Having had to struggle with fever in the last few days (especially at night), a piece of poem called “Fever” was vividly present in my mind. It was written around 960 A.D by Al-Mutannabi, one of the greatest (if not the greatest) Arab poets. “Fever” was listed in my school curriculum in 1995 and I remember that it showed up in the exams and I almost had fever while attempting to answer the relevant question.
Anyway, to my surprise, it was addressed and translated to English in the British Medical Journal sometime in 2003!
I would like to thank Jeremy Hugh Baron for his efforts on delivering this beautiful piece of poem to the West.
By Jeremy Hugh Baron
Honorary professorial lecturer, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, USA
The name Baghdad conveys today a target to be bombed, but it was for five centuries (750-1250) one of the capitals of normative medicine.
Descriptions by patients of their own diseases are always interesting, especially as poems. In February 960 the poet al-Mutanabbi developed while in Egypt a fever that left him delirious after each nightly attack, beginning with fever and rigors, and ending with copious sweating. He compares the fever to a coy maiden who will visit him under cover of darkness.
Sick of body, unable to rise up, vehemently intoxicated without wine . . .
And it is as though she who visits me were filled with modesty,
For she does not pay her visits save under cover of darkness,
I freely offered her my linen and my pillows,
But she refused them, and spent the night in my bones.
My skin is too contracted to contain both my breath and her,
So she relaxes it with all sorts of sickness.
When she leaves me, she washes me
As though we had retired apart for some forbidden action.
It is as though the morning drives her away,
And her lachrymal ducts are flooded in their four channels.
I watch for her time without desire,
Yet with the watchfulness of the eager lover.
And she is ever faithful to her appointed time, but faithfulness is an evil
When it casts thee into grievous sufferings.