A Puritan’s Response to Loss: An analysis of Anne Bradstreet’s “Upon the Burning of Our House”

December 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

As a Puritan, Anne Bradstreet strove to live her life according to Calvinist doctrine while still having to cope with the struggles of her human condition (Mooney). When Bradstreet’s house burned down, she was struck with the reality of life’s hardships and presented with an opportunity to do one of two things. If she were to yield to her humanity and allow herself to be overcome by the loss of her worldly wealth, she could then blame God and turn away from Him. If she were to let her soul win out over that humanity, she could embrace the Puritan belief that God is still good and that she has a greater treasure waiting for her in heaven. In this she could draw closer to God, having learned to let go of her worldly possessions. Bradstreet struggles within herself for a time, but in the end she is able to arrive at a place where she accepts the loss of her material belongings and has her sights re-aligned on what truly matters – her relationship with God.When Bradstreet realized that her house was on fire, her first response was to immediately cry out to God the moment she first saw the flames when she said, “I, starting up, the light did spy, / And to my God my heart did cry” (Bradstreet ll. 7-8). The thought of blaming or being angry with God seems to not even enter her mind. She immediately recognizes God’s sovereignty and the fact that there is no possible way she can survive this tragedy without His strength. She begs God to “strengthen [her] in [her] distress / And not to leave [her] succorless” (“Burning” 9-10). Bradstreet is frightened, as any human being would be in this situation – whether she was a Puritan or not – but the importance of this circumstance is how Bradstreet responded to that fear. It is evident from the beginning that she is a faithful follower of God in that she instinctually cries out to Him, even in the midst of this horrible and unexpected tragedy. Soon after her outcry of fear and uncertainty, Bradstreet seems to calm a bit and she begins to even praise God, saying, “I blest his name that gave and took” (“Burning” 14). Bradstreet demonstrates great trust in God from the moment she first saw the flames, and in this it is apparent that she genuinely believes in Puritan doctrine. She was not angry with God in the slightest, because she acknowledges that everything she owned “was His own, it was not [hers]” (“Burning” 17). In this, Bradstreet is even thankful because God did not take everything, but left her with her family and enough to still survive. She asserts He could have taken any amount of her belongings and she still would not have been angry with Him, because it would be His right to take whatever he saw fit (“Burning” 19-20). After line 20, however, the tone changes again from her faithful, hopeful optimism to sense of strong lamentation.Bradstreet describes walking by her old house and being reminded of the sting of loss she experienced in the fire (“Burning” 21-22). Though she knows as a believer in God that those things should hold little value, she admits she still struggles daily with the sadness she feels over losing them. She seems much less convicted about God’s goodness at this point, thought she doesn’t come right out and say that. The reasons she gave to still praise God and be joyous in the beginning seem to bring her much less comfort now as she stands face-to-face with the physical loss she endured. Bradstreet shows the extreme difficulty she is experiencing in letting go of her worldly possessions as she describes in detailed pathos everything she misses so dearly about that house (Mooney). She speaks of a wide range of earthly treasure she regrets losing, from the emotional wealth of laughter and entertaining guests, to her material wealth, or her “pleasant things” (“Burning” 23-36). In the midst of her dolefulness, however, she seems to snap back to her senses and to the reality of what she knows her outlook on life and the human condition should be as a Puritan. Bradstreet begins to reprimand herself for holding her earthly belongings in such high value. Her inner battle is made evident when she angrily asks herself: And did thy wealth on earth abide? Didst fix thy hope on mold’ring dust?The arm of flesh didst make thy trust? (“Burning” 38-40)She knows she should not consider any treasure greater than hers in heaven, and she seems frustrated with herself for having such difficulty letting go of what she lost in the fire. Then she begins to think about what truly matters to her, telling herself to “rise up [her] thoughts above the sky” (“Burning”41). After this encouraging word to herself, Bradstreet seems to switch her perspective as she turns back to talking about God and what he has blessed her with. Bradstreet is joyous again, refocusing on what she has in God: Thou hast an house on high erect, Framed by that mighty Architect, With glory richly furnished, Stands permanent though this be fled. (“Burning” 43-46)It is obvious at this point how superior she feels her heavenly wealth is to the material possessions she lost in the fire. It seems Bradstreet now realizes the worth and purpose of this seemingly tragic incident – that she take her focus off the “dunghill mists [which] away may fly” (“Burning” 42) and re-align her sights on her heavenly treasure. It seems at this point in her poem, Bradstreet is experiencing a revelation that she did not need the things she lost in the fire, because her Lord, the “mighty Architect” (“Burning” 44), has prepared for her a treasure infinitely more valuable in heaven, and “there’s wealth enough, [she] needs no more” (“Burning” 43-51).Bradstreet’s poem depicts the vivid contrast between worldly and heavenly treasure, while also illustrating the trouble a depraved human being has letting go of worldly riches. She admits she had put too much hope and invested too much time in her earthly wealth, and then a disaster struck that swept it all away. She knows she does not have to morn the loss of those things, because they were only meant to be temporary, and though it may be hard to say goodbye to her “pelf…[and]…store” (“Burning” 52), she knows that is what God wants her to learn to do. Bradstreet seems to acknowledge that the fire was ordained by God’s hand, yet she does not consider herself unjustly treated and she does not feel angry or bitter at Him for it. In fact, it seems Bradstreet considers the fire as a blessed sign from God, warning her of the value she had placed on her material belongings, and saving her from continuing to do so. Bradstreet is suddenly very much aware of the fact that the treasure one possesses on earth is temporary and unstable (“Burning” 52). In understanding this, Bradstreet is reminded of the one treasure that is not temporary, but eternal. The one eternal treasure that is valued far above any such trash one can find on earth is that of the treasure one stores up in heaven and is promised by God. Bradstreet expresses gratitude in her poem to God when she realizes the gift of immeasurable value he has bestowed upon her. Suddenly, she has no need for earthly treasure, which has dimmed tremendously in comparison with that which the Lord offers. She is finally able to let go of what she lost, as she says:Farewell, my pelf, farewell my store. The world no longer let me love, My hope and treasure lies above. (“Burning” 52-54)

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