This is the first of a series of five poems which Herbert wrote under the heading of “Affliction”. The poet here gives us first an account of his sufferings, physical and mental; and then expresses in the final stanza his feelings of submission and humility towards God.
When the poet first felt the urge to devote his life to God by becoming a priest, he thought it to be a noble mission. He imagined that, though his devotion to God, he would be blessed with many Joys.
Finding the church and the sacred church property to be very attractive, the poet's desires to serve God was further strengthened.The poet felt that many spiritual treasures were in store for him and that both heaven and earth would reward him for his services to God.
At first, the poet was blessed by God with all kinds of delights and joys. But, with the passing of time, he was afflicted by misfortunes and found himself miserable.
Sickness attacked the poet's body and wasting fevers and diseases made a home for themselves in every vein of his body. He groaned with every breath he took. And he could hardly believe that he was alive.
Other misfortunes also befell him. Many of his friends and well-wishers died, and he lost in zest for life. He felt that he had become even more useless than a blunted knife.
The poet at this stage felt that in view if his aristocratic birth and breeding, he should have taken up a courtier's career in London but that, under God's influence, he had wrongly decided to become a priest.
As a priest, the poet often becomes rebellious and felt like giving up his priestly life. However, God managed to drive away his rebelliousness by bribing him with academic honors which the world bestowed upon him.
God then inflicted some more diseases on the poet to prevent him from changing his mind. Instead of letting the poet carry out his purpose in accordance with his own original intention, God directed the poet's footsteps along a different path, forcing him to continue as a priest.
Now the poet does not know what God intends to do with him. The poet is feeling disillusioned with his vocation of a priest. He wishes that he were a tree instead of a human being. As a tree, he could have served a more useful purpose.
Despite God's unkindness, however, the poet feels that he must remain submissive to God. Though he thinks that he should give up the life of a priest and should serve under some master other than God, the poet cannot really decide to leave God. The poet still loves God, even though God has forgotten him. In spite of all his affliction or dress the feels an inner compulsion to continue loving God.