Language and tone in Affliction I

Emphasis on the material

The diction derives very much from the symbolism of the images. For example, Herbert's service to God is a ‘heart' service, but in fact most of the benefits are described in material terms of pleasure:

  • ‘my stock' (l.5)
  • ‘benefits' (l.6)
  • ‘furniture' (l.7)
  • ‘household-stuff' (l.9)

and significantly

  • ‘wages' (l.12)

The language of power

The language of service also suggests the language of power:

  • ‘thou took'st away' (l.31)
  • ‘blown' (l.36)
  • ‘before I had the power' (l.42)
  • ‘throwest' (l.51)
  • ‘thy power cross-bias me (l.53)

which in turn suggests conflict:

  • ‘the siege' (l.43)

But there is also the language of suffering.

Investigating Affliction I
  • In Affliction I ‘there is also the language of suffering'
    • Pick out words and phrases that suggest Herbert's suffering
    • Pick out words that suggest what effect this suffering had on him

Use of paradox

Herbert's use of language tends towards paradox: linking two logical opposites together. In fact, much Christian language can be expressed paradoxically.

More on paradox: A conceit consists in linking two unlike ideas together in an image, while a paradox is the linking of two logical opposites together as a statement. Religious language often uses paradox to emphasise its difference from ordinary language, not because it wants to be difficult, but because common-sense reality is often so opposite to religious perception. For example, the Bible talks of losing one's life to save it (Matthew 16:25). Jesus often used paradox to make a point. Matthew 20:16 completes a most paradoxical parable with ‘the last will be first, and the first last'.

The climax of the poem is expressed paradoxically:

Let me not love thee, if I love thee not.

It appears to come suddenly out of nowhere, and its resolution is only obvious if we have understood the underlying truth of the poem up to that point.

Complaining tone

The tone of the poem is that of the complaint rather than the confessional. There is no great sense of personal humility here. Rather, it is provocative, daring God to defend himself. Only at the very end does his spirit seem willing to submit: ‘I must be meek'. But then he seems to throw that away by declaring, ‘Well, I will change the service'. But this is more the final flaunting of an independence that has long since gone in reality.

Investigating Affliction I
  • We talk of people having their spirit broken. What sort of ‘broken' language does Herbert use in Affliction I?
    • What sort of brokenness is it?
  • Look at the ‘i' vowel sounds in the first two stanzas
    • What do they suggest?
  • Examine the words ‘simpering' and ‘rage'
    • What tone of voice do they invite?
    • What other words of tones of voice can you find?
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