The entire poem can be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/when-sorrows-had-begirt-me-round-1-anne-bradstreet/
O, heal my soul, thou know’st I said;
Tho’ flesh consume me nought;
What tho’ in dust it shall be laid;
To glory shall be brought.
Thou heardst, thy rod thou didst remove,
And spar’d my body frail,
Thou shew’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 redeem’d my soul from pit:
Praises to him for Aye!
It may seem strange for Bradstreet to move from sorrow for pain in the first stanza (“When sorrows had begirt me round”) to praise in the final stanza (“O Praises to my mighty God”), but such paradox of biblical spirituality.
The outline runs, Complaint for sorrow and pain. That pain is traced back to the displeasure of God (“Beclouded was my soul with fear/ Of thy displeasure sore”). By tracing the matter back to God, Bradstreet then moves to petition:
Hide not thy face from me …..
O, heal my soul …..
This ends with a recognition that the prayer has been heard
Thou heardst, thy rod removed ….
And a final praise:
O, praises to my mighty God.
In these last three stanzas of prayer, acknowledgment and praise, Bradstreet makes numerous allusions to the Psalms.
First comes the prayer for “healing”. The Psalms contain two sets of references to God healing. First, there are references to prayers for healing: Psalms 6, & 41. Second there are praises for God being one who does heal: Psalms 30, 103, 107 & 147.
Psalm 6 contains many parallels to Bradstreet’s poem. First, there is the prayer for healing by removing displeasure:
1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. 2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. 3 My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long? Psalm 6:1–3 (ESV)
Second is the prayer for deliverance:
4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. Psalm 6:4 (ESV)
Third, is the praise that God has heard and will deliver:
8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. 9 The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer. Psalm 6:8–9 (ESV)
Psalm 41, which contains a prophecy of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas (Psalm 40:9), includes a prayer for healing, that is God removing his displeasure for the Psalmist’s sin:
4 As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you!” Psalm 41:4 (ESV)
Thus, in praying for deliverance from illness which resulted from sin, Bradstreet was following in a biblical model. It should be noted that nothing in Bradstreet or the Psalms denies the reality of disease, that is, the understanding of sickness does not require some sort of magical thinking that illness is the result of spirits or other nonphysical means. The Bible contains numerous instances of flesh and blood humans acting for their own personal and political reasons who are at the same time fulfilling an end prescribed by God. The fact of physical reality does not displace the work of God; nor does understanding God’s providence to be effective require a belief that God acts without physical modalities.
The reference to being laid in the dust means to be buried and return to dust (Gen. 3:19). However this too is a common image in the Psalms, such as Psalm 90:3, “You return man to dust”. However, the image is also found in Psalm 103, where the fact of our being dust is raised as a matter of the sympathy of God toward humanity:
13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13–14 (ESV)
Thus, raising the matter of dust is not merely a reference to death, but also has a hint of the compassion of God because he remembers that we are dust. The connection to Psalm 103 seems especially warranted, in that these final stanzas contains other allusions to Psalm 103.
This Psalm is the Psalmist giving instruction to himself: “Bless the Lord, o my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1). Leupold says of Psalm 103 that, “it may be called a pure note of praise” (715). Boice explains of Psalm 103 that the Psalmist writes “to remind himself of God’s blessings so he will continue to be grateful for all that God has done” (831).
One could understand why this Psalm would have especial comfort for Bradstreet when she found herself in the depth her despair: God is not unmerciful, nor is he unkind. Rather, God is source of healing and comfort – and that comfort flows from an understanding of God’s forgiveness for sin.
It is interesting that Bradstreet ties the matter of her illness and comfort so tightly to her understanding of her relationship to God. The readiness of her connection of her circumstance and God’s involvement is much more immediate and sustained than would be common for a contemporary Christian. I wonder if someone would think her to be superstitious or morbid in her introspection where she to be present in a modern North American congregation.
In any event, note the elements of being raised from the pit (a common image in the Psalms), healing, forgiveness, the weakness of humanity and the greatness and compassion of God:
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:1–14 (ESV)
In this poem, Bradstreet has taken a personal trial and has proceeded to counsel herself in fast accordance with the model of the Psalms.