Summary and Analysis
“To My Dear and Loving Husband,” by the early American poet Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672), opens by using the rhetorical technique known as “anaphora,” in which words are repeated at the beginnings of successive lines. In this case the repeated words are “If ever”—a phrase that already foreshadows the focus on the theme of time that ends the poem. The poem’s opening lines allude to the past; the poem’s closing lines allude to an eternal future.
By repeating the words “If ever” three times at the very opening of the poem, the speaker creates a strong sense of logical design. The first part of each of the first three sentences creates an expectation, and then the second part of each sentence shows how that expectation is fulfilled. Three times, then, the speaker asserts that her marriage exhibits many ideals associated with marriage in her historical period. Thus, in her marriage, two have paradoxically have become one (1), and each partner strongly loves the other, so that the love in this marriage is not merely one-sided or unreciprocated. The speaker does not claim that her marriage is uniquely happy (since such a claim would seem both implausible and boastful), but she does imply that this level of love and happiness is unusual and worth celebrating. The tone of the opening lines, like the tone of the poem as a whole, is full of confidence and joy. The first two lines, with their “If/then” structure, somehow seem both logical and loving, just as the balance of the first four lines symbolizes the balanced marriage the poem celebrates. These lines seem highly rational in structure while also expressing strong emotion. By the fourth line, the speaker has moved beyond her initial focus on simply herself and her husband, paying him the compliment of suggesting, to other women, that he is an especially satisfying mate.
Significantly, the entire poem seems to follow a regular iambic beat, in which odd syllables are unstressed and even syllables are stressed. The fact that this pattern runs throughout the entire work suggests how steady, predictable, and assured is the love the poem celebrates. Balance, indeed, is a central feature of the poem as a whole. Thus line 1 is balanced in length, structure, and rhyme by line 2, and in fact the use of couplets throughout the poem also contributes to this strong sense of equality and symmetry. Lines 3-4 balance, in meaning, line 2, while the reference in line 7 to “My love” is balanced by the reference to “Thy love” in line 9, where the balance involves not simply meaning but also sound. The reference to “mines of gold” in line 5 is balanced by the reference to “the riches” of “the East” in line 6, and the balance of past and future between the very beginning and very end of the poem has already been mentioned. Line 5 mentions an especially precious solid thing (“gold”), while line 7 mentions impressively broad and deep liquids (“rivers”). Here as in so many other ways in this poem, a balanced and symmetrical structure and phrasing repeatedly seem appropriate to the balanced, reciprocal relationship the poem both describes and celebrates.
Another way the poem is structured involves a kind of “pattern of ascent,” from the subterranean “mines of gold” mentioned in line 5, to the above-ground “riches” and “rivers” mentioned in lines 6-7, then to the references to the “heavens” and prayer in line 10, and then finally to the eternal, heavenly afterlife implied in line 12. By...
(The entire section is 872 words.)