Some nights, I dreamed he'd written me, the bed a page beneath his writer's hands […]
Get ready for even more writing metaphors. Anne tells us that she has dreamed that her husband had "written" her.
Maybe she means that he's written about her in one of his sonnets or plays. Or maybe the metaphor is more extreme. Maybe she dreams that he's created her entirely, that she was called into existence by Shakespeare.
In this metaphor, the bed becomes a page upon which Shakespeare writes Anne. The writing/sex metaphor is extended (the bed is a page, and Anne is the writing on it).
Once again, we have some more stereotypical femininity. Anne imagines that she's the product of someone else's imagination, and not a self-created or self-determined being.
Is Anne a bad feminist? By attempting to set the record straight on her relationship with Shakespeare, she seems to give Shakespeare a whole lot of control. Then again, setting the record straight is a pretty strong and important act in and of itself.
Basically, this poem has a pretty tangled view of the relationship between men and women.
[…] Romance and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
Surprise, surprise: more references to writing! Anne mentions two genres of playwriting – romance and drama – both of which Shakespeare knew well.
Here's the thing: unlike Shakespeare's plays, which are artificial works of art, Anne's relationship with Shakespeare is real. It's sensuous: their relationship consists of touch, smell, and taste. Other people get to read Shakespeare's words and see his plays, but Anne gets to touch, smell, and taste the man himself. Lucky lady.
While writing and sex seemed pretty much equivalent earlier, here Anne declares that sex is better. Period. Romance and drama (i.e., plays) are fun to see, but in their bed, Anne and Shakespeare get to experience these things for themselves.
Life is better than art, she seems to say.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on, dribbling their prose. […]
Now that Anne has said her piece on the issue of sex and writing, the second best bed returns to center stage. Anne tells us that their best bed was reserved for guests.
(We already know that she and Shakespeare slept in the second best bed. This seems like a pretty good explanation of what Shakespeare said in his will: the second best bed was their bed, after all.)
To be honest, The best bed seems pretty mundane compared to the second best one. In the best bed, the guests "dozed on / dribbling their prose." Compare this to the drama and romance in Anne and Shakespeare's bed, or to the clifftops and deep sea diving. Which bed would you rather be in?
Anne also continues with her writing metaphors. In the second best bed, there's poetry, drama, and romance. In the best bed, the guests are "dribbling their prose."
Prose is your everyday typical written language. It's what you read and write all the time, in newspapers and novels, in textbooks and in emails (and on Shmoop!). It has no form, the line breaks don't matter, and there's no rhythm. It's the opposite of poetry, which has form, meaningful line breaks and (sometimes) regular rhythms.
Who wants prose when you could have poetry? Amen, Anne.
Since writing is so often a metaphor for sex in this poem, Anne seems to be saying that she and Shakespeare have better sex in their second best bed than the guests do in the best bed. Take that, haters!
[…] My living laughing love – I hold him in the casket of my widow's head as he held me upon that next best bed.
We know from the epigraph of the poem that Shakespeare is dead when this poem is written – the fuss is over his will, after all. In these lines, though, Anne imagines him as if he's still alive. He's her "living laughing love."
These lovely lines quickly become terribly sad because of the deathly words that follow: casket and widow. Still, even though her husband may be dead, her imagination keeps him alive.
And guess what? More metaphors. Here, she compares her mind to that second best bed. She holds on to the memory of her "living laughing love" just as strongly as her husband held her (physically) while lying in bed.
While there have been a lot slant rhymes (close-but-no-cigar rhymes) and repeated sounds earlier in the poem, there is no formal rhyme scheme. Nothing rhymes perfectly – until these final two lines, that is.
In the last two lines of the poem, we have a wonderfully strong and dramatic rhyme of "head" with "bed." This final couplet provides a beautiful sense of closure to the poem.
Bonus fact: all of Shakespeare's sonnets end with a strong full rhyme like this one. Is Anne referencing her husband's sonnets here? Or has she become empowered over the course of the poem and wants to show off? That's up for debate. Either way, this poem goes out with a bang.