In all forms of art, but especially in literature, one can observe the norms and customs of the distant past. Through writing, people have always expressed their thoughts, values, and desires, all of which can be analyzed through the lens of a certain historical context. As Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor both lived in 17th century Colonial America, their creative work was naturally influenced by the Puritan values of the time. This essay analyses their marriage-focused poems “To My Dear and Loving Husband” and “Huswifery” and discusses their contrasts and similarities to achieve a better understanding of the era.
“To My Dear and Loving Husband”
Anne Bradstreet’s poem centers around the subjects of marital love and devotion. The author proclaims her passionate love for her husband, claiming that she prizes it “more than whole mines of gold” (Bradstreet, 2010). The viewing of love in the poem is elevated and almost spiritual, with Bradstreet being proud of her love for her husband and feeling like the happiest of wives. This can be viewed as an interesting contrast to certain views of her era. The Puritans are historically known for perceiving any form of passion, particularly when displayed by women, as sinful, but Bradstreet subverts this concept. In her final lines, the author expresses the belief of getting to reunite with her husband in heaven due to the purity of their love for each other. Due to this purity, the author believes, their passion is God-honouring rather than sinful.
Edward Taylor’s poem is focused on humanity’s relationship with God and has been undoubtedly influenced by his life path and career as a pastor. The three verses are united by the metaphor comparing humankind to the weaving tools in God’s hands. The narrator prays to be aided in developing “Understanding, Will, Affections, Judgment, Conscience, Memory”: the Christian virtues he strives toward (Taylor, 1989, p. 343). The poem overall indicates absolute devotion and submission to the will of the divine, as Taylor directly talks about being an instrument of God, a universally recognizable Christian image. The overlap between the themes of the poem and Taylor’s church affiliation further explains the level of conviction displayed in his writing.
When discussing the contrasts between “To My Dear and Loving Husband” and “Huswifery,” it is important to remember that despite similarities in religious undertones, they are thematically different. If Bradstreet’s poem is, from start to finish, a love letter, Taylor’s can be compared to a continuous allegory and even sermon. Both works tackle love and intense devotion, but even when talking about Puritan poems, loving a man, and loving God is not the same subject matter. Furthermore, if Taylor’s poem’s message is completely in line with the norms of his era, Bradstreet partially opposes them. She is a woman taking pride in her passion and romantic love for her husband, for which she could have been harshly judged at that period (Alkhafaji & Al-Rashid, 2019). He is a pastor addressing his Creator with expressions of self-renunciation and obedience, perhaps one of the highest valued virtues at that time.
Other important differences between the poems in question are related to the style in which they are written. “To My Dear and Loving Husband” is straightforward in its meaning, with Bradstreet praising her love for her husband in expressive terms and emphasizing it with internal rhymes and rhyming within the lines. In contrast, Edward Taylor makes use of extended metaphors and hidden comparisons to deliver his message.
In Christian tradition, it is a common practice to compare the wife’s loyalty and obedience to her husband with the ideal relationship between humanity and God. Hence, despite significant thematic differences, the two poems are spiritually connected when the cultural context is taken into consideration. The two poets share the same religion and comparable levels of devotion to Christian doctrines, which is to be expected considering the strict doctrines of Puritanism. Religious undertones inform both works, with Taylor being a pastor and Bradstreet generally appealing to biblical themes in her writing (Alkhafaji & Al-Rashid, 2019). Faith greatly affected the way both poets were experiencing and understanding their emotions.
Comparative analysis of the literary works written within the same period is always fascinating, as frequently the researcher could find similar narratives even if the subjects differ significantly. Such is the case of Anne Bradstreet’s “To My Dear and Loving Husband” and Edward Taylor’s “huswifery.” These poems are depicting distinct types of love, use different poetic tools, and are likely to have caused different attitudes toward the society of 17th century America. Nonetheless, they are alike in the intensity of the conveyed feelings and the religious narratives that had heavily influenced both authors throughout their lives. The religiosity of both poems is equally evident despite the thematic differences in their works, which furthermore illustrates the importance of historical and cultural contexts when analyzing the works of art.
Alkhafaji, W., Al-Rashid, E. H. (2019). American puritan elegy: Biblical sources in Anne Bradstreet’s poems. The Islamic College University Journal, –(2), 79-93. Web.
Bradstreet, A. (2010). The Works of Anne Bradstreet. (J. Hensley, Ed.). Harvard University Press.
Taylor, E. (1989). The Poems of Edward Taylor. (D. Stanford, Ed.). University of North California Press.