‘‘Upon the Burning of Our House’’ is considered a lyric poem. A lyric poem is one in which the poet explores personal feelings and thoughts rather than telling a story. Typically short in length, lyric poems do not necessarily adhere to any formal structure. Modern lyric poems may be written in unmetered, unrhymed verse, or free verse, whereas earlier poems, such as Bradstreet’s ‘‘Upon the Burning of Our House’’ are often more structured. Bradstreet’s lyric does not contain stanzas. A stanza, or a grouping of lines in a poem, divides the poem into sections the way paragraphs divide prose. The groupings typically display a repeated pattern in terms of number of lines and rhyme scheme. Bradstreet’s ‘‘Upon the Burning of Our House’’ does not contain a stanzaic structure, but rather consists of 54 lines of rhymed verse. While not divided into stanzas, the poem contains 27 couplets, or pairs of rhymed lines. Each couplet features the same metrical pattern. Meter is the pattern of unaccented and accented syllables in a line of poetry. A metrical unit consists of at least one unaccented syllable along with at least one accented syllable and is called a foot. The type of meter is described in terms of the number of feet per line of poetry. The pattern of accented and unaccented syllables in Bradstreet’s poem is iambic, a pattern consisting of an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable. There are four such units in each line. Therefore, the poem is said to be written in iambic tetrameter. Within the confines of the formal structure of the poem, a structure consistent with the conventions of the time period, Bradstreet explores her emotional responses to the tragedy of losing her home and possessions.
An elegy is a poem of mourning. Most often, elegies depict grief related to the loss of a loved one, but the designation of elegy is also applied to poems such as Bradstreet’s ‘‘Upon the Burning of Our House’’ that focus in a meditative fashion on other types of losses, or are used as expressions of solemnity or somberness. In Bradstreet’s elegy, the poet mourns the loss of her home, her favorite possessions, the place where happy memories have been created. In the elegy, Bradstreet plumbs the depths of her grief, exploring the particulars of the general loss of her house. For example, it is not just the loss of the physical structure, the shelter provided by her house, that is mourned. Rather, Bradstreet mourns the loss of individual objects and specific activities, such as dinner with guests, storytelling, the sound of voices in the home. The poet furthermore examines her response to her own grief, chastising herself for experiencing feelings of loss and attempting instead to feel comforted by her faith.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Poetry for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Anne Bradstreet, Volume 33, published by Gale-Cengage Learning, 2010.