Featured Poem: Affliction (IV) by George Herbert

At Shared Reading for Healthy Communities, The Reader Organisation’s fourth annual National Conference last week, one of the central topics of debate of the day was how literature could be about and speak to the whole person. Exploring how we can use literature to be part of A New Language for Mental Health with guest speakers Alan Yates, Professor Louis Appleby and Dirk Terryn, our Director Jane Davis spoke about how that long before medical terms were in use, literature and poetry seemed to speak the language of human emotion deeply accurately, exploring the spectrum of the human condition.

Jane made particular reference to two of her favourites in the discussion about how literature can be used to describe and inform matters of health – one of the oldest poems and record of human thoughts, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and much of the work of 17th Century poet George Herbert. What may have then been considered religious can now be seen through different eyes, when considering many humanly identifiable conditions.

For this week’s Featured Poem, we’re featuring one of Herbert’s most moving works, which speaks profoundly about despair, mental and emotional trouble, being lost – and finding the courage to go on. An inspiring choice to continue to think about the deeply connected combination of literature and health.

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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