The poet writes that it has been almost twenty years since she was born, but now her "race is run" and her thread is unspooled - She realizes that it is time for her death. All humans must die and so will she; this cannot change. God Himself spoke this command for Adam's sake when He was provoked in the Garden of Eden.
Life is short, the poet says, so she wants to live in a state of "highest bliss" and attain everything she craves. Earthly life is comprised of trials and tribulations from the time that a person is born, and over the course of his or her life, strength fades, time shortens, and everyone finally ends up in a tomb. The poet wonders how long the bubbles of human life will last; no sooner is one blown, then it bursts and is "dead and gone."
While the poet is alive, she hopes that she might do good and that God will grant her grace. Then, she will greet Death knowing it is best and that it is His will. She will attain this great gain through pain and purity.
At the end of the poem, the poet delights in her deliverance from sickness, having vanquished her "envious foe."
"Upon a Fit of Sickness" is Anne Bradstreet's earliest extant poem. She wrote it when she was nineteen, and it exemplifies many of the concerns she explores throughout her career: the Puritan focus on human suffering and eternal life, sickness, and the ephemerality of mortal life. The poem is composed in a ballad meter.
The poet explains that she is not yet twenty years old but is prepared to die because she is so desperately ill. This poem does not portray a hypothetical situation, for Bradstreet did fall gravely ill not long after she and her husband moved to America. Sickness was a reality for all 17th century travelers who went back and forth between the colonies and home. They ran the risk of contracting typhus, cholera, smallpox, malaria, scarlet fever, and dysentery, among other deadly diseases.
In the poem, Bradstreet understands that illness is a natural part of human life, for all men die and she is no exception. She reminds the reader that the curse of mortality is the result of Adam's choice to eat the apple in the Garden of Eden.
Bradstreet does not seem very concerned with the fact that she might die; she claims that she will live in a "place of highest bliss" once she leaves Earth. The reason she accepts death is because she realizes that life is a series of struggles and sorrows; she evinces, as Robert D. Richardson writes, "an expression of contempt for this life in the medieval tradition." From the time a human being is born, he or she keeps losing strength, and time passes inexorably until inevitable death. Bradstreet uses a bubble as a simple metaphor for life - a bubble can burst almost immediately after being blown into the air.
In "Upon a Fit of Sickness," Bradstreet does not express any relative ambivalence about her ascendance to Heaven. She understands that death is inevitable and she raises her eyes and thoughts to Heaven. She comes across as incredibly pious, revealing that she is not afraid of death but rather, blindly accepts God's decree. Even pain, she says, is all part of the plan, because afterwards, "great's the gain."
The last few lines of this poem show that the poet is certain about her victory over her fever. She is confident and assured of her salvation. Life will cease one day and she will take her place in Heaven, but that day is not today. Richardson explains that Bradstreet's earlier work is full of these extreme expressions of faith, as opposed to her later work, in which she reveals her inner conflicts about religion and sacrifice.