Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“A Letter to Her Husband, Absent upon Public Employment” is one of two Bradstreet poems on this subject. She must have been familiar with the classical epistle, or verse letter, which English poets had begun imitating in the sixteenth century. She addresses her husband by a series of metaphors, the main one being the sun. She likens herself to the earth in winter, lamenting “in black” the receding light and feeling “chilled” without him to warm her. She is home with only “those fruits which through thy heat I bore”—her children—as reminders. With her husband “southward gone,” she finds the short winter days ironically long and tedious.
She continues to project her sun metaphor into the future. When he returns, the season will be summer figuratively and perhaps literally: “I wish my Sun may never set, but burn/ Within the Cancer of my glowing breast,” a zodiacal allusion to early summer. She closes by reaffirming their married oneness: “Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone,/ I here, thou there, yet both but one.”
Though neither so intricate in form nor elaborate in imagery as John Donne’s famous “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” published in 1633, this poem on the same theme shows Bradstreet’s resourcefulness with imagery and able handling of her favorite pentameter couplets. While exhibiting great devotion to Simon, this poem succeeds because it also reflects devotion to the art of lyric verse.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Cowell, Pattie, and Ann Stanford, eds. Critical Essays on Anne Bradstreet. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.
Dolle, Raymond F. Anne Bradstreet: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.
Hammond, Jeffrey. Sinful Self, Saintly Self. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993.
Harde, Roxanne. “’Then Soul and Body Shall Unite’: Anne Bradstreet’s Theology of Embodiment.” In From Anne Bradstreet to Abraham Lincoln: Puritanism in America, edited by Michael Schuldiner. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004.
Martin, Wendy. An American Triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.
Scheick, William J. Authority and Female Authorship in Colonial America. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998.
Stanford, Ann. Anne Bradstreet: The Worldly Puritan. New York: Burt Franklin, 1974.
White, Elizabeth Wade. Anne Bradstreet: The Tenth Muse. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.