Both “The Messiah,” by John Gneihardt, and “Verses upon the Burning of our House” by Anne Bradstreet are stories that are about change, about destruction, and about the afterlife. “The Messiah,” tells of a world of pain, starvation, and damage to his people, and shows a hopeful vision of change: in it he describes a hugely destructive force that will wipe away the “old and dying world” (Neihardt 4), and leave a new one in its place. “Verses upon the Burning of our House,” tells nearly the opposite story of change, where her house is burning down and this is seen as very bad and destructive so that she is afraid and does not want her house to burn down, she wants things to stay the same. Both stories claim to look forward to the next life with hope and for a better future, but Neihardt’s actually seems hopeful, whereas Bradstreet’s seems resigned. “The Messiah” and “Verses upon the Burning of our House” are both about very similar topics, but are very different in their opinions on this world, the next world, and have very different tones when talking about them.
“The Messiah” has only a very bad view of this world. In many cases, he talks about his people “starving” and about how they are abused by the “Wasichus” (Neihardt 6). His people are slowly dying, their way of life completely destroyed. His father died over the course of the story, so he talks about how he is “fatherless in this world” (Neihardt 3). The bison that used to sustain them was completely gone, and they had very little hope. Their people were constantly suffering from plagues of the measles and other diseases. Throughout this entire story, there is nothing that shows that Neihardt likes the current world he lives in at all – he does remember a time when it was good, but to him that time is gone and there is no hope left in this world, none at all, but there may be some hope left in the next world to come.
Bradstreet’s poem shows almost the complete opposite kind of view from the one that is shown in “The Messiah.” Unlike in “The Messiah,” where there is nothing worthwhile in the current world, Bradstreet shows great concern for this world in her poem. When her house starts to burn down, instead of being happy or not caring about it, she is very distressed. And instead of calling on God or Gods to destroy the current world, as happens in “The Messiah,” Bradstreet her heart calls on “God,” not to destroy the world, but preserve her part of it, her house. When the house has completely burnt down, Bradstreet feels very sad, and with “sorrowing eyes” looks at the “pleasant things in ashes” (Bradstreet l. 22, 27). Bradstreet’s poem shows a deep connection to this world and nothing but sadness at its destruction.
“The Messiah” may not like this world at all, but it is a story that puts a lot of emphasis and hope on the next world. It is very interesting that in this context, the next world is described in physical terms as being very similar to how this world used to be – it would be the same but a “Great Spirit” would “bring back all the bison and the people who were dead” (Neihardt 2). So the next world is very much like this world in many ways, just better. In “The Messiah” the next world is seen as a destructive force that destroys the broken down aspects of the current world and replaces them with a new and more idyllic world. The narrator in “The Messiah” looks forward to the next world with nothing but hope.
Interestingly, “Verses upon the Burning of our House” also describes the next world in very physical terms and uses the same structure of destruction leading to a more idyllic form of the physical world. In Bradstreet’s poem, once the house is burned to the ground she begins to think about the next world, which is also a house, though “on high” (Bradstreet l. 43), and rather than being built by a person is “framed by that almighty architect / with glory richly furnished” (Bradstreet l. 43-44). So Bradstreet, much like Neihardt, treats the next world as being a physical place that looks very much like the physical world she currently inhabits, only nicer. Also, she is only able to start imagining this next world after a major part of her current world, her house had been destroyed by a destructive act, also showing similarities to Neihardt’s writings.
The last way these two works are different is their tone. Neihardt’s tone is full of anger and frustration, and to him, the destruction of the current world is something to be looked forward to because it is an expression of his anger. Bradstreet has a softer and milder tone, and to her, the destruction of the current world (represented by the house) is not a good thing to be wished for, not something to wish and hope for, but a bad thing. To her the next world is good, but so is this one. A major reason for their differences in tone is because, in Neihardt’s writing, all of his sufferings is caused by other men and not by a God of the next world, so he can get angry at the men and god wiping out the current world is a good thing. In Bradstreet’s poem, the destruction of the current world, and the suffering in it is caused by the same God that provides hope for the next world. So it is hard to get angry, because the hope and the sadness come from the same place, and balance out.
Neihardt’s “The Messiah” and Bradstreet’s “Verses upon the Burning of our House” show many interesting similarities and differences. They both deal with the destruction of this world, but in very different ways. They both have hope for the next world and in very similar ways. But they have very different tones, because in “The Messiah” bad men cause the pain, and good spirits wipe it away, whereas in “Verses upon the Burning of our House” God both causes the pain and grants the relief of the next world.