Personal Loss in Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry & The Search for Her Home

Anne Bradstreet is often characterized as a staunchly Puritan poet, who wrote somewhat distantly from her own personal experiences—especially early in her career. As Adrienne Rich notes in her “Foreword” of The Works of Anne Bradstreet, “[Anne’s writing was] remarkably impersonal even by Puritan standards,” and Rich goes on to speculate that “she appears to have written by way of escaping from the conditions of her experience, rather than as an expression of what she felt and knew” (Rich).

Her later works, however, are much more personal. Written from her home in Andover, these poems address Bradstreet’s own struggles with motherhood, religiosity, and prolonged time away from her husband. A poem which I am particularly drawn to is “Upon the Burning of Our House, Jul 10th, 1666,” which was written shortly after the Bradstreet family home in North Andover burnt to the ground.  

This poem is so interesting to me because it presents a complex personal struggle, as Bradstreet reconciles the tragedy of her lost home with acceptance of God’s will. The speaker cries out “to my God my heart did cry/to strengthen me in my distress” as she seeks safety in the power of the very same God she believes was the force behind the fire. She “blest His name that gave and took,” conflicted with fear and pain, acceptance and acknowledgment. She attempts to justify the loss of her home as a necessary action taken by God, perhaps as punishment for a lifestyle that was too focused on material wealth and comfort. It is remarkable that after such a traumatic event, the beginning of the poem attempts to justify what has happened as God’s lesson.

What makes this poem different for me is the personal emotion that animates the lines in the middle. Beginning around line 27, the speaker looks around at the ashen remains of the house, reminiscing on items like a “trunk” and “chest.” She lingers among the now lost places where she would sit with her family and friends. Places where they would laugh, cry, pray, and eat. The speaker laments the loss of a house which not only held many cherished memories, but which now could never make new memories: “No pleasant tale shall e’er be told,/Nor things recounted done of old” (lines 35-36). These lines feel genuine. They are moments of human grief and longing, of a complex and sometimes conflicted emotional life.

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. 
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. 
In silence ever shalt thou lie, 
Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity. 

Bradstreet’s poem perhaps touches upon the innately human desire to belong and feel safe and comforted in a place which one can call a home. Even in our current day, people’s connections and relationships to their place of home remain strong and ever relevant in their lives. As a recently graduated college student who spent four years living on campus, I have felt a similar loss in my transition away from a place that I grew to call home. While the comforts of a dorm life can be at times quite lacking, it is the experiences and memories that one makes which truly defines the value of a place. I could not imagine seeing the same rooms I laughed, loved, and cried in being consumed by flames before my eyes. Bradstreet’s resolve to face such a horrific event with a positive and grateful attitude is a testament to the emotional and spiritual strength of the late writer.

I am also moved by the fact that she chose to turn her pain and loss into a poem, a form of art, which regardless of her initial intention, stands as not only a lesson in loss but a lesson in how one can choose to perceive and cope with loss. Despite whatever religious or spiritual beliefs you may have, Bradstreet’s poem represents unwavering faith and acceptance in the face of tragedy and demonstrates the belief that all experiences, both good and bad, are just and will be amended in time. This poem sheds light not only on the personal thoughts and experiences of the poet but also illustrates the importance and relevance of Anne Bradstreet’s house in her life. The fact that the burning of her house took place so close toward the end of her life had lead me to become even more curious in the affairs of the second house in Andover, and what happened to it and in it, the years following the death of Anne Bradstreet.

parson barnard house.jpg

There is evidence to suggest that the family built another home in Andover after the fire, but the precise location of Anne’s second house has long been debated. For many years, scholars believed the second Bradstreet house to be located in what is now North Andover, Massachusetts, at 179 Osgood Street. However, according to an article published in 2004, the North Andover Historical Society purchased the land in the 1950’s and discovered that the house was not built until 1715, many years after Bradstreet died. This still leaves the question, “where did Anne Bradstreet spend the remaining years of her life?” There are various books which include detailed information about the history of the second Bradstreet house. It is said that one of her sons, Dudley, inherited the house after her death when his father remarried and moved from Andover. From his hands it seemed to pass on to a Reverend William Synnes and his son, to then a John Norris (Bacon). A particularly fascinating detail was found in one of John’s wife’s diary entries, which referred to the fact that Mrs. Norris believed the house to be roughly 8 miles from Haverhill, where she would go to shop (Bailey). There is also evidence to suggest that Anne’s second Andover house was owned by Simon Putnam, who turned the home into a boarding school where he was the schoolmaster. During its new life as a school, there is evidence that two young boys engraved their autographs into one of the windows in the house (Bacon). While these specifics are fascinating in their own right—and speak to the afterlife of Bradstreet’s second home—these accounts must be taken with a grain of salt. It is still difficult to determine whether these histories relate to Bradstreet’s now-lost second home or the house on Osgood street.

Regardless, the location of the second Andover home remains an integral part of the story and legacy of Anne Bradstreet. While her grave site still remains unknown I believe that an important clue to locating her body is knowing where her final house was located. During the 17th century, it was common for people who died to be buried near their homes or their places of worship. Different records indicate that Anne could have been buried in a Parish Burying Ground near her home, some writings even defend that she could have seen the burial ground from her house (Bailey). More broadly, as “Upon the Burning of Our House, Jul 10th, 1666” teaches us, Anne’s home was deeply important to her—and learning its story can shed new light on an old life. The places where she lived and wrote are just as important as the place where she is buried, and I believe that exploring how and where she lived will help lead us to where her life ended.

Works Cited

Bacon, Edwin M. Literary Pilgrimages in New England. New York: Silver, Burdett & Company, 1902. Digital Document.

Bailey, Sarah L. Historical Sketches of Andover. Boston: Houghton, 1880. Book. "The Search for Anne Bradstreet in Essex County, MA." (2004).

Rich, Adrienne. "Anne Bradstreet and Her Poetry." Hensley, Jeannine. Anne Bradstreet: The Works of Anne Bradstreet. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010. ix-xxii. Book.


Dakota Durbin

Dakota Durbin received his Bachelor of Arts in English from Merrimack College in 2018 and began attending Salem State University the same year for his Master of Arts in Teaching English degree. Dakota is an avid reader, with interests in literature from Shakespeare to Tolkien, and loves to watch movies (particularly scary ones) and write in his free time. He has aspirations to teach high school English and wants to bring his passion and love of the arts to the next generation of students.