To My Dear and Loving Husband (1678)
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. 5 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; 10 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.
"To My Dear and Loving Husband" is a brief, rather simple love poem, and like most such poems it expresses strong emotion. But sometimes the expression of personal emotion in a poem can be the most convincing when the poem itself is rather formal, even constrained. In Anne Bradstreet's poem, the personal address to her husband is framed by a set of logical propositions which almost make us feel we are listening to a schoolteacher in front of a blackboard, or maybe a preacher. The poem begins by using "if / then" statements to set up categories: if two people can really be as one, then we certainly belong in that category. She repeats the formula three times, and by the third time she doesn't even have to say "then" -- we already know what's coming.
Only for a moment in the middle of the poem does the emotion seem close to the surface:
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,
The metaphors are exuberant, and they're also very familiar: they would not be out of place in one of those Elizabethan sonnets in which a courtier tries to seduce somebody.
But then the poem returns to what you could only describe as a language of formality and decorum:
"Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray."
And when it concludes, the poem returns to the kind of logical structure with which it began, a proposition in which future consequences depend on present actions:
Then while we live, in love let's so persever,
That when we live no more we may live ever.
Of course what's important about all this is that the effect of the poem is not in the least cold or distant. The formality of the language and the structure actually seems to emphasize the passion that's not quite stated.
When Bradstreet's collection The Tenth Muse was published in 1650, it was the first volume of poems to be published by a resident of the New World. Her brother-in- law, John Woodbridge, had taken the manuscript with him to London and had it printed there without her knowledge.
Click here to see the first page of the original preface to The Tenth Muse.
Click here to see the second page of the original preface to The Tenth Muse.
As one of the original members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Anne Bradstreet lived a life of great hardship, compounded by recurring physical illness. The Puritan religion that she shared with her fellow colonists, however, provided a language in which she could attempt to come to terms with the harsh conditions of her new life.
"As Weary Pilgrim" explores the traditional Christian theme of life as a transitory journey, in which men and women are pilgrims who must undergo the trials of a sinful world in the hope of someday being joined with Christ. Although the motifs of the poem can be traced back to the Middle Ages, its narrative takes on a particular poignancy in light of the physical and spiritual pain and anguish which Anne Bradstreet suffered in the Bay Colony.
Click here to see the manuscript of "As Weary Pilgrim" dated August 31, 1669, the only extant poem in Anne Bradstreet's own hand.
Click here to read a discussion of the place of Bradstreet's poetry within the Puritan tradition: Robert D. Richardson, Jr., "The Puritan Poetry of Anne Bradstreet."
The Poet´s Life and Work
Anne Bradstreet was born in 1612. Her devoted father, Thomas Dudley, manager of the country estate of the Puritan earl of Lincoln, took great care to see that his daughter received an education superior to that of most young women of the time. It was as a young girl that she began to write poems, and she continued to write after her marriage, at the age of sixteen, to Simon Bradstreet. Simon Bradstreet was a recent graduate of Cambridge University and associated with her father in conducting the affairs of the earl of Lincoln's estate. He also shared her father's Puritan beliefs.
Click here to see St. Botolph's Church in Lincolnshire, which Anne Bradstreet attended before she emigrated to America; engraved from a drawing by J. M. W. Turner.
A year after the marriage her husband was appointed to assist in the preparations of the Massachusetts Bay Company, and in 1630 the Bradstreets and the Dudleys sailed with the fleet of John Winthrop, the Puritan lawyer turned entrepreneur. Bradstreet tells us that when she first "came into this country" she "found a new world and new manners," at which her "heart rose" in resistance. "But after I was convinced it was the way of God, I submitted to it and joined the church at Boston."
We know very little of Bradstreet's daily life, except that it was hard. The wilderness, Samuel Eliot Morison once observed, "made men stern and silent, children unruly, servants insolent." William Bradstreet's wife, Dorothy, staring at the barren dunes of Cape Cod, is said to have preferred the surety of drowning to the unknown life ashore.
Added to the hardship of daily living was the fact that Anne Bradstreet was never very strong. She had rheumatic fever as a child and as a result suffered recurrent periods of severe fatigue; nevertheless, she risked death by childbirth eight times. Her husband was secretary to the company and later governor of the Bay Colony; he was always involved in the colony's diplomatic missions; and in 1661 he went to England to renegotiate the Bay Company charter with Charles II. All of Simon's tasks must have added to Bradstreet's responsibilities at home, and like any good Puritan, she added to the care of daily life the examination of her conscience. She tells us in one of the "Meditations" written for her children that she was troubled many times about the truth of the Scriptures, that she never saw any convincing miracles, and that she always wondered if those of which she read "were feigned." What finally proved to her the existence of God was not her reading but the evidence of her own eyes. She is the first in a long line of American poets who took their consolation not from theology but from the "wondrous works," as she wrote, "that I see, the vast frame of the heaven and the earth, the order of all things, night and day, summer and winter, spring and autumn, the daily providing for this great household upon the earth, the preserving and directing of all to its proper end." She died in 1672.
- Wendy Martin, from An American Triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich.
- Robert D. Richardson, Jr., "The Puritan Poetry of Anne Bradstreet."
- Rosamond Rosenmeier, from Anne Bradstreet Revisited, The Marriage Poems.