The pilgrims begin their journey happily and with "burdens light."
The pilgrims by the second stanza are continuing to hold up well despite the hot sun. One experience they have is making notes about what they see on their travels, such as what people buy and sell.
But then their experiences grow darker. "Differences" arise, and they part company with a friend. A "shadow" falls over them. Later, they are attacked twice, they get lost, and a section of their group tries to break off and go its own way ("A section claimed its liberty").
Now, instead of taking notes, the pilgrims simply experience trudging onward, bent or broken by their sufferings during travel. They are "deprived of common needs, like soap."
Finally, the pilgrims arrive at their destination and have forgotten why they have ever set out. The pilgrimage has not led to "deeds" that were "great" or "rare." They realize that home is the place "to gather grace."
In sum, the pilgrims start out full of hope and joy that their pilgrimage will have meaning and that they will do great deeds. Gradually, though, they experience problems, such as quarreling, attacks, getting lost, and running out of basic supplies such as soap. By the end of their journey, home seems like much the better place to find "grace," or spiritual enlightenment.