– Interpretation Essay, Research Paper
Literature, unlike a more exacting subject such as math, is open to several
interpretations. There are no right or wrong answers – - just varying theories. The poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Anne Bradstreet is such a case. The poem is interpreted differently by different people, however two theories appear most evident. On a literal level there is a sincere meaning found in the poem. There is suitable evidence that support Bradstreet’s sincere love, such as metaphors used, in addition to several lines in
the poem. As the reader goes deeper into the meaning of the poem he will realize there is more to the poem than the apparent. The poem tends to take on an ironic insight to the situation and there are indications that Bradstreet was trying to depict a different message to her husband. The justification for this ironic interpretation comes from the era in which the poem was written, the belief system of Puritans, metaphors used by Bradstreet, and many lines in the poem. This remarkable poem can be interpreted solely on the surface
level, however a deeper understanding may be evident after careful analysis of the hidden meaning.
When Bradstreet’s poem is interpreted only on the surface level, a very literal meaning of her love comes across. It is inferred that she was writing a sincere love poem to her husband. After reading the poem, the reader will have an initial impression that Bradstreet thinks that the love she shared with her husband was bigger than life itself. The general perception from the initial reading is that Bradstreet values her love greatly. An example of this significance occurs in the opening of the poem when she writes “If ever two were one, then surely we.” (Line one) This line conveys to the reader that Bradstreet feels that she and her spouse are a team – - what happens to one, will happen to the other. Another thing Bradstreet did in this line was put herself and her husband on equal terms. Both ideas, that the husband and wife were a team and that they were equal, were not acceptable in Bradstreet’s Puritan Society. Bradstreet was a devoted Puritan, (Department of English – University of Toronto, 1997) so when she went against her beliefs to write
this poem, she was taking a great risk. This risk showed that she really did love her husband. In fact she loved him enough to jeopardize herself to express these feelings. Another detail in the poem that supports this abiding love is the rhyming throughout the poem. This rhyming indicates the their love is ideal, because this arrangement has nice tone, and it flows well. Further demonstration of her love in the image of its value. Bradstreet writes “Or all the riches that the East doth hold” (Line six) referring to the East Indies, where there was an abundance of riches (gold, jewels) believed to be there. This land was looked at with awe, and Bradstreet wanted others to look at her relationship with amazement as well. Bradstreet wrote this poem to other women, as well as her husband. “Compare with me, ye women, if you can.” (Line Four) She wanted other women to look at her relationship and be jealous for what she had, and she wanted other women to compare themselves to her so they would look at her in awe just as they looked at the east. In the end of Bradstreet’s poem “Then while we live, in love let’s so pers ver / That
when we live no more, we may live ever” (Lines 11-12) she encourages her husband to continue on with their love, so when they die God will reward them with eternal life and love. This idea was a firm belief by Puritans in the era. Furthermore Bradstreet writes “I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold”. (Line five) This means that she considers her husband not to be a possession, such as gold, which shows that she truly cares about him. Bradstreet also writes how her love for her husband could never run out. “My love is such that rivers cannot quench” (Line seven) This quote portrays the idea that their love is everlasting, as well as it says that her love is so strong that nothing could change her feelings. The final evidence of the sincerity of her vow of love is the fact that the first three lines:
“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,” (Lines 1-3)
have appeared on an oath that some Puritan women recite upon marriage. This vow
connects the sincerity of her own love to the Puritan values. The surface interpretation leaves the reader to conclude that Bradstreet’s poem was an honest and sincere portrayal of her love.
However with careful and in depth analysis, a deeper interpretation is found. This interpretation of “To My Dear and Loving Husband” is quite ironic, because a totally different message is conveyed from the obvious when the poem in re-read and analyzed. The impression that Bradstreet leaves is that it is not a true love at all that she shares with her husband. There seems to a hidden sarcasm in the poem. In some instances in this poem the passion seems to be forced, and the sincerity of the poem is questioned by the reader. An explanation for this lack of passion and sincerity may be due to the time era in
which the poem was written, and the role of women in a Puritan society. During this era, and in Bradstreet’s society, women were expected to care deeply for their husbands, regardless of what they really thought. This gender struggle may be why there is a sense of verbal irony in the poem and why the passion seems insincere. Another point that suggests that the poem is ironic is when the reader looks at the intended audience. This poem would not have been published if it was not for Bradstreet’s brother-in-law taking the poem in manuscript form without consent back to England for publication. (Department of English – University of Toronto, 1997) This unawareness gives the reader
an idea that the poem was not intended for public reading which supposes a notion that the poem was for Bradstreet’s eyes only. Throughout the poem Bradstreet is writing only about her love, not the love that she is receiving. This omission indicates that only she is putting in the effort, which is not true love. There is a question if there is a equal input, but after analyzing the poem it looks as if Bradstreet puts a majority of the effort in herself. Furthermore, women could not voice their opinion in public during her time, and
this may have been a way for Bradstreet to voice her opinion without reprisal. In addition, the word “if” occurs at the beginning in each of the first three lines of the poem. The fact that she uses “if” makes it seem as if she is trying to tell her husband how she thinks the marriage should be, and that she may be wishing for that kind of love. Bradstreet describes her love to be so great, yet she continues to use the word “if”. This contradiction shows how her love may not be true, and she does not approve of this lack of reality. Bradstreet knew that she could not write openly for fear of some type of
penalty, which also explains the contradiction. The words “recompense” (Line eight), and “repay” (Line nine) show that Bradstreet has feeling of insecurity and even doubt, which she has to mask or repress because of the society she lives in. Another indication that this is not true love is that Bradstreet feels she has to repay her husband for the time they’ve spent. Obviously these feelings of “recompense” and “repay” are not those associated with real love. Another point that comes up is the comparisons made in the poem. When
someone’s love is true there is no need to compare it to anything. The comparison that Bradstreet makes “I prize my love more than whole mines of gold” (Line five) show that there is a feeling of imbalance rather than unity from her A crucial point that supports the irony of this poem is found in a metaphor that reflects the insincerity of their love. “Or all the riches that the East doth hold.” (Line six) During the 1600’s when Bradstreet lived,
the East Indies was a land where many North Americans (Bradstreet lived in
Massachusetts) believed there were lost riches. This metaphor suggests that Bradstreet is looking for lost love or a love once had, because she compares it to the “riches” that were never found in the Indies. When a deeper examination is taken, one can see how Bradstreet may have been trying to portray a sense of irony when describing the love with her husband. This exploration for a new interpretation allows the reader to think in such a way that others may not think of. This search for deeper meaning is essential to literature,
because it adds variance and diversity to the interpretations.
Anne Bradstreet’s poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband” is capable of being interpreted in more than one way. This ambiguity allows the reader to understand the poem on the surface, and on a deeper level as well. The surface interpretation seems to be a sincere love poem written from a loving wife to her husband. This literal perception makes the poem quite clear, as well as portraying an image of true love. This interpretation is supported throughout the poem with the use of metaphors and certain passages. The second main understanding is that Bradstreet wrote this poem with an ironic tone. It can be interpreted that she was not truly in love and she was writing this poem as a complaint about her relationship. The justification for this theory is found with careful analysis of the poem’s hidden metaphors, and hints used by Bradstreet. The Puritan times were an influence in interpreting the poem both on the literal and profound levels. Anne Bradstreet’s poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband” can be understood literally, or it can be taken deeper, and be perceived differently with tactful analysis. The ability to understand literature in great depth is significant. It is important to probe deeper in order to gain a new perspective.