GEORGE HERBERT WROTE FIVE POEMS THAT HE NAMED "AFFLICtion" and the first of them is an account of the servant who has lost his way. It describes the joyful beginning of Herbert's service to God, "no place for grief or fear." It describes his loss of health, his loss of friends, and his sense that his gifts were not put to their best use.
Whereas my birth and spirit rather took
The way that takes the town;
Thou didst betray me to a ling'ring book
And wrap me in a gown.
The poem ends with the conviction that he cannot "change the service" and seek some other master, even though his own "ways" have been taken from him. But in one wistful stanza that is almost childlike in its wording, Herbert expresses his longing for some sort of uncomplicated usefulness.
Now I am here, what Thou wilt do with me
None of my books will show:
I read, and sigh, and wish I were a tree;
For sure then I should grow
To fruit or shade: at least some bird would trust
Her household to me, and I should be just.
He again uses the image of the contented tree in a poem called "Employment," when he thinks with envy of the orange tree, "that busy plant." Like the image of working bees, which he uses in four different poems, the usefulness of ordinary things haunts him. For he can find no place for himself in the hierarchy of natural order that ascends to God.
I am no link of Thy great chain,
But all my company is a weed.