Analysis: Form and Meter
Nice and Rhythmic
When you read this poem aloud, it's hard not to notice that you've fallen into a rhythm pretty quick. That's because "To My Dear and Loving Husband" is written in iambic pentameter, and for the most part, it sticks to its guns pretty strictly.
This means that each line of the poem can be divided into five groups or feet (that's the pentameter part), which each contain an iamb. What's an iamb, you say? Well, it's an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. That's a lot of mumbo jumbo to throw at you, so let's check out an example so we can see the meter at work.
We can scan line 4 in the following way:
Com-pare with me ye wo-men if you can.
da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM
It's five iambs all in a row, which is simple enough.
Most of the lines are nice and neat like this one, but occasionally Bradstreet will throw us for a loop. Really, would it be any fun if she didn't? One thing she has a habit of doing in this poem is to substitute some other kind of foot for an iamb (i.e., use something doesn't fit the unstressed-stressed pattern).
Take a look at line 10:
The hea-vens re-ward thee man-i-fold I pray.
This line contains iambs in the first, third, fourth, and fifth groups (feet). But that pesky second foot, has something a bit off about it – an extra unstressed syllable, to be precise (so the line itself actually has eleven syllables). When a foot has two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed one, we call it an anapest. So basically, line 10 gives us a line of iambic pentameter, with one anapest dropped in for kicks.
So was she just being sloppy, or does that extra unstressed syllable have an actual effect on the poem? When you read the line aloud, you might notice that the extra unstressed syllable gives a little gallop to the line. It livens up the sounds without straying too much from the meter she has established. Poets often do that to make a line stand out, stir up more interest, and keep the poem itself from sounding too sing-songy. Can you spot any other places in the poem where she does the same thing?
What would a love poem be without some very noticeable rhymes? In the grand tradition of love poems everywhere, "To My Dear and Loving Husband" has a rhyme scheme, and you'd have to be sleeping not to hear it. When we use the term rhyme scheme, we're simply referring to the pattern of rhymes at the end of a poem's lines. As a handy code, we use letters to represent the words that rhyme. So A rhymes with A, B rhymes with B and so forth.
The scheme for this poem is as follows: AABBCCDD*EEFF. We call these rhyming couplets, because the lines come in rhyming pairs. You'll also notice that we've starred the second "D." This is because those two lines (7-8) rhyme, but only kind of. The "-en" sounds of "quench" and "recompense" rhyme, but "ch" and "se" sounds are hardly the same. When two words sorta-kinda rhyme like this, we call it slant rhyme, or near rhyme. Why do you think Bradstreet uses it here?
The other thing you should know is that this poem is sort of, but not entirely, an example of an Epithalamion. This neat little (okay, big) word comes from the ancient Greek words for "upon" (epi) and (wedding) chamber (thalamos). An epithalamion is a poem about the wedding of a bride and bridegroom. This poem isn't really about a wedding, but its emphasis on love and marriage reminds us of that genre. We think Bradstreet would agree.