Love in Human Relationships: A Survey of three Literary Works

The three literary pieces being referred for this essay all deal with human emotions, especially that of love (or lack thereof). But their portrayal is far from homogeneous. In the poem To My Dear And Loving Husband by Anne Bradstreet, there is little doubt as to the total and unconditional love displayed by the lady toward her husband. The poem Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers by Adrienne Rich presents the opposite situation, where lack of love in a relationship stifles and oppresses Aunt Jennifer. The epistolary piece Last Letter to His Wife, Major Sullivan Ballou is unhesitant in his show of appreciation and love toward his wife. With the likelihood of impending death in the battle-field, his thoughts are a mixture of nostalgia, apologies and hopes with respect to his family. This essay will argue that although love can cause much hurt and although its loss can cause much grief, it is the essence of human lives; and to this extent it has to be sought, experienced and nurtured.

When love misfires or a relationship is depleted of love, then life can indeed become unbearable. As the case of Aunt Jennifer convincingly illustrates, her marriage has turned her into a caged animal – one that is without hope of escape or prospects for joy. Author Adrienne Rich implements irony by referring to the pouncing tigers being woven into shape by Aunt Jeniffer. The tigers taking form on the woollen garment have far greater liberties than what Aunt Jeniffer could possibly aspire for. Her marriage has tied her down and has suffocated her spirit. The heaviness of her marriage ring making knitting difficult could be taken as both metaphorical and literal. If it happens to be literally the case, then it only shows the depths of despair she’s suffering as a result of her marriage.

But, tragic as Aunt Jennifer’s case might be, it would be hasty to draw broad generalizations about the nature and prospects of love. The poem by Anne Bradstreet named To My Dear and Loving Husband is an illustration of the other extreme, namely, love at its most potent and romantic. The author (who has presumably written in the first person) is head over heels in love with her husband and feels no inhibition in expressing it verbally. Beside the artistry, rhyme and rhythm of the poem, what also comes through is the true essence of unconditional romantic love. Not only is the poem a celebration of love, but it is a celebration of life itself – it reaffirms the core purpose of life, namely to be loved and to love. Written nearly four centuries earlier, it still resonates with modern day conceptions of what love is. The poem also serves as a reminder to those skeptical of love (probably due to negative experiences as incurred by Aunt Jennifer) that despite all its risks, love is worth pursuing.

Major Sullivan Ballou’s letter to his beloved wife is not just about the emotion of love (as Anne Bradstreet’s poem is), but is a much more measured appreciation and acknowledgement of how he values his wife Sarah. The tone of the letter has a deeply emotional quality to it, but it is also a well-thought out reflection of the life he shared with his wife and their children. The added poignancy is brought about with the likelihood of an immediate death in the battle-field. But in a classic illustration of the enduring and transcending quality of love, Major Ballou is confident of meeting his wife again, if not in this life then in the after-life. This understanding becalms the warrior who’s staking his life for the love of his country. Major Ballou’s letter also shows that love can inspire and motivate people to undertake courageous and honorable acts instead of mellowing them and making them dastardly.

In conclusion, what comes through after reading the three literary works in question is the relevance, importance and value of love in human relationships. While cases such as Aunt Jennifer are sad, they should be considered as exceptions rather than the rule. In the end, love is so central to human relationships, that it is worth pursuing and nurturing. There is an element of risk in the form of heart-breaks and mental depressions that a love gone wrong can bring. But such risks are well worth the potential rewards.