Study Guide

To My Dear and Loving Husband Themes

  • Love

    "To My Dear and Loving Husband" is one giant love fest. And it's not about just any old kind of love. We're talking unconditional, unstoppable, undying love. The speaker spends the bulk of the poem coming up with different ways to describe her love for her totally awesome husband, which is so strong that not even a river can "quench it," she claims. In addition to the speaker's love for her husband, we also learn a little bit about her husband's love for her. By the end of the poem, the speaker suggests that the love between her and her husband is so powerful that it can somehow give them immortality. Now that's love.

    Questions About Love

    1. When the speaker says rivers cannot quench her love, to what is she comparing her love? What does that comparison really mean, anyway?
    2. Would you use some of the lines from the poem to declare your love for somebody? Or are they just too corny for your taste? 
    3. Do you think the lines about riches and gold are generic or clichéd? Or are they new and inventive? (Remember, she was writing this half a millennium ago!)
    4. Does the fact that the speaker mentions love in nearly every line make the poem annoying or tiresome? Or is it swoon-worthy all the way through?

    Chew on This

    Love is a powerful, binding force. In the poem, for example, it has the ability to make two people one.

    Love defies definition. The speaker describes it in so many different ways because there is no one, simple way to explain it.

  • Marriage

    This poem has the word "husband" in the title, so it's no surprise that the poem is about marriage. "To My Dear and Loving Husband" describes a near perfect union between two people. Both the speaker and her husband love each other very much, and their marriage is so perfect that they are, essentially, one person (marriage is all about union, after all). At the same time, the speaker repeatedly describes her relationship with her husband in terms of payment and recompense, which makes marriage sound kind of like a business arrangement. That's a little odd, right?

    Questions About Marriage

    1. Does this poem describe a perfect marriage? Do you think the speaker and her husband actually have one? Or is she just gushing?
    2. When you get married, do you want to feel as though you and your spouse are "one"?     
    3. What's up with the language of payment (recompense, repay, etc.)? If it's so filled with love, why does the speaker make her marriage sound like some sort of business deal?           
    4. Does this poem's idea of marriage differ from our current ideas about marriage?

    Chew on This

    While the speaker claims she and her husband are soul mates, the formal language of the poem ("if…then," "if…then," 'if…then") makes marriage and love seem less passionate and more logical than we might at first think.

    Marriage is based on a love so deep that two people seem like one. Even the basic language of the poem illustrates this sameness, with the repetition in the first three lines of the poem (the speaker says "if ever" three times).

  • Death

    Wait, what? Okay, so there's no actual death in "To My Dear and Loving Husband," but he's there nonetheless. In the last lines of the poem, for example, the speaker talks about how the love between her and her husband might allow them to live forever, thereby cheating death. At another point in the poem, the speaker describes her love as undying, because no river can "quench" it, or stop it. So what's up with all this death in a love poem? In some ways, it seems as if the two go hand in hand.

    Questions About Death

    1. How does this poem suggest that one can cheat death?
    2. Is the speaker a little weird to think she can live forever through love?     
    3. Why does the speaker even need to talk about death in the last line?           
    4. Does death sound like a bad thing in this poem? Or could it be considered good because it brings the speaker and her husband to eternal life together?

    Chew on This

    The poem's last word is also the same as the second word in each of the first three lines ("ever"), which makes the poem seem like a circle. Like love, the poem has no beginning and no end – it just goes on forever.

    Death is not always a bad thing. The poem argues that death is the beginning of something much greater, a life after death with loved ones.

  • Religion

    "To My Dear and Loving Husband" has plenty to say about religion, but it is very discreet and careful about it. The speaker doesn't come right out and say it, but for her, love and religion are very close. The first few lines of the poem, for example, describe love with very subtle references to the Bible. In addition, the last line of the poem talks about love as the key to immortality, to salvation. And remember, Bradstreet lived in a very religious society among Puritans and preachers, so this close relationship between love and religion makes perfect sense.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Do the religious ideas in this poem remind you of any non-Christian religious traditions?
    2. Why does the speaker refer to religious ideas in a very indirect way? Why not just come right out and talk about God and Heaven and Salvation?
    3. Does the poem talk about religion more or less than other poems you've read? Should we think of this as a religious poem? Or just a love poem?
    4. Are the speaker's claims about love being the key to a life in heaven strange? How do you make sense of them?

    Chew on This

    Many of the things the speaker says about love contain some religious idea or biblical echo, so the poem shows us that many important things in life can be understood through the lens of religion.

    Getting to heaven isn't about going to church every Sunday and following other such rules. For Bradstreet, it's about loving people, particularly your family.