Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Inheritance of Love: Another Look at an Anne Bradstreet Love Poem

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompetence.
Thy love is such I can no way repay.
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persevere
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
(“To my Dear and Loving Husband”, Anne Bradstreet, 1612-1672)

Anne Bradstreet’s poem is a profession of her love and adoration for her husband. That she praises her husband and requests that creation reward him for his love is an uncommon display of affection for the era in which Bradstreet lived, wrote and loved. Her adoration for the man that she married at sixteen years old and remained married to for over forty years is a testament to the sincerity of Bradstreet’s resolve. It is also a reminder that we, the living, can still learn much from the lovers who loved before us.

Bradstreet was one of the first immigrants who settled in the puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony. Her intellect was a gift from her father, who ensure that she had the best education available despite his humble position in 17th century English society. As a rule, puritan women were expected to be reserved, domestic, uneducated and subservient to their husbands. They were not expected or allowed to exhibit their wit, charm, intelligence, or passion...especially their passion. John Winthrop, a Massachusetts governor during Bradstreet’s lifetime, once remarked that women who exercised wit or intelligence were apt to go insane. I would argue that a segment of today’s population still holds on to this particular veracity as a personal truth.

Bradstreet’s demonstrative sentiment is an inheritance for the future, bestowed upon us with a price. She loved hard yet avoided rigidity; passionately while ignoring the weight of society’s opinion of her ardor: through the birth of eight babies, gifts given to her husband at great risk to her own frail health; through those within her puritanical community, who upon learning of the depth of her intellect could have deemed her a witch; and through the punitive regard her century held for her gender.

The influences of the 21st century have left us virtually uninhibited, free to love in plain sight, yet love seems corrupted. To some it is a business, to some its definition requires form and leaves much to be desired, and yet to others, love is a tool of manipulation, an implement readily used to advance a personal agenda rather than to find a measure of happiness and security in an uncertain world.

I want to love the way Anne Bradstreet loved. One day I want to extract a piece of fresh parchment from my writing table and compose the letter of my lifetime.  An epistle of the river that has been the depth of my love for another; letting my lover know that under no uncertain terms he is and will be the love of my life; that his love is a debt that I can never repay; and wish for creation to heap upon him an ample portion of prosperity in return for his choosing to reciprocate the love I have given him.

Statically speaking, I may not have Anne Bradstreet’s forty years to experience the love she conveys; but I am willing to invest my remaining time to allow love its turn at navigating my heart and my life…
then while we live, in love let's so persevere
that when we live no more, we may live ever.”