Wednesday, April 13, 2011

George Herbert on Affliction

George Herbert (1593-1633) wrote five poems on affliction. As I read and re-read and contemplated those poems this week, two stuck out as most powerful and profound. I copy/paste them here at great risk, because the medium of the blog is not conducive to thought, reflection, reading, re-reading, and contemplation. A blog is a cotton candy medium that encourages quick tastes (glances at pixels), rather than chewing the cud (deep thought and reflection). However, I post these in hopes that some of you will print this post out, stick it in your pocket, mark it up with a pencil and benefit greatly from it. Upon first reading these two poems, certain lines stuck out to me, but I did not understand everything Herbert was saying. But meditation has been very fruitful for my soul. This is iron for the soul for the person who is willing to spend the time to extract it. So, here you go:

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 sceptre 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 know'st my tallies ;* and when there’s assigned
So much breath to a sigh, what’s then behind?
Or if some years with it escape,
The sigh then only is
A gale to bring me sooner to my bliss.

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 cross,
Thou dying daily, praise Thee to Thy loss.


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.

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