Anne Bradstreet struggled with illness throughout her life. She contracted smallpox when she was still a child living in England, and she nearly died from the disease. A few years later, she fell ill after months of poor nutrition and difficult living conditions after her arrival in Massachusetts. During this troubling time, she wrote “Upon a Fit of Sickness” followed shortly thereafter by the poem “For Deliverance from a Fever.” While the first poem conveys Bradstreet’s acceptance of death (read more from Bobby here), the second poem is full of frustration, pain, sadness, and anger at God.
Written as a second person direct address to God, Bradstreet begins “For Deliverance from a Fever” with a catalogue of her suffering. She has “Paines within and out,” and describes: “My burning flesh in sweat did boyle, / My aking head did break; / From side to side for ease I toyle, / So faint I could not speak.” These ailments lead her to cry out to God directly: “Hide not thy face from me” and “O, heal my Soul.” She is in pain and her mind is in disarray, her body is frail and she feels close to death. The overall mood of this is poem is despair, bordering on anger. She begs God to hear her cries, and she wonders why he won’t hear her.
At the end of the poem, however, Bradstreet pushes through her anger and despair, and instead praises God “Who hath redeem'd my Soul from pitt.” Although this is a short poem, it conveys the progression of her emotions. She goes from questioning God in the beginning, screaming at him in the middle, to finally accepting that he has heard her voice and has healed her at the close. He took her out of the pit she was in and ends this poem by praising him for it.
Even secular readers can relate to the emotional range of “For Deliverance from a Fever.” Illness--mundane and severe--can be disorienting and frustrating. You might question why something like this has happened. Anne directed her frustrations and praise to God, but you might voice your feelings to a friend, a doctor, social media, or something else altogether. Bradstreet also spends a great deal of time listing her symptoms and bodily suffering. When we are ill, it’s natural to do the same--to complain of a headache or fever, shakes or weaknesses. The end of disease likewise is cause for celebration. Even though this poem may feel distant for its use of language and devotion to Puritan theology, it is still relevant today for capturing the sufferings and frustration of illness, and the jubilance of recovery.
For Deliverance From a Fever
When sorrows had begirt me round,
And pains within and out,
When in my flesh no part was found,
Then didst Thou rid me out.
My burning flesh in sweat did boil,
My aching head did break,
From side to side for ease I toil,
So faint I could not speak.
Beclouded was my soul with fear
Of Thy displeasure sore,
Nor could I read my evidence
Which oft I read before.
"Hide not Thy face from me!" I cried,
"From burnings keep my soul.
Thou know'st my heart, and hast me tried;
I on Thy mercies roll."
"O heal my soul," Thou know'st I said,
"Though flesh consume to nought,
What though in dust it shall be laid,
To glory t' shall be brought."
Thou heard'st, Thy rod Thou didst remove
And spared my body frail
Thou show'st to me Thy tender love,
My heart no more might quail.
O, praises to my mighty God,
Praise to my Lord, I say,
Who hath redeemed my soul from pit,
Praises to Him for aye.