‘Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666’ by Anne Bradstreet is a fifty-four line poem that follows a repeating and consistent pattern of rhyme. The poet has chosen to rhyme her poem in couplets therefore the entire poem follows a scheme of, aabbccddee… and so on through all fifty-four lines.
The choice to utilize a rhyming pattern of couplets forces a reader to travel from one line to the next quickly. The story unfolds rapidly. Additionally, after reading this piece, one might feel as if they’ve read a parable. The speaker, who is the poet herself, is attempting to convey a message, using real-life events to illustrate it. Ideally, one will come away from reading ‘Verses upon…’ with a deeper love of God and a new outlook on the importance of material possessions.
A reader should also take note of the two introductory sentences Bradstreet includes before beginning the poem itself. She wants the context of her narrative to be clear and her reader to be fully aware the following lines will tell of a real event.
Here Follows Some Verses Upon the Burning
of Our house, July 10th. 1666. Copied Out of
a Loose Paper.
Summary of Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666
In the first section, the speaker describes how she woke one morning to screaming on the street and realized everything was on fire. She fled the house and watched as it, and all her possessions were destroyed.
The speaker is at first thankful that she was saved from death by God. This is much more important to her than anything she lost. As time goes on though, she mourns for the physical items destroyed. She goes through all the objects and experiences which are now lost to her, from chests and trunks to meals with friends.
The poem concludes with the speaker remembering that nothing is worth as much on earth as making one’s way to heaven. That is where one’s home truly is. It is a place which has no price. She re-devotes herself to loving God and forgetting her past.
Analysis of Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666
In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow near I did not look,
I wakened was with thund’ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “fire” and “fire,”
Let no man know is my Desire.
In the first set of lines, the speaker begins by stating that it was on a “silent night” that the events of the poem took place. She has taken her “rest” and was not expecting to soon be assaulted by “sorrow.” The speaker, who is, in fact, Anne Bradstreet herself, was woken in the night to a “thund’ring noise” and terrible shrieking.
Outside on the street, there are people running around yelling that there is a “fire.”
I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To straighten me in my Distress
And not to leave me succourless.
Then, coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
In the next set of lines the speaker experiences a terror which makes her turn to God. She immediately cries out with her “heart” help from above. She hopes that God will be able to “straighten” her in her “Distress.” The speaker does not want to become consumed by fear and be left alone to deal with what’s about to come.
She leaves her home and watches from the street as it “consume[d]” by fire.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.
It was his own, it was not mine,
Far be it that I should repine;
He might of all justly bereft
But yet sufficient for us left.
Eventually, the speaker is so worn out by what she is observing and devastated by the loss that she “could no longer look.” Although she is saddened by the loss to go her “goods” she thanks God for the fact that she even had them in the first place. It is due to him that she lived in happy wellness only hours before.
The next lines portray contentment with her situation which is the main theme of the poem. She is not sobbing over what has happened but says to herself that it is what it is. There is nothing she can do about it. Her belongings and “dwelling place” were not really owned by her anyway. They were God’s from the beginning. She does not want to “repine” the loss as God has allowed her to survive physically unharmed.
When by the ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate and long did lie.
Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
In the next set of lines, she jumps forward in time to the moments in which she passed by the “ruins” which were her house. When she sees what is left of her home she does feel “sorrow[ful]” Her eyes move over the areas in which she used to sit and lie.
The speaker recalls “that trunk” and “that chest” which used to sit in her home. These are all physical parts of her home, things which are easily replaced.
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy Table eat a bit.
No pleasant talk shall ‘ere be told
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle e’er shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom‘s voice e’er heard shall be.
She continues on to lay out all the things she will never experience again. The speaker states how her “pleasant things” lie in “ashes” and she will no longer go and look at them. There is nothing left for her to see. Additionally, the home she used to live in will no longer play host to “guest” at the “Table.” There will be no more “pleasant talk” or retelling of past experiences.
In the last two lines she mourns for the future she intended to have in the home. It too has burnt away with all her possessions.
In silence ever shalt thou lie,
Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity.
Then straight I ‘gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mould’ring dust?
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.
The speaker says “Adieu” to her home in line thirty-six. She is attempting to purge herself of unhappy memories and make a clean break from what was once her home. These emotions she has been experiencing are all “vanity.” She knows she shouldn’t be mourning objects.
The following lines bring her out of her depression as she chides herself for feeling so sad about her loss. She asks herself what they really did for her. The speaker knows, in the larger scheme of things, they were worth noting.
She chooses to raise her own thoughts above the street and sky. She is re-dedicating herself to loving God more than to those things she previously owned.
Thou hast a house on high erect
Frameed by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.
It‘s purchased and paid for too
By Him who hath enough to do.
The poem draws towards its conclusion in these lines. She describes the true home that awaits her in the sky. It is a “house on high erect,” made by God himself. He has “richly furnished” it in preparation for the day the speaker passes away.
A price so vast as is unknown,
Yet by His gift is made thine own;
There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,
Farewell, my pelf, farewell, my store.
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.
In the last lines she describes the home-made by God to be beyond price. It is not something that can be bought or saved for. One must work throughout life to be given a place there.
The final lines of the poem allow the speaker to bid her final farewell to what she knew before. She is ready to forget about the past and to refocus herself on the home which waits for her in heaven. The “gift” given to her by God is all she needs to get through life.