Conventional and Unconventional Love in Anne Bradstreet’s and John Frederick Nims Literary Works
‘Anne Bradstreet uses traditional ideas of love where as John Frederick Nims takes an unconventional approach to love’
How far and in what ways do you agree with this view?
Both ‘A Letter to Her Husband, Absent Upon Public Employment’ and ‘Love Poem’ present conventional ideas about the love of another person. However, Bradstreet, writing at a time when partners were often separated due to the requirements of male job duties, acquires a traditional love poem structure, addressing themes of separation and eternal love. Differently, Nims challenges conventional ideas of love writing as a modern poet, which allows him to focus on what society would usually deem flaws in the character of a person.
In ‘A Letter to Her Husband’ Anne Bradstreet uses a traditional structure which creates the presentation of a traditional love poem. This is seen through the use of rhyming couplets throughout the entire poem for example, ‘more’ and store’. This is often used in traditional love poems and by many influential poets such as Shakespeare. The purpose of these rhyming couplets is to create the sense of unity and togetherness between both the author and her lover. This links with the context in which Bradstreet is writing of which she has been separated from her husband as seen in the title of the poem who is ‘Absent Upon Public Employment’, and yet love keeps the two united, demonstrated in this rhyme scheme. Despite this, Bradstreet offers an unconventional approach to love poetry as she is writing during a male dominated society and is therefore expressing change as a female love poet.
Differently, Nims as a modernist poet, challenges conventional approaches to love by using an unconventional rhythm. This is evident from the alternating, irregular rhyme scheme used throughout the poem. In this case, every other line has a rhyme such as ‘ring’ and ‘thing’. This links with the humorous tone of the poem which is used to contrast typical ideas of love. Modernist poets often depart from traditional writing as is seen in this poem. Furthermore, the metre used throughout the poem is similarly of an irregular nature, which also contrasts traditional approaches to love and opposes Bradstreet’s use of iambic pentameter which develops the theme of a traditional approach to love.
Bradstreet makes use of typically traditional imagery such as zodiac and astrology which illustrates the conventional approach to love. This is seen from lines such as ‘I, like the Earth this season, mourn in black,/My Sun is gone so far in’s zodiac’ which illustrates a traditional view. The metaphoric image of Bradstreet being the ‘Earth’ while her lover is the ‘Sun’ creates a sense of unity and connection between the two, linking with the traditional theme of the poem. The suggestion that the lover is the ‘Sun’ is also a reflection of the time the poem is written, as the sun is the centre of the universe, highlighting that the male is also the most important feature of the relationship, which is a traditional view. The suggestion that she ‘mourn(s) in black’ is similarly representative of the traditional tone to the poem. This particular image alludes to death highlighting that separation from her lover is like that of death, again suggesting a traditional approach.
Nims uses images that deviate from social expectations of what would normally be considered unattractive features of a person’s character, which creates an unconventional love poem. This is seen from the very opening line of the poem ‘My clumsiest dear’ which is an oxymoron. Nims creates the effect of highlighting that despite being a flaw in character, his love for the person he is writing to is still sincere, hence the address ‘dear’. This is continued by the hyperbolic statement ‘whose hands shipwreck vases’ as an image to describe his lover. This humorous image of a ‘shipwreck’ contrasted with the feminine image of ‘vases’ allows Nims to express how he loves every quality of the person he is writing about. This is again a departure from traditional love poetry as it unconventionally continues to focus on the flaws of his lover, which is common in modernist poetry.
In ‘A Letter to Her Husband’ Bradstreet writes about the unity of true love, despite the barriers which ay prevent them from being united, which is a traditional theme. The overall tone of the poem is one of sadness due to the poet’s separation from her lover due to her husband’s employment requirements, however, there is also a sense of hope in the unity of love. This is illustrated in the lines ‘Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone, / I here, thou there, yet both but one’ which is structured as the final two lines of the poem. The recurring biblical imagery in the poem is further seen in the lines ‘Flesh of thy flesh…’ which again highlights the unity of love which is a traditional approach to love. The use of the conjunctive adverb ‘yet’ on the final line of the poem illustrates that despite all the downsides of separation from one another the two are ‘both but one’ which shows the unity in love. furthermore, the metre in these final lines deviates from iambic pentameter to iambic tetrameter creating a hopeful tone that differs from the rest of the poem.
Similarly, ‘Love Poem’ writes about the unity true love, which is a traditional approach to love. This is seen from the final two lines ‘For should your hands drop white and empty/ All the toys of the world would break’. The ‘white and empty’ image alludes to death as these images are often symbolic of death, which is often an image in traditional love poetry such as ‘A Letter to Her Husband’. The image of all the ‘toys’ in the world breaking illustrates the relationship between the poet and lover by implying that only death would be able to break the unity of their love. This also adds to the fun humorous tone of the poem as ‘toys’ are a childish image yet is used to represent the relationship, the ‘world’ is symbolic of Nims world and suggests that all the fun in his life would be lost when death breaks the unity between lovers. From this aspect, the poem can be seen as taking a traditional approach to love.
To conclude, due to the context each poem is set, they either write traditionally or unconventionally on the theme of love. despite this, due to the fact love is an eternal theme, there are elements of a traditional approach to love found in both poems.
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