Reader Response Theory in Reference to Poetry by Anne Bradstreet and Phyllis Wheatley

Though it is obvious that the literary value of these two early works by female poets cannot be underestimated, my own response to these two poems weren’t very favorable and I will explain why.

First, let us discuss “To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Anne Bradstreet.  On a positive note, living in a society where marriages fail on a daily basis, it is good to read a poem of a woman who loves and is content in her marriage.  In my own experience, if more women (and men) felt as Ms. Bradstreet did about her husband, then many more marriages would survive these days.  I guess my negative reaction to the poem comes from the line “Compare with me ye women if you can.”  As a person who has not yet found “the love of my life” that line comes across as irritating.  It seems that the author is gloating and holding over the heads of the other women that she has such a wonderful husband (or at least believes that she does).  The comparisons of her marriage to others of her time probably elicited a negative reaction from several in her community.

In the poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America” by Phyllis Wheatley, I again did not have a very favorable reaction to the poem.  “Twas mercy brought me from my ‘Pagan’ land…” She seems to be denigrating her race and giving in to the idea that just because she has a different colored-skin, that she was somehow “less than.” To be fair to Ms. Wheatley, it was an idea generally held then (especially in America) that Africans were somehow lesser as a race of human beings than white people.  Unfortunately, this racism still exists today, but is far less than it was at Ms. Wheatley’s time.

“To My Dear and Loving Husband”
By Anne Bradstreet
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
“On Being Brought from Africa to America”
By Phyllis Wheatley
‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

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