well as through the idea of heaven and eternal life.
Bradstreet read the Geneva Edition of the Bible, which is an English translation of the Bible originally published in 1560. The Bible greatly influenced her poetry.
Below is Anne Bradstreet's poem 'To My Dear and Loving Husband' in its entirety.
'To My Dear and Loving Husband' by Anne Bradstreet
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 ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
the East: the East Indies, Southeast Asia
recompense: compensation, reward
persever: persevere, continue steadfastly; remain in a religious state of grace
In the poem, Anne Bradstreet writes to her husband about how the two of them are one in the conjugal love of marriage. She expresses her happiness in being his wife and says that she values her husband's love over money and tangible riches. Bradstreet expresses that she desires her husband's love more than anything and this love is beyond monetary and transactional value—it is something to be shared and given rather than repaid. Bradstreet prays that her husband receives many blessings and that their love and faith in God should increase steadfastly. She hopes they may live together forever in heaven when they die on Earth.
'To My Dear and Loving Husband' is a 12‐line poem comprised of six rhyming couplets. The poem is a variation of a sonnet. Although it contains 12 lines rather than the traditional 14, it is written in iambic pentameter and focuses on the theme of love, as is commonly seen in traditional English sonnets.
Bradstreet makes the sonnet form her own by using rhyming couplets throughout. The rhyme scheme of the poem is AABBCCDDEEFF. The rhymes lend a song-like and riddle-like effect to the reading. Bradstreet presents her notions of love in a riddle-like manner to make the reader think and figure out her words to ultimately form an understanding of the ideal relationship between husband and wife.
Rhyming couplet: two consecutive lines of poetry with end words that rhyme.
"If ever two were one, then surely we. —A
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee. —A
If ever wife was happy in a man, —B
Compare with me, ye women, if you can." 1 —B
Anne Bradstreet uses literary devices in her poem in order to show the extent of her love in a clever, engaging way.
Bradstreet opens her poem with the use of anaphora, the repetition of a word or group of words at the beginning of consecutive statements.
"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" 1
Bradstreet repeats the phrase "If ever" 1 in the first three lines to emphasize a possibility and its fulfillment. She first calls the reader to question the ideal possibilities of unity, happiness, and fulfillment in marriage. She then uses the confirmation of these things in her own marriage to proclaim her love for her husband and suggest that they share an ideal relationship that is to be cherished.
Anne Bradstreet uses Biblical allusions, or references that create rich imagery, to describe her faithful love.
Writing about her love being more valuable than "whole mines of gold" 1 alludes to the Bible, in which faith and God's word are said to be more valuable than gold. This allusion, along with the picture of "all the riches that the East doth hold," suggests opulence, wealth, and abundance. Bradstreet uses this visual imagery in order to suggest that her love for her husband is more valuable than any earthly treasure.
The line, "My love is such that rivers cannot quench," is an allusion to the biblical Book of Solomon, which says "Muche water can not quench love, neither can the floods drowne it." 2 The Book of Solomon is a love poem written from the perspective of two lovers. It compares the love between man and woman to the love of Christ for his people and his church. As the Book of Solomon is known for being passionate and romantic, Bradstreet suggests the passion and romance of her own marriage through this allusion. The natural imagery of the "rivers" 1 that cannot be satisfied or run dry, suggests Bradstreet's everlasting desire for her husband's love and that her own love will never run dry. It is ever-flowing, but also ever-seeking.
Fig 3: Bradstreet uses the imagery of a river to suggest her unending and unquenchable love, which will only be fully satisfied in heaven. Bradstreet's everlasting love for her husband is a reflection of God's unending love and constant forgiveness of his people. Water symbolizes the purification and cleansing of sin in the Bible.
Bradstreet uses antithesis in the poem's final line, drawing attention to the ideas of life versus death.
"That when we live no more, we may live ever." 1 (Line 12)
Antithesis is the direct contrast of two ideas placed side by side. While it initially appears contradictory that Bradshaw writes that she hopes she and her husband may live when they are no longer living, it makes sense in the context of Bradstreet and her husband's Puritan faith. Once their lives on Earth are over, she hopes they can live together forever in the heavenly eternal life. Bradstreet expresses the Christian view that love is a virtue that carries into heaven.
The poem 'To My Dear and Loving Husband' focuses on the themes of marriage and love—particularly, the ideas of earthly and heavenly love. Bradstreet does not speak of marriage as a civil contract, but as a spiritual union. She describes how she and her husband are truly one and how her love for him is powerful, prevailing, and priceless. Her greatest desire is to share in his love, and his love means more to her than any earthly riches. Nonetheless, however strong her love for her husband may be on Earth, she recognizes that it can only achieve its fulfillment in the perfection of heavenly love. The love of her husband brings the speaker a sense of heaven on Earth. She hopes that their love continues faithfully and they can share it even in the afterlife.
1 Anne Bradstreet, 'To My Dear and Loving Husband,' Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight, 1678.
2 'Song of Solomon,' The Geneva Bible, 1560.
The main idea of 'To My Dear and Loving Husband' is that love is unifying, powerful, priceless, and can be carried into heaven.
The last line of 'To My Dear and Loving Husband' means that Bradstreet hopes once she and her husband die on Earth, they can live forever in eternal life in Heaven.
Bradstreet wrote 'To My Dear and Loving Husband' to express the depths of her love for her husband and hopes for their future in light of their Puritan faith.
'To My Dear and Loving Husband' was written between the years 1641 and 1643, but it was published in 1678.
The Puritan values such as the importance of marriage and eternal life are found within To My Dear and Loving Husband.
Who wrote the poem, 'To My Dear and Loving Husband'?
Who was the poem's intended audience?
Anne Bradstreet's husband, Simon.
What are the key themes of the poem?
Marriage, heavenly and earthly love
Which book greatly influenced Bradstreet's poetry?
True or False: In the poem, Bradstreet writes that she values gold and riches to the same extent that she values her husband's love.
'To My Dear and Loving Husband' is a variation of what type of poem?
The entire poem is made up of pairs of rhymes known as what?
Which literary device is the opening of the poem an example of?
“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” 1
The poem uses references to the Bible know as what?
Which of the following does the poet not mention in 'To My Dear and Loving Husband'?
How would the poet describe her love for her husband?
powerful, prevailing, and priceless
What does the poet mean when she writes "That when we live no more, we may live ever" in the final line?
When she and her husband die on Earth, she hopes they can live forever in eternal life in heaven.
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