Bradstreet’s ‘‘Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10th, 1666’’ is not formally broken into stanzas. (A stanza is a unit of poetry, or a grouping of lines that divides the poem in the same way that a paragraph divides prose. Bradstreet’s poem appears on the page as a fifty-four-line poem without any stanzas.) However, each six-line subset of the poem roughly functions as a stanza in that it typically focuses on one idea. In the first six lines, Bradstreet opens the poem by setting the stage for the events of the night of July 10, 1666, observing that when she went to bed that night, she could not expect the sorrow she was soon to experience. She describes waking to loud noises and voices shouting. The sixth line of the poem in particular is open to dual meanings. In this line, Bradstreet speaks of her desire to keep her fear of the fire hidden, implying that if her faith were stronger she would not have been so afraid. Alternately, the line may be interpreted as suggesting that Bradstreet’s desire is to experience this trial, that she welcomes the impending tragedy as an opportunity to strengthen her faith.
In the next six lines, Bradstreet describes seeing the light of the fire for herself and praying to God to strengthen her, to help her during this time of need. Exiting her home, she begins to see the full view of what is happening and describes the flames consuming her home.
Bradstreet relates watching the house burning, how she stared until she could look no longer. At that moment, when she looked away, she praises God as one who both gives and takes, as the one responsible for leaving all of her possessions in the dust. She claims that God’s actions are just, that it is his will that must be done and not her own. With the superiority of God’s will asserted, Bradstreet tells herself that she must not worry or be discontented in the aftermath of the fire.
While God may have left her family bereft of its possessions, his actions, Bradstreet repeats, are just. Bradstreet further insists that God provides what is sufficient and necessary. She speaks of how later, after the fire, she passed the ruins of her home and was overwhelmed with sorrow at seeing what little remains of the places where her days were spent, where she used to sit and sleep.
The lamentation for what is lost continues, as Bradstreet recollects the treasured pieces of furniture that have been destroyed, a favorite trunk, a chest. All her cherished possessions, she observes, are now ashes, and she can no longer look upon or touch them. No longer will guests visit her in that house, or sit and dine there.
The cataloging of loss continues in these lines, as Bradstreet notes that no visitors will gather and tell stories. No longer will candles warmly light her home. Bradstreet recalls treasured events that took place in her home. The mention in this section of the voice of a bridegroom in the house is a reference to her son on his wedding day, according to the critic Josephine K. Piercy in her 1965 study of Bradstreet’s poetry, titled Anne Bradstreet. Her home, she reveals in lines 21 through 36, was more than just a container for her property. The structure housed experiences, celebrations, conversations. In line 36, Bradstreet says farewell to all these things and attempts to brush off her attachment to the home and its contents as mere vanity.
Next, Bradstreet begins to scold herself, questioning where true wealth really resides. She asks herself whether or not she should have placed all of her hopes and dreams in the mortal world, in physical items, which have now succumbed to ruin. She admonishes herself to look heavenward, above the blowing dust and ashes that were once her home, and consider the house that God has built for her in heaven.
Reminding herself of how glorious heaven will be, Bradstreet also notes that her home in heaven will be permanent and will not be able to be destroyed like her home on earth. Alluding to the Christian notion that Jesus died for the sins of the faithful, Bradstreet describes her home in heaven as being paid for already by God.
In the final lines of the poem, Bradstreet continues to speak of the high price of her heavenly home, that price being the death of God’s son. But God’s gift to his people, the sacrifice of his son Jesus, provides her with enough wealth that she needs nothing more. Once again, she bids farewell to her home and her possessions. In the final two lines of the poem, Bradstreet prays to be released from her love of this world. She reassures herself that all her hopes and wealth are to be found in heaven.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Poetry for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Anne Bradstreet, Volume 33, published by Gale-Cengage Learning, 2010.