Bradstreet’s ‘‘Upon the Burning of Our House’’ is concerned primarily with the poet’s great sense of loss, along with her attempt to mediate this pain through her faith in God. Throughout the middle third of the poem, Bradstreet offers an emotional itemization of her material losses and suggests the psychological toll such losses have taken. The physical items that have been destroyed by the fire are described as her goods, her wealth, her treasures, and she draws specific attention to favorite items, including a trunk and a chest. She speaks often of such pieces being left in ashes, in ruins, as dust. In addition to listing to the objects she cherished, Bradstreet catalogues the memories her home enshrined. Recounting guests at her table, candles shining throughout the home, stories being told, Bradstreet emphasizes that the loss she is experiencing is significant. She has not merely been left without a few of her favorite things, objects that could probably be replaced. As a seventeenth-century mother and wife, she has lost her home, her sphere of influence. Her life and work—not just domestic chores, but the work of raising a family, running a household, entertaining guests, educating and nurturing her children—all occurred within the home that is now in ashes. In the fire she lost a part of her self. She attempts to minimize her sense of loss by viewing the objects that have burned as things to which she was vainly attached.
Bradstreet’s Puritan faith is an integral part of her poetry, and ‘‘Upon the Burning of Our House’’ is no exception. She uses her faith as a means of coping with her fear during the fire and with her intense feelings of loss in the aftermath of the fire. In the first third of the poem, Bradstreet reveals her terror and describes the way she turns to God for aid; she cries out for help, for the strength to see her safely through the immediate danger. Once she has left the house, Bradstreet is able to fully assess the scope of the tragedy. At once, she reminds herself that God takes as easily as he gives, and she blesses his name for doing so. At times, she finds comfort in reminding herself that God’s will takes precedence over her own. At other times, she scolds herself for her the pleasure she has taken in material things. She believes she has been vain to cling so much to worldly possessions. Bradstreet uses approximately the last third of the poem both to chide herself for mourning and to discuss the salvation that God has provided through the sacrifice of his son. She reflects on the heaven that awaits her, and in contemplating her permanent home with God in heaven, refers to the ashes of her own burned home as the dust from a heap of dung. Whether or not Bradstreet is successful in consoling herself through her faith is unclear. It is certain that she attempts to do so, for her poetry in general, while at times revealing her struggle with Puritanism, is not thought to be overtly ironic. Her effort at assuaging her pain through her faith must be viewed as an earnest one, but in the closing lines of the poem she asks for assistance in her efforts when she prays to be released from her love of the world and its attractions.
Throughout the poem, one has the sense that Bradstreet pits her sorrow and mourning against her Puritan faith. She allows herself to feel grief only briefly before chastising herself. Her mourning, after she has lovingly and sorrowfully begun to consider what she has lost, is attacked in the final third of the poem as human weakness, something to be despised, a reminder of unworthiness. After itemizing her losses, she similarly recounts to herself the reasons she should learn from grief: God has sacrificed his son for her sins, and a home awaits her 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.