A year ago June I planned the curriculum and chose the texts for the new middle school course at my online school, including the poetry selections. At that time I became intrigued with the early American colonial poet Anne Bradstreet and became especially engaged with her autobiographical poem written in 1666, “Upon the Burning of Our House,” which I included in the poetry unit lesson plans for the new course. Little did I realize that three months later, I would be experiencing the burning of my own home in The Dixie Fire. Our home was one of only three which were destroyed in Lake Almanor, CA, and when I say destroyed, I mean – gone. What a “strange” circumstance which, upon reflection now, seemed a providential way of preparing me for the upcoming trial, and getting me thinking about what it would mean to lose the home where precious memories lie, and where inherited family treasures are lovingly cached.
Anne Bradstreet’s vocation was primarily that of a devoted wife and mother, and her poetry reflects her interests and affection for her family. The poem opens with her description of not only seeing but hearing the “thund’ring noise of” the flames as they sweep in and ravage her family’s home. Her subsequent response is to turn to God in her “distress” and while not denying the sorrow she experiences, she comes to terms with it, and learns to bless “his grace that gave and took.” She recounts her fond memories regarding some of the items she misses most, such as the dining table where she and her loved ones had gathered together every day. Then, in an allusion to the book of Ecclesiastes, she says goodbye to her lost possessions: “Adieu, Adieu, All’s Vanity,” moving on to express her new understanding of the importance of faith and love, which will last, as opposed to material goods, which, while good, are not eternal. She contrasts the earthly home she has lost to the heavenly home she finds through her deepened faith, and concludes, “My hope and treasure lies above.” Rereading the poem now, it seems to me to be her own way of both letting go of her pain, but also, retaining the good memories in the light of faith and fellowship. In some ways I’m still processing what happened to our home, but like Bradstreet, I attempt each day to look beyond the loss towards the eternal values of love of God and others, hope, and friendship.