The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Affliction” (I) is a lyric poem of eleven six-line stanzas. The rhyme scheme is ababcc. Lines 1, 3, 5, and 6 are generally iambic pentameter, with lines 2 and 4 using iambic trimeter. The poem is part of a collection entitled The Temple. George Herbert, a priest in a country parsonage, is said to have given the manuscript to a friend as he (Herbert) lay near death. The message accompanying the manuscript called the work “a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have past betwixt God and my Soul, before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus my Master, in whose service I have now found perfect freedom.” Whether Herbert did indeed speak these words or they were put into his mouth by a devoted biographer, they well describe the movement in the collection of poems and effectively introduce the reader to “Affliction.” Called “Affliction” (I) because there are four other poems in The Temple with the same title, the poem relates the speaker’s personal journey in the spiritual life. The speaker tells readers that, captivated early by the beauty of serving God, he responded with great eagerness and dedication. The first three stanzas are exuberant, unrealistic. The speaker finds joy in God’s service and a certain payback in the satisfaction he derives from his efforts to live in a holy manner. Serving God, “the King,” is sufficient. His spirituality is sincere but superficial and self-seeking.

The fourth...

(The entire section is 528 words.)