Affliction

It is a day of hazy heat and birdsong in the north west of England, as it was yesterday. Yet it seems to me that we cannot enjoy this summery wellbeing without an enhanced appreciation of how fortunate we are to be here today, to feel the sun on our arms, when others are not. As I dwell, appalled, on the killing in Cumbria, my mind chides me to restore some sense of proportion, to remember that such acts of random brutality and the inconsolable suffering they cause are happening, somewhere in the world, at every moment. This is too much to take in. And so are the events in Cumbria. I feel it would be inappropriate to choose a text on an indifferent topic. I have selected, instead, Affliction (IV) by the 17th century poet and clergyman, George Herbert. Herbert left politics for the Church: many of his poems reflect the difficulty of reconciling one’s faith with the demands of everyday life. This poem might offer insight into the anguish of a troubled mind.

Affliction (IV)

BROKEN in pieces all asunder,
Lord, hunt me not,
A thing forgot,
Once a poor creature, now a wonder,
A wonder tortured in the space
Betwixt this world and that of grace.

My thoughts are all a case of knives,
Wounding my heart
With scattered smart ;
As wat’ring-pots give flowers their lives.
Nothing their fury can control,
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, try 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 sun 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.

George Herbert

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