Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)
The poem presents a central question in puritan thought: how do one’s earthly and immortal lives connect. The poem is two lines short of a sonnet. It is witty like the metaphysical poems, classical like one of the Augustan era, and it is typically a puritan early American poem; but what is more original and striking is Bradstreet’s original treatment of the relation of the love of this world and life with the other beyond. She does not emphasize the eternal life at the cost of the real. Indeed, we find the two in a dialectical conflict and tension in each of the Bradstreet poems.
The poem is written in the common iambic pentameter lines. A few variations prevent the meter from sounding monotonous. In addition to regular rhythms, each pair of lines rhymes. These rhymed pairs of iambic pentameter lines are called couplets. In this poem, the couplets reinforce the theme of love between two people. Bradstreet speaks as herself in this poem. To emphasize the wife and husband’s mutual love, the poet has used internal rhyme, or rhymes within the lines; parallelism, or phrases with repeated syntax; and parallel rhyme, or rhymes with repeated syntax. The rhymed and repeated phrases reinforce two ideas: one that each spouse’s love in heaven. Bradstreet tries to persuade both the reader and her husband that their great love may signify salvation.
This personal poem illustrates that a Puritan’s physical passion could be asserted as the nearest thing on earth to heaven. However, the speaker’s love for her husband almost seems to outweigh her devotion to God. Dedicated puritans tried not to love any earthly thing more than God. The poet wishes of the union to continue after death even though Christians then and now believe that earthly unions dissolve at death. In this poem, this world and the next validate one another. The poet powerfully dramatizes the tension between “the flesh and the spirit” in her struggle to interpret earthly signs of God’s will. Every part of this twelve line poem is an expression of love.
Anne Bradstreet insists on the greatness of her love by saying how impossible it is to describe, evaluate, and repay. Her refusal to elaborate or poeticize each statement dramatizes the main theme that love is untranslatable. Words are merely another act of love- but they should not become replacements. The note of immortality the poem ends on has the Puritan idea of election behind it. The last two lines like the concluding couplet of a sonnet summarize, clarify and resolve the poem. The poem ends with a biblical sort of paradox that speaks more powerfully than an ordinary sentence would: if so, let us love each other so much that we may live ever when we no longer live (die). To die and live ever is the Christian’s greatest hope.
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