Imagery and symbolism in Affliction I

Royal service

Photo by Enrique L—pez-Tamayo Biosca, available through Creative CommonsThe main image is that of service to a King. This is a commonplace in Christian thought, with Jesus often referred to as ‘king', but Herbert manages to breathe new life into it by using details suggesting he was lured unawares into this service. He uses ‘Entice' (l.l), repeated as ‘'tice' (l.10) and ‘entangled' (l.39). This sets up a tension – has entering God's service been a trap or deception? Any deception, however, is seen in the end to stem from Herbert's early self-centred approach to religious experience.

Stanza 4 suggests the surface attraction of God's service:

  • ‘thou gavest me milk and sweetness'
  • ‘My days were strew'd with flowers and happiness'.

By contrast, stanza 6 has images of desolation:

  • ‘a blunted knife/ Was of more use than I'
  • ‘I was blown through with every storm and wind'.

Herbert picks up the imagery of uselessness in stanza 10, in which he wishes he were a tree so that at least he could provide shelter for other creatures.


Stanzas 7-9 contain some excellent examples of metonymy:

  • ‘a lingering book'
  • ‘a gown'

are both metonymies for the academic life, taking some aspect associated with that life to represent it. The real force is in the word ‘lingering', which comes out of nowhere and lights up the image.

Investigating Affliction I
  • Look through the notes on Herbert's use of metonymy in Affliction I
    • Why ‘lingering' (l.39?)
    • What does ‘book' represent in ‘None of my books will show' (l.56)?
  • Find at least three other images. Are they conceits as such?
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