Since Katherine Philips was married it seems she’s qualified to warn people that it might not be all it’s cracked up to be. But the right message to take away from the poem is that a person should only get married if they actually want to. Not because of outside pressure (a big reason, why many feel they have to get married).
The poem gives a nice, short list of positive things that come with being unmarried: “No blustering husbands to create your fears / No pangs of childbirth to extort your tears / No children’s cries for to offend your ears.” Yes, there are plenty of positives and they are mainly freedom and having no obligation to others.
This poem shouldn’t be seen as completely anti-marriage. Instead, it’s more about exploring the other option which comes with some benefits. It’s up to the reader to decide which option is better for them.
What’s in the way of exploring the other option is mainly social shaming. Philips addresses this with the ending line, “There’s no such thing as leading apes in hell.”
And ‘leading apes in hell’ comes from Shakespeare’s play, The Taming of the Shrew. It was often used to describe the fate of unmarried women. Well, Philips addresses that this is nonsense. So with the final line she effectively and carelessly writes off the social shame put on unmarried individuals.
This poem could be encouraging rebellion, but only for those who have what it takes.