Obsession (After George Herbert’s “Affliction (IV)”)

The fact that George Herbert wrote a number of poems of called “Affliction” tells us something about the nature of his life and the hardships, many of them internal, that he endured. Today’s poem is based on his fourth “Affliction” poem, a poem that resonates strongly with me despite the four hundred years that have passed since it was written.
 
Obsession (After “Affliction (IV)”)
 
Torn beyond my recognition,
            Lord, here I wait
            At Your tall gate,
Too small to hope or beg permission,
            Too weakened by the distance, height
            Which seems to cut You from my sight.
 
I do not dare to dream or fear.
            Just this I know:
            Go where I go,
These nagging, dragging thoughts are near,
            Accusing me in my own voice;
            Even silence threatens noise.
 
My prayers echo inside my mind.
            I cling to them;
            Your garment’s hem
Is hard and harder now to find,
            And though my praying does not cease,
           It has no knowledge of Your peace.
 
Oh God, if You can’t calm these waves,
            They will swamp me
            In turgid sea
While my obsession raves and raves.
           If You are life, then break through cloud
           And still the thunder, ranting loud –
 
Then I may rest within Your arms
            Which lift me high,
            Your love’s reply
To every gate which locks and bars,
           And all my battles shall be won
            And I shall dwell in Your Well done.
 
Affliction (IV) – George Herbert
 
Broken in pieces all asunder,
           Lord, hunt me not,
           A thing forgot,
Once a poore creature, now a wonder,
           A wonder tortur’d in the space
           Betwixt this world and that of grace.
 
My thoughts are all a case of knives,
           Wounding my heart
           With scatter’d smart,
As watring pots give flowers their lives.
           Nothing their furie can controll,
           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, trie 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 sunne 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.

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