Early pilgrim writer Anne Bradstreet was the first published female poet in the New World. She left her father’s aristocratic English home to follow her husband and their shared religious vision to Massachusetts in 1630.
During her husband’s frequent business trips, Anne deeply missed him. Her poems about him reflect a deep, spiritual connection and a romance most Puritan couples tried to spurn. Anne recognized her marriage as a central part of her vocation and loving her family as her way to love God.
At this time of year when we give thanks, it seems only fitting to share a poem about a woman who feels as thankful for her husband as I am for mine.
“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.
So what can we learn by really reading Anne’s poem?
Anne describes the kind of marriage most Puritan women could not even imagine. She and her husband share a deep, spiritual unity. She values his love above any treasure and cannot ever repay her husband for the love he gives her in return. They can strive to live the good life together so that, someday, that can live together in Heaven.
Anne bases her poem on popular Elizabethan sonnets. Her poem using rhyming couplets instead of the ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme of a true-to-form Elizabethan sonnet, which gives the poem a beautiful sense of ageless devotion–couplets are typical of verse for children. She uses the volta or turn in the last two lines of an Elizabethan sonnet to show her husband she understands that their tasks is to live together in goodness on Earth so they may gain eternal life together.
Even though Anne’s love poetry is unusually secular for a Puritan poet, the language she uses shows us the depth of her faith. Her poem is full of Biblical allusions. The Bible describes marriage as a process in which two become one both physically, through sex, and spiritually. The idea that rivers cannot quench her love echoes the Song of Solomon: the Beloved tells her friends, “Muche water can not quenche love, nether can the floods drowne it.” Like many Christians, Puritans read the erotic Song of Solomon as an allegory of God’s love for his people. By associating herself with the Beloved, Anne suggests that her marriage is a reflection of the relationship between God and humanity.
Have a favorite that helps you become a better woman and wife? Share it with us and maybe we’ll share it with other readers, too!