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Anne Bradstreet’s Valentine to Her Husband

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February 13, 2017

Anne Bradstreet’s Valentine to Her Husband

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Anne Bradstreet is the mother of American poetry in English, and it is fitting that for the U.S. and Canada, nations dedicated to women’s rights, within just a few years of the New English settlements Bradstreet would establish herself as more than just a Puritan huswife. For most readers, Bradstreet’s best poems are her short domestic pieces where she considers her husband, her house, her children, and does not attempt to imitate too much the mode of the male English poets of her time and before. In her domestic pieces, whether she writes literally or figuratively, her thought and feeling come across as authentic, not forced or artificial. She does not try to take well-known conceits and push them down into some form, trying to make it fit.

It’s the time of year for lovers to give each other valentines and speak of love for each other. Take a look at Anne Bradstreet’s “To My Dear and Loving Husband” in light of Valentine’s Day (although there is no reason to think Bradstreet actually was thinking of valentines here). I am deliberately placing the poem at the end here. So take a look with me at the first two couplets:

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.

Here Bradstreet first gives us a direct statement about her relationship with her husband on the human level. Then the next two couplets employ figurative language—gold mines, riches of the East, rivers—

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.

And then the last two give another direct statement ending the poem on the level of the eternal:

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.

Bradstreet communicates through the simplest of words, generally Anglo-Saxon monosyllabic words.

Now read the whole poem at once. Try reading it out loud if you can.

To My Dear and Loving Husband

Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)

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.

anne-bradstreet-bbe8d02

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