Researching and writing about puritan poet Anne Bradstreet

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Friends But Not Lovers (At First)

Here’s part of a poem Anne wrote while missing her travelling husband:

. . . I, like the Earth this season, mourn in black,

My Sun is gone so far in's zodiac,

Whom whilst I 'joyed, nor storms, nor frost I felt,

His warmth such frigid colds did cause to melt.

My chilled limbs now numbed lie forlorn,-

Return, return, sweet Sol, from Capricorn;

In this dead time, alas, what can I more

Than view those fruits which through thy heat I bore?

ANNE! I’m blushing! Don’t you know that people who lived A Long Time Ago are supposed to be prudes?

Here’s what’s really interesting: it’s possible that Anne Bradstreet and her husband Simon didn’t love each other at the time they married. I say this not because they were not well matched for each other, but for the opposite reason. Simon may have been too perfect a marriage candidate for Anne to have spontaneously fallen for.

In the seventeenth century, the going wisdom was that you did not marry for love, but rather for compatibility. Love would come later (one hoped).

Simon Bradstreet worked for Anne’s father Thomas Dudley, who was the steward of the Earl of Lincoln. Thomas Dudley trained Simon in the work, and then Simon took over as steward when the Dudleys moved. Like the Dudleys, Simon was a thorough-going puritan. He was also an orphan; likely the Dudleys became a sort of surrogate family. Perhaps he and Thomas Dudley had something of a father-son relationship.

Now I ask you, moms and dads – can you think of any better husband for your darling daughter? The guy has the same life philosophy as you do. He’s a proven bread-winner. You know him very well, since you trained him in his career (a career that he’s doing very well at) and you all lived in the same household for years.

And you’re telling me that Anne conveniently fell in love with Daddy’s perfect candidate? Love is blind. Its true course never has run straight. If she fell in love at seventeen, odds are it would be with the wrong guy – the traditionalist vicar’s son, or a Baptist, maybe – but not Simon. Or so says my gut. You know it happens all the time now, and let me tell you, it happened just as often Way Back When.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting! Wondering then.. could her verse up there have possibly been for someone other than her absent husband? I'm most likely taking this out of context though; you did preface it by saying she wrote it while missing her husband. But you also suggested it just as likely she could have had feelings for someone other than he, which is entirely possible as this was an arranged marriage. If only we could e-mail her and find out the real scoop....