“Take me by the hand” : affliction and liturgical participation in George Herbert’s The Temple.
The overall unity of George Herbert’s The Temple (1633) has been a topic of debate for nearly a century. A popular approach has been to identify series of poems based on shared themes or titles, including the five poems titled “Affliction,” and the “liturgical” poems based on the feast and fast days of the church calendar. None of these accounts, however, explains the interaction between these two groups of poems. This dissertation explores why Herbert concentrates all five “Affliction” poems and all of the liturgical poems within the first half of The Temple. Using a rhetorical approach based on the arrangement of Herbert’s final manuscript, I examine each of the “Affliction” poems in the context of longer poetic sequences. I uncover the complex symmetry and numerological symbolism of these liturgical sequences, which represent the seasons of the church year from Holy Week to Christmas, and back again to Lent. The rich context of these liturgical sequences affords a fuller understanding of Herbert’s theology of Christian suffering. The effect of each liturgical sequence, I argue, is to show the grace operating upon the afflicted Christian through participation in the liturgy. The poems’ arrangement invites both the poetic speaker and Herbert’s readers on a pilgrimage through The Temple, in which the suffering Christ leads them “by the hand,” poem by poem. Ultimately, this process reveals to each traveler the problems within the self, the true nature of affliction, and the assurance offered through Christ’s cross.