Parents and children, brothers and sisters—family relations are a rich source of comedy and tragedy and are thus more often the subject of drama than of poetry. Poems that explore the complex relationship between husbands and wives will be found in this survey in the Marriage section.
The closest poetic form to drama is the ballad, particularly the ones that tell a story through dialogue such as the tragic “Edward.” Here a son has to explain to his mother why his sword is dripping with blood. He evades the question at first, claiming he has killed his hawk and his horse. Finally he confesses that it is his father he has killed, and that he will have to leave his family and seek exile. The climax occurs at the end of the poem, when the boy curses his mother for ordering him to kill his father.
Not many poets have written about their children—unless they die young (a subject large enough to merit its own section in this survey). Anna Letitia Barbauld, a champion of education and a popular eighteenth-century writer for children, addresses her unborn child in “To a Little Invisible Being Who Is Expected Soon to Become Visible” (1795?). The title suggests the reverence with which Barbauld approaches the mystery of her child's being. She compares the child to a seed, ready to blossom into the world of sense and sound, and she is impatient for the fruition of much planning and waiting. The poem neatly describes the relationship between a woman and her unborn child: “part of herself, yet to herself unknown … the stranger guest,/Fed with her life through many a tedious moon.” The baby is urged, “Haste, little captive, burst thy prison doors!” so that the woman may indulge her pent-up love for this mysterious child.
Writing in the previous century, Anne Bradstreet describes her eight children in “In Reference to Her Children, 23 June, 1656.” Bradstreet's