“To Her Father with Some Verses” by Anne Bradstreet is written in heroic couplets—two-line grouping in iambic pentameter with an “aa bb cc…” rhyme scheme. Iambic describes a way to write and read poetry according to stressed and unstressed syllables. An iamb is a unit of poetic meter, or a foot, consisting of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. Several types of metric substitutions are employed in iambic poetry, but the iamb is the root, and by far the most common. Pentameter refers to the number of feet in a line of poetry—in this case, five. Bradstreet most commonly wrote in iambic meter, usually in pentameter, but sometimes in tetrameter (four feet). Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney, who both wrote in iambic pentameter, were two of Bradstreet’s chief influences.
This piece might be considered a sonnet, although it does not follow the rhyme scheme of any of the three most popular types of sonnet (Shakespearean, Spenserian, Petrarchan) of the time. The poem does have fourteen lines, as all sonnets must, and the tonal arch of the poem does follow that of a Shakespearean sonnet. The piece begins with two quatrains, a grouping of four lines. In a Shakespearean sonnet, the first quatrain introduces a situation or problem. The second quatrain inspects the subject at hand more closely. Line 9 of a Shakespearean sonnet typically contains a turn, the point in the sonnet where the narrator begins to hear the other side of his/her (usually internal) conflict. This line often begins with a conjunction, such as “yet.” In the couplet of a Shakespearean sonnet, the last two lines, the narrator usually reaches some sort of resolution or conclusion.
The tone here is one of praise through self-deprecation. The narrator feels in awe of her father. She longs to express her admiration for him, but feels as though her gifts are inadequate.
The principal might yield a greater sum,
Yet handled ill, amounts but to this crumb; (lines 5-6)
The theme of this poem is a child’s quest for his/her parent’s approval. All people want to feel worthy of their parentage.
Who can of right better demand the same
Than may your worthy self from whom it came? (lines 3-4)
The narrator ultimately resolves to look for ways to repay her father throughout her life, admitting that she will have to work at this until she dies.
Such is my debt I may not say forgive,
But as I can, I’ll pay it while I live;
Such is my bond, none can discharge but I,
Yet paying is not paid until I die. (lines 11-14)
Metaphor and Symbolism
Every line in this poem contains a word that refers to financial matters. The narrator likens her father’s love and guidance to an investment. She has taken what she has given him and tried to make returns; she has, up to this point, been unsuccessful.
My stock’s so small I know not how to pay,
My bond remains in force unto this day: (lines 7-8)
The “principal” in line 5 is his confidence in her, and the “crumb” is this poem: the best she has been able to do with what he has given her.
For the most part, Anne Bradstreet wrote in Modern English. Her writing is relatively easy to follow, but there is still some Middle English sprinkled in. This poem, though it contains some very formal language and strange-sounding substitutions, is very straightforward in its execution.
Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) was born into a noble family in England. She did not go to school, but her father was very learned and had a great library. Anne grew up devouring classic and modern literature. She immigrated to New England with her husband, Simon, and her parents in the 1630s. It was here that she began writing poetry and gave birth to eight children. Her first book of poetry, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, was first published in London in 1650.
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