“The Farmer’s Bride” is a description of a wife, narrated by her husband. The first two stanzas of the poem are written in the past tense, and the last four shift to the present tense to describe the present situation. He first states that he married her three years ago, when she was very young. The proposal and subsequent marriage were rushed; he decided in the summer and married her soon after without spending much time with her, because he was busy with the fall harvest.
As soon as they were married, she became unhappy and afraid of him. The implication is that she was afraid of his sexual advances; he matter-of-factly characterizes her as being afraid of “love and me and all things human.” Since he associates womanliness with sexuality and welcoming smiles, she became more like a “fay,” or fairy, to him, something spiritual and intangible rather than physically present.
Her fear of him and repugnance at her life reached an apex when she fled from home soon after their marriage; they were married “at harvest-time,” and she ran away in the fall. The other farmers presumed that she was merely tending the sheep, though it was night and she should have been in bed. When they found her gone, she led them on a long chase. She was swift as a hare, but they captured her and locked her in her house.
Now, three years later, she makes a place for herself at the farm, doing her housework adequately and communing with small animals. The only thing that brings out her original fear is the presence of men. Her fear is evident in her eyes; she does not voice it, but the husband knows that she does not want him near. The woman remains uncommunicative, except to call the animals, who are very responsive to her. The farmer hears this from the other women on the farm, who see her with the animals but do not seem to speak with her themselves.
The fourth stanza changes tone. Rather than continue his objective description, the speaker begins to characterize his wife sympathetically as shy and slight, sweet and wild. He regrets that these qualities are not available to him and are reserved for herself. There is another turn in the fifth stanza, as the speaker wistfully notes the passing of fall into winter. Looking to Christmas, he laments that this is a family time and they have no children: “What’s Christmas-time without there be/ Some other in the house than we!”
The final stanza brings the buried emotion and repressed sexuality to the fore. He begins with a description of her sleeping alone, a stairway above him, again implying that they are not sexually intimate. All of his love and longing for her surface in the final four lines as he imaginatively grasps at her soft, youthful image.
Forms and Devices
“The Farmer’s Bride” is a skillful rendering of the dramatic monologue. The farmer, who describes his wife’s actions, reveals more and more of his own feelings and failings until readers know his character and understand the reason for his wife’s behavior. The poem is as understated and evocative as its speaker, a fact that makes his revelations of love and strong sexual feelings, which are unrequited and unconsummated, truly poignant.
The unfolding revelation of the man and woman’s relationship during the monologue complicates what could be seen as a straightforward story of male oppression. Throughout, the husband reveals his inability to recognize his wife’s reaction to his patriarchal power, seen in his choice of her, his capturing and locking her in his house, and his defining her in terms of his own needs (“But what to me?”) and projecting his feelings onto her (“poor maid”).
However, his perceptive understanding of her fears and his refusal to force himself on her, together with his outburst of emotion at the end, make him sympathetic. The tensions in the poem between his obtuse conventionality and his unexpected tender patience and respect for her person create a multilayered, sympathetic character. Much...
(The entire section is 1,036 words.)