On Affliction

Wellcome, what e’re my tender flesh may say,
            Welcome affliction, to my reason, still,
Though hard, and ruged on that rock I lay,
            A sure foundation, which if rais’d with skill,
            Shall compasse Babel’s aim, and reach th’Almightys hill.                              5

Wellcome the rod, that does adoption shew,
            The cup, whose wholsome dregs are giv’n me here;
There is a day behind, if God be true,
            When all these Clouds shall passe, & heav’n be clear,
            When those whom most they shade, shall shine most glorious there.        10

Affliction is the line, which every Saint
            Is measur’d by, his Stature taken right;
So much itt shrinks, as they repine or faint,
            But if their faith, and Courage stand upright,
 By that is made the Crown, and the full robe of light.                                               15

About the poem

The topic of affliction, understood as a divine test of faith, was common in early modern devotional writing. George Herbert included five poems on affliction in The Temple (1633), and Richard Baxter wrote successively expanded editions of Heart-Imployment with God and It Self, a series of poems inspired by his struggle to accept the death of his wife (1681, 1687, and 1689).

Affliction carried extra significance for Stuart family adherents. Eikon basilike: The Pourtraicture of His Sacred Majesty in his solitudes and sufferings was reissued in 1685 and again, with additional documents, in 1687, complete with its famous frontispiece depicting Charles as a martyr. Nonjuring bishop Thomas Ken—whom Finch later praised in “The Hurricane”—addressed James II as successor to the family’s trials in The Royal Sufferer. A Manual of Meditations and Devotions. Written for the Use of a Royal, tho’ Afflicted FAMILY(1699).

The theme of affliction evoked a rich iconographical tradition accessible to Finch’s contemporary readers through emblem books. The crushing torment of affliction and the desire for forgiveness appear in Francis Quarles’s Emblems, with the Hieroglyphicks, (London, 1696, Book 3, p. 140; image from the Rare book & Special Collections Library of the Library of the University of Illinois) show image . Redemption brought by such suffering is represented by this crowned figure in George Wither’s A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne (London, 1635, Book 2, p. 81; image digitized by the Internet Archive in 2010 with funding from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) show image .

Finch’s poem alludes to multiple passages in the Bible: cf. the “sure foundation” of line 4 with Isaiah 28: 16 and 2 Timothy 2: 19. For “Babel’s aim,” described in line 5, see Genesis 11: 1-9. For “the rod, that does adoption shew” (line 6) see Proverbs 3: 12 and Hebrews 12: 6. For “The cup” of line 7, see Isaiah 51: 22-23. Finch’s last images of the crown and “full robe of light” (line 15) recall, for example, Psalm 104: 2 and Revelation 7:9 and 7:14. 

Dates and Sources

The composition date is unknown, but the poem’s topic suggests a date soon after the revolution of 1688. The latest possible date of composition is 1696, based on the poem’s first known printing in Miscellanea Sacra (pp. 89-90). Other surviving copies of the poem appear in the following sources, supervised by Anne Finch and her husband Heneage Finch: the octavo MS “Poems on Several Subjects Written by Ardelia” (Northamptonshire Record Office, call number FH 283) and the folio MS “Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia” (Folger Shakespeare Library, call number Nb3). The poem was not included in Finch’s print volume Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions (London, 1713). The copy-text used here is from “Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia.” Our transcription follows these conventions: i/j and u/v are altered to reflect modern use, superscript letters and numbers are lowered, and abbreviations no longer current are expanded.

Collations

Substantive variants, including those affecting pronunciation, are listed below from the only other source of the poem known to be supervised by Finch and her husband, Heneage: the octavo MS “Poems on Several Subjects Written by Ardelia” (NR283).

3 that] this NR283
9 heav’n] heaven NR283
11 every] ev’ry 203NR283