A Journey of a Poem

I took a little journey this weekend.  A journey of poetry.  Over the past couple months I have been working my way through my high school literature text book. Along with snippets of great American literature, there are back stories, biographies, and some writing exercises. Every once in a while I actually get a pen and paper and do the task.  It always proves to be an enriching decision.

one of the more common paintings of anne brads...
Image via Wikipedia

This one was a poem by immigrant English-American mother, whose poetry was secretly published by her brother. Her name was Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672).  I think it’s really great that a woman of that era, busy with eight kids and no washing machine, took the time to write poetry.  When she was 54, she experienced a house fire, after which she wrote an aptly named poem “Here Follow Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House, July 10, 1666.”  I have never experienced a house fire, but three times this year I have heard about others who have. Unimagineable.

The text analysis task was about inversions – taking words out of normal syntax in order to fit the meter or rhyming scheme.  Here’s what I did:

  1. First, line by line, I put the words back in a more natural order.
  2. Then, since the lines were still a little awkward, I wrote the poem in my own words, still following the line structure.
  3. Once more I paraphrased it, this time in more of a story form with longer sentences and paragraphs.
  4. To finished I summarized the poem in a condensed clip of what it was about.

A note on the subject matter:

This task drew me in because I am on a mission to learn more about all the art forms and about creativity in general. Honestly I really wrestle with some of the content. It is clear from the text that Bradstreet was a very devout Christian offering an appropriately Job-esque response to her troubles. Though I understand all of the principles behind what she says, my gut does not line up with all of the sentiments. I’m completely not sure why, but I’m working on figuring it out. In the meantime, I invite you to take this journey with me. And, by the way, we’re gonna go backwards…


Here is just a basic synopsis, drawn entirely from the poem’s text.

Anne Bradstreet experienced a house fire in the year 1666.  She got out fine, but the house and all her belongings were destroyed.  This was devastating.  She knew God was in control and had a right to give and take as he wishes, but this experience was still so very hard.  Eventually she learned to focus on the value of her heavenly eternal home.  Thinking about this incredible gift – her place beyond this life – she could find the strength to feel less pain about her loss and to recognize the fleeting value of earthly possessions compared to those of eternal worth.


Narrative paraphrase

Here is a more indepth version of the story, not adhering to the line breaks.

One night at bedtime I was startled by someone shouting “Fire! Fire!” I got out of the house quickly and stood there watching it burn to the ground, calling “O God, help!”

What were we to do?  Nothing. This is it.  It must be for some reason. God is in control and can do whatever He wants.  He has been gracious.  It used to be so hard to walk past the house.  I would remember all the special things I had there and the people who came to visit and all the fun times we had.  All of that is done.  We can’t create any more memories there or ever enjoy all those old things.  All of that was for naught.

But then I started to think differently about it.  I thought about how all of those special things really dim in comparison with my custom-built home in heaven.  It is paid in full and beautifully decorated by God. God actually botherd to care about me.  My house and earthly belongings were not capable of really truly bringing me lasting happiness.  Only heaven can do that.  Beautiful, glorious, valuable heaven – it is mine to have and enjoy.  I think that’s good enough for me, and that’s what I’m going to focus on. No more pining away for the stuff I lost.  I have riches immeasurable beyond this life.

Line-by-line paraphrase

This version follows the content of each line as Bradstreet wrote it, but in my own words.

In the quiet of evening, when I went to sleep
I did not expect sadness to be so close by.
A loud noise woke me up
And there were terrifying screams.
The awful shouts of “Fire! Fire!”
Were the last thing on earth I wanted to hear.
Getting up quickly I saw the flames
And cried out to God
To help me in my horrible situation
And to not desert me.
When I came out of the house I stood and watched
The fire devouring my home.
When I couldn’t take it any more
I prayed to God, the giver and taker of all
Who now made all my belongings into ashes.
What’s done is done, and it must be right.
It all is God’s, not mine.
I have no right to complain.
He would still be in the right if He took everything from us
Yet He leaves us with all that we need.
Often when I walk past where my house was
I would feel so sad and look around
At all the places around there
Where I would sit and rest and live.
There was that nice old trunk and chest.
That’s where I kept that collection I loved so much.
All my special pretty things were burnt
And I will never see them again.
No company will ever again sit in that room
Or eat anything in that kitchen
We won’t have fun story times
Or share memories of old times there.
No lights will ever be on in that house again
And men will never talk in there.
You, house, will always lie there still.
Goodbye. It’s all in vain.
Then I started to correct my thoughts.
Was my earthly stuff all that I valued?
Did I place my happiness in moldy dusty junk?
Did I trust solely in human creations?
Think about heaven
In order to make this world’s crap lose value.
I have a home still standing in heaven
Built by God himself
Decorated by His very presence
It will stand forever unlike this one
It is all paid off
By the all-powerful God
The value of the house is immeasurable
But now it’s mine because of God’s gift.
That’s enough wealth for me.
So long, stuff
May I no longer cherish things and earth.
My happiness and riches are in heaven.

Line-by-line uninverted word order

This one doesn’t change any of Brandstreet’s words – just orders them in a more ‘normal’ grammatical arrangement.  It flows almost like a simple narrative because there is not rhyming…that comes next.

In silent night when I took rest
I did not look near for sorrow
I was wakened with thundering noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “Fire! Fire!”
Let man know it is not my desire.
I, starting up, did spy the light
And my heart did cry to my God
To strengthen me in my distress
And to not leave me without help.
Coming out then I beheld a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That now laid my goods in the dust
Yea, it was so, and it was just.
It was His own, it was not mine,
Far be it that I should repine,
He justly might have bereft us of all,
But yet left sufficient for us.
Oft when I past by the ruins
My sorrowing eyes did cast aside
And here and there spy the places
Where I sat oft and did lie long
That trunk stood here, and that chest there
That store I counted best lay there.
My pleasent things lie in ashes
And I shall behold them no more.
No guests shall sit under they roof
Nor eat a bit at they table.
Pleasant tales will never be told
Nor will things done of old ever be recounted
No candle ever shall shine in thee
Nor shall bridegroom’s voice ever be heard.
Thou shall ever lie in silence
Adieu, adieu all is vanity.
Then I begin to chide my heart straight
And did they wealth abide on earth?
Didst you fix they hope on mold’ring dust?
Did the arm of flesh make you trust?
Raise thy thoughts up above the sky
That dunghill mists may fly away.
Thou hast an house erect on high
Framed by that mighty Architect
Funished richly with glory
Stands permanent tho this is fled
It is purchased and paid for too
By Him who has enough to do
A price so vast as is unknown
Yet is made thine own by His gift.
There’s wealth enough, I need no more,
Farewell my pelf and my store
Let me no longer love they world
My hope and tresure lies above.

The Original

Here it is, as written by Anne Bradstreet: “Here Follow Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House, July 10, 1666” from Elements of Literature, Fifth Course: Literature of the United States with Literature of the Americas published in 2000 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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 mand know is my desire.
I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To strengthen me in my distress
And not to leave me succorless.
Then, coming out, beheld a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
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.
When by the ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast,
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sat and long did lie:
Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
My pleasant things in ashes lie,
And them behold no more shall I.
Under they roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at they table eat a bit.
No pleasant tale shall e’er 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.
In silence ever shall 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 mold’ring dust?
The arm of flesh didst make the trust?
Raise up they thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.
Thou hast an house on high erect,
Framed by that might 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.
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.


By Naomi Bird

Wife of tenor Nathan Bird, pianist, organist, former music therapist, writer, tea-drinker, mom of two mini-sopranos and two mini-tenors, and learner of loving the arts.

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