Thy rod and staff: affliction as affection in George Herbert
Saint Bonaventure University
40 - 63
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While the affliction George Herbert experiences and on which he writes his largest sequence of poems may stem from resistance to submission, the source remains difficult to discern. Whether the speaker's anguish comes from God or owing to his own moral habits is a question raised in part by Herbert's positioning "Affliction" (I) immediately after "Sinne" (I). When the speaker of "Sinne" (I) considers the ways in which God has carefully guarded humankind, among those ways he lists "sorrow dogging sinne, / Afflictions sorted, anguish of all sizes" (5-6).1 However,the sonnet's final couplet depicts "One cunning-bosome-sinne" blasting all such protective barriers "quite away "and thus ascribes a force and dexterity to sin which stays with readers as they enter the "Affliction" poem-a poem in which God's "care" is considered once again, but this time in far less affectionate terms. Indeed, the ingenuity attributed to God in "Affliction" (I) is reminiscent of that implied of sin before. In his endless abuse of the speaker, the Goof "Affliction" (I) demonstrates a power and resourcefulness unparalleled elsewhere.