Synopsis of Affliction I

A complaint

George HerbertThis is one of Herbert's most autobiographical poems, written presumably before he became a clergyman, but at a point in his life when he was not sure what he was going to do. The poem is actually an account of his spiritual life up to the present; what is sometimes known as a testimony or a confession. The poem is entitled ‘Affliction' because, although his early experiences were joyful and believing in God came easily, his life has subsequently been overshadowed by suffering. To that extent, it could actually be called a complaint in which the poet sets out his troubles and tries to understand why God should have allowed these things to happen.

In the final stanza it seems that Herbert is tempted to turn away but the last line offers the possibility of a different conclusion (The word ‘let' could mean to ‘prevent' someone from doing something).

In Herbert's collection of his poetry, this is the first of no fewer than five poems entitled Affliction.

Investigating Affliction I
  • Who does Herbert see as responsible for his sufferings?
  • Look at the final stanza. Is it about rebellion or submission or both?
  • What is the poet's deepest desire?
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