Anne Bradstreet, a prominent figure in early American literature, was one of the first poets to emerge from the New World. Her works provide valuable insights into the beliefs, values, and perspectives of the Puritan community she belonged to. “Upon the Burning of Our House” is a poignant poem that captures the Puritan mindset in the face of adversity, reflecting their complex blend of religious devotion and earthly attachments. This essay delves into the Puritans’ point of view as depicted in Bradstreet’s poem, shedding light on their theological beliefs, emotional struggles, and perspectives on material possessions.
The Puritan Theological Framework:
The Puritans were a religious group that sought to reform the Church of England. Central to their beliefs was the notion of divine providence, the idea that God’s hand guided every aspect of human existence. This perspective is evident in Bradstreet’s poem as she grapples with the loss of her material possessions. The Puritans believed that material wealth was fleeting and secondary to spiritual salvation. Bradstreet’s poem reflects this belief when she writes, “And to my God my heart did cry, / To strengthen me in my distress / And not to leave me succorless.”
The Paradox of Earthly Attachment and Religious Devotion:
“Upon the Burning of Our House” captures the tension between earthly attachments and religious devotion that was characteristic of the Puritan mindset. The Puritans believed in living a disciplined and virtuous life, yet they also recognized the allure of worldly possessions. Bradstreet’s poem conveys her struggle with this paradox as she mourns the loss of her material belongings while ultimately submitting to God’s will. This internal conflict is exemplified in the lines, “There’s wealth enough, I need no more; / Farewell, my pelf, farewell my store.”
The Transitory Nature of Earthly Possessions:
Bradstreet’s poem reflects the Puritans’ understanding of the impermanence of worldly possessions. Puritan doctrine emphasized the temporary nature of material wealth and the importance of focusing on spiritual matters. Bradstreet’s acceptance of the loss of her house and belongings echoes this belief, underscoring the idea that true riches lay in the spiritual realm. Her words, “Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity” reflect the Puritan view that material wealth was fleeting and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
The Notion of Divine Testing:
For the Puritans, adversity was often seen as a test of one’s faith and a means of purifying the soul. Bradstreet’s poem portrays her response to the fire as a test of her devotion to God. Through her lamentations and eventual acceptance, she demonstrates the Puritan belief that trials were a means of drawing closer to God and refining one’s character. Her verse, “And when I could no longer look, / I blest His name that gave and took,” captures this sentiment of acknowledging God’s sovereignty even in the face of personal loss.
The Role of Community and Support:
Despite their individualistic beliefs, Puritans placed significant importance on their community and the support it offered during times of adversity. Bradstreet’s poem alludes to this communal aspect when she speaks of her neighbors gathering to witness the fire. While the poem predominantly focuses on her personal reflections, the presence of neighbors highlights the communal response to tragedy that was a hallmark of Puritan society.
“Upon the Burning of Our House” by Anne Bradstreet offers a glimpse into the Puritan perspective on material possessions, adversity, and religious devotion. Through her poetic lamentations, Bradstreet captures the tension between the ephemeral nature of worldly wealth and the enduring significance of spiritual salvation. The poem reflects the Puritan belief in divine providence, the transitory nature of material possessions, and the complex interplay between earthly attachments and religious devotion. As a significant voice from early American literature, Anne Bradstreet illuminates the intricate tapestry of Puritan thought and provides a window into the hearts and minds of a community shaped by their unwavering faith.