Anne Bradstreet’s poem Upon the Burning of Our House
Anne Bradstreet’s poem Upon the Burning of Our House demonstrates the dichotomy between the secular and the divine and the human understanding between the two. In Bradstreet’s poem she describes the atrocious event of her house burning. This was in a time period when insurance was not a widely spread protective agent against such atrocities, so when the narrative saw her house burning she knew the time and effort it would have taken to rebuild the structure and in the meantime of its construction there would be hardships to endure in finding a house or place to stay. Thus, the poem illustrates how a human can rise above the mundane qualities of horrendous events and find sanctuary in the promise of divine joy.
The poem begins with the narrator dictating when the story of the house burning began; thus the reader gets a compare and contrast between the ‘silent night’ (Bradstreet line one) and the ‘thundering noise’ (Bradstreet line three). The house is in turmoil which is a metaphor for how life on earth is bound to mistakes, disasters, and human suffering. The burning of the house isn’t simply a re-telling of an event but it is an extended metaphor for how the narrator and by extension Bradstreet are viewing life on earth, at least at its most depressing and hard times.
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When the narrator encounters this dreadful event, she states, ‘And to my God my heart did cry’ (Bradstreet line eight). In the following line the narrator expresses that in God she will find her strength. Thus, it seems not to matter how poorly one’s life is going, or how badly the events are turning, as in this house fire, for as the narrator expresses there is strength to be found with God, or at least, God can grant one strength.
There is a point in the second stanza when the narrator states, “And when I could no longer look/ I blest his name that gave and took” (Bradstreet lines 13 &14). This however seems to be a contradiction to the consistency to the benevolence of God that the narrator had set up in the prior stanza. Now, instead of giving one strength the narrator is stating that not only does God bless one in times of trouble but that God causes these times of trouble as is signified in the word ‘took’ (Bradstreet line 14). It seems that the narrator is either being inconsistent with her image of God, or that the narrator is expressing how God tests people by putting them through times of trial. In seems however that either could be a correct conjecture.
The narrator further expresses this concept of God in the third stanza by stating that worldly possessions, as in the play Everyman cannot follow one into heaven and so have no real place as important artifacts in one’s life. The narrator states that the items were God’s to begin with since God gave one the opportunity to own the possessions by providing talent to gain jobs to gain money, and thus the cycle of possessions is followed back to an otherworldly source as is shown in the lines, “It was his own: it was not mine; Far be it that I should repine” (Bradstreet lines 17 &18).
It does not seem, however, that the fire is act of vengeance but rather a test, or even more likely an event that simply occurred and the narrator is trying to make some sense out of it according to her religious frame of reference. The fire may have been caused by a candle, a fireplace spark and any number of usual ways of a house catching fire; the significant part of this house fire however is the importance the narrator is placing on the difference of the secular and the divine. Her possessions are burned in the fire and she comforts herself stating that it does not matter since when she goes to heaven she will have the comfort of her God and besides such worldly goods do not travel with one to the afterlife. This seems to be a general feeling of faith in the poem, but it stands to reason that while not having possessions while in heaven is something full of religious context, one must at least have a place to live while still living on earth and so the poem consist of this quandary; does one pass a Godly test by being okay with their house burning down, or does one need to be a little more selfish and want a house to live in while still on earth?
Bradstreet, A. Upon the Burning of Our House . 7 September 2007.
He might of All justly bereft, 19
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the Ruines oft I past,
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast,
And here and there the places spye
Where oft I sate, and long did lye.
Here stood that Trunk, and there that chest; 25
There lay that store I counted best:
My pleasant things in ashes lye,
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sitt,
Nor at thy Table eat a bitt.
No pleasant tale shall ‘ere be told, 31
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle ‘ere shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom’s voice ere heard shall bee.
In silence ever shalt thou lye;
Adieu, Adeiu; All’s vanity.
Then streight I gin my heart to chide, 37
And didst thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the skye
That dunghill mists away may flie.
Thou hast an house on high erect 43
Fram’d by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent tho’ this bee fled.
It’s purchased, and paid for too
By him who hath enough to doe.
A Prise so vast as is unknown, 49
Yet, by his Gift, is made thine own.
Ther’s wealth enough, I need no more;
Farewell my Pelf, farewell my Store.
The world no longer let me Love,
My hope and Treasure lyes Above. 54