[The Temple Colonnade, Detail of Model]from The Temple (1633), by George Herbert:

The 5 Affliction Poems


  ¶    Affliction. (I)

WHen first thou didst entice to thee my heart,
                                     I thought the service brave:
So many joyes I writ down for my part,
                                     Besides what I might have
Out of my stock of naturall delights,
Augmented with thy gracious benefits.

I looked on thy furniture so fine,
                                     And made it fine to me:
Thy glorious houshold-stuffe did me entwine,
                                     And ‘tice me unto thee.
Such starres I counted mine: both heav’n and earth
Payd me my wages in a world of mirth.

What pleasures could I want, whose King I served,
                                     Where joyes my fellows were?
Thus argu’d into hopes, my thoughts reserved
                                     No place for grief or fear.
Therefore my sudden soul caught at the place,
And made her youth and fiercenesse seek thy face.

At first thou gav’st me milk and sweetnesses;
                                     I had my wish and way:
My dayes were straw’d with flow’rs and happinesse;
                                     There was no moneth but May.
But with my yeares sorrow did twist and grow,
And made a partie unawares of wo.

My flesh began unto my soul in pain,
                                     Sicknesses cleave my bones;
Consuming agues dwell in ev’ry vein,
                                     And tune my breath to grones.
Sorrow was all my soul; I scarce beleeved,
Till grief did tell me roundly, that I lived.

When I got health, thou took’st away my life,
                                     And more; for my friends die:
My mirth and edge was lost; a blunted knife
                                     Was of more use then I.
Thus thinne and lean without a fence or friend,
I was blown through with ev’ry storm and winde.

Whereas my birth and spirit rather took
                                     The way that takes the town;
Thou didst betray me to a lingring book,
                                     And wrap me in a gown.
I was entangled in the world of strife,
Before I had the power to change my life.

Yet, for I threatned oft the siege to raise,
                                     Not simpring all mine age,
Thou often didst with Academick praise
                                     Melt and dissolve my rage.
I took thy sweetned pill, till I came where
I could not go away, nor persevere.

Yet lest perchance I should too happie be
                                     In my unhappinesse,
Turning my purge to food, thou throwest me
                                     Into more sicknesses.
Thus doth my power crosse-bias me, not making
Thine own gift good, yet me from my wayes taking.

Now I am here, what thou wilt do with me
                                     None of my books will show:
I reade, and sigh, and wish I were a tree;
                                     For sure then I should grow
To fruit or shade: at least some bird would trust
Her houshold to me, and I should be just.

Yet, though thou troublest me, I must be meek;
                                      In weaknesse must be stout.
Well, I will change the service, and go seek
                                      Some other master out.
Ah my deare God! though I am clean forgot,
Let me not love thee, if I love thee not.

Criticism by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
What Herbert most excels in is in exciting that feeling which we call the moral sublime. The highest affections are touched by his muse. I know nothing finer than the turn with which his poem on affliction concludes.

GH Interactive Exercise.

¶    Affliction. (II)

                    KIll me not ev’ry day,
Thou Lord of life; since thy one death for me
            Is more then all my deaths can be,
                    Though I in broken pay
Die over each hour of Methusalems1 stay.

                    If all mens tears were let
Into one common sewer, sea, and brine;
            What were they all, compar’d to thine?
                    Wherein if they were set,
They would discolour thy most bloudy sweat.

                    Thou art my grief alone,
Thou Lord conceal it not: and as thou art
            All my delight, so all my smart;
                    Thy cross took up in one,
By way of imprest, all my future mone.

1 Methusalem or Methuselah: See Genesis 5:21-27. 27 And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died.     [Return]      The King James Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769.

¶    Affliction. (III)

MY heart did heave, and there came forth, O God!
By that I knew that thou wast in the grief,
To guide and govern it to my relief,
       Making a scepter of the rod:
          Hadst thou not had thy part,
Sure the unruly sigh had broke my heart.

But since thy breath gave me both life and shape,
Thou knowst my tallies; and when there’s assign’d
So much breath to a sigh, what’s then behinde?
       Or if some yeares with it escape,
          The sigh then onely is
A gale to bring me sooner to my blisse.

Thy life on earth was grief, and thou art still
Constant unto it, making it to be
A point of honour, now to grieve in me,
       And in thy members suffer ill.
          They who lament one crosse,
Thou dying dayly, praise thee to thy losse.

¶    Affliction. (IV)

BRoken in pieces all asunder,
                      Lord, hunt me not,
                     A thing forgot,
Once a poore creature, now a wonder,
               A wonder tortur’d in the space
               Betwixt this world and that of grace.

My thoughts are all a case of knives,
                     Wounding my heart
                     With scatter’d smart,
As watring pots give flowers their lives.
               Nothing their furie can controll,
               While they do wound and prick my soul.

All my attendants are at strife,
                     Quitting their place
                     Unto my face:
Nothing performs the task of life:
               The elements are let loose to fight,
               And while I live, trie out their right.

Oh help, my God! let not their plot
                     Kill them and me,
                     And also thee,
Who art my life: dissolve the knot,
               As the sunne scatters by his light
               All the rebellions of the night.

Then shall those powers, which work for grief,
                     Enter thy pay,
                     And day by day
Labour thy praise, and my relief;
               With care and courage building me,
                Till I reach heav’n, and much more, thee.

Criticism: "’Betwixt this world and that of grace’: George Herbert’s potential spaces" by Julia Guernsey.

Music: Adaptation of J. S. Bach’s Fugue #8, Well Tempered Clavier I, with the words of "Affliction (IV)." Arranged by Red Dragon.   To open music in another program.

¶    Affliction. (V)

           MY God, I read this day,
That planted Paradise was not so firm,
As was and is thy floting Ark; whose stay
And anchor thou art onely, to confirm
       And strengthen it in ev’ry age,
       When waves do rise, and tempests rage.

           At first we liv’d in pleasure;
Thine own delights thou didst to us impart;
When we grew wanton, thou didst use displeasure
To make us thine: yet that we might not part,
       As we at first did board with thee,
       Now thou wouldst taste our miserie.

           There is but joy and grief;
If either will convert us, we are thine:
Some Angels us’d the first; if our relief
Take up the second, then thy double line
       And sev’rall baits in either kinde
       Furnish thy table to thy minde.

           Affliction then is ours;
We are the trees, whom shaking fastens more,
While blustring winds destroy the wanton bowres,
And ruffle all their curious knots and store.
       My God, so temper joy and wo,
       That thy bright beams may tame thy bow.


Musical Interpretation: "Affliction (V)" in D Minor, a choral anthem To open music in another window. 

Editor’s Note: The Affliction Poems appear in the 1633 text with several poems in between each. Read together they show the spiritual development of the persona/Christian/author/poet.


  • "Affliction and Flight in Herbert’s Poetry: A Note" by P. G. Stanwood
  • "Puritan Utopia in Herbert’s Poetry: A Response to P.G. Stanwood’s Affliction and Flight in Herbert’s Poetry" by Paul Moon
  • Theological Dualism in the Poetry of George Herbert by Carolyn Elizabeth Woodruff. [Works discussed: The Flower, Affliction (I), Affliction (V), Banquet and Love (III).]
  • George Herbert's Poetry by Russell Fraser. [Poems cited: "Holy Scriptures I"; "The Pearl"; The Temple; "Paradise"; "Affliction"; "Home"; "The Collar"; "The Flower"; "Virtue"; "Providence"]

    A personal and creative relation to these poems by Tom Andrews

  • Destinations
    1633 Poem Index Links to Criticism George Herbert & The Temple Home Page