When the poet goes to bed one night, she is not expecting any sorrow. However, she awakens to a thundering noise and screams of "Fire!" She leaps up and cries out to God, asking him not to leave her helpless. She goes outside and watches flames engulf her home.
When she can no longer watch her house burn, she gives thanks to God, who has reduced her house and possessions to dust. It is just, she believes, for those things are His, not hers, and she knows He has the right and ability to take things from humans when He wants.
Now, whenever she passes the ruins, she looks at all of the places where she once sat and relaxed. She sees her old trunk and the chest that was filled with the things she loved best. No guests will ever come under the roof again, no dinners will be eaten at the table, no candles will ever shine in the window. The house will forever lie in silence.
She bids the house goodbye, for "All's Vanity." She knows that she has a better house waiting for her in Heaven, built by the "mighty Architect" Himself. It will be richly furnished and will stand permanently. The price He paid for the house is unknown, but it will be His gift to her. She bids farewell to her money and the ruins of her things, satisfied with the fact that her "hope and Treasure lies above."
Anne Bradstreet based "Verses Upon the Burning of our House" on a true experience: the Bradstreets' home did actually burn down. The poem is made up of rhyming couplets. This form expresses tension between the poet's attachment to earthly things and her awareness that she is supposed to dissolve her ties to the world and focus on God.
The poem begins with the poet going to bed, not expecting anything terrible to happen in the night. Unfortunately, cries of "Fire!" wake her, and she has to run outside. She then sees her house burning, taking all of her worldly possessions with it. Once she sees that she cannot do anything to rectify the situation, she tries to reorient her thoughts, saying that she blesses Him who is taking from her, and "laid [her] goods now in the dust." She accepts that everything she owns belongs to God, and she chastises herself gently for forgetting this fact. She reminds herself that He can take anything he wants from His children at any time.
Despite her exhortations to herself, the next lines reveal the poet's ambivalence about relinquishing all of her possessions to God. She describes being filled with memories every time she passes the property where her house once stood. She remembers the trunk and the chest, and everything she "counted best." All of her "pleasant things" are gone. There will be no dinners or visiting guests or conversation around the table. Candles will not shine in the window, and no bridegroom's voice will ever be heard. In these lines, Bradstreet not only expresses her attachment to her home, but also to the memories that occurred within it.
She tries to shake off this mindset by reminding herself that "All's Vanity," and that she has an even grander home, built by God, waiting for her in Heaven. This new home will be permanent and not subject to fire or any other vicissitudes of earthly existence. She bids farewell to her home and reminds herself that her "hope and Treasure lie above."
Despite the poet's last words, critics believe the she is not as reconciled to her loss as she suggests. Her despair is manifest. Her home has been profoundly important to her, not only for the possessions it housed but because it was a symbol of her entire life with her husband and children. It was the seat of her role as a woman. Critic Kenneth A. Requa identifies the house as an "emblem" with which the poet has developed an emotional relationship; "the poet finds that the house-fire has emblematic significance: from it she can learn that only one home should have meaning for her – the heavenly mansion."
Robert J. Richardson agrees with Requa's point of view, writing, "The human level – the fear of fire, the sense of loss – is what genuinely moves the poet, while her submission to the will of God is a somewhat forced acknowledgment of an arrangement that is not really satisfactory." Overall, Richardson believes, "the sense of loss outweighs, at least at times, the potential comfort promised by Puritan theology." This is not supposed to imply that Bradstreet displays a loss of faith or a desire to relinquish Puritanism, but it does reveal her humanity. She shows that she is a real person who feels doubt and sorrow and must be constantly be active in her faith in order for it to remain meaningful.