I travell’d on, seeing the hill, where lay
A long it was and weary way.
The gloomy cave of Desperation
I left on th’ one, and on the other side
The rock of Pride.
And so I came to fancies meadow strow’d
With many a flower:
Fain would I here have made abode,
But I was quicken’d by my hour.
So to cares copse I came, and there got through
With much ado.
That led me to the wild of Passion, which
Some call the wold;
A wasted place, but sometimes rich.
Here I was robb’d of all my gold,
Save one good Angel*, which a friend had ti’d
Close to my side.
At length I got unto the gladsome hill,
Where lay my hope,
Where lay my heart; and climbing still,
When I had gain’d the brow and top,
A lake of brackish waters on the ground
Was all I found.
With that abash’d and struck with many a sting
Of swarming fears,
I fell, and cry’d, Alas my King!
Can both the way and end be tears?
Yet taking heart I rose, and then perceiv’d
I was deceiv’d:
My hill was further: so I flung away,
Yet heard a cry
Just as I went, None goes that way
And lives: If that be all, said I,
After so foul a journey death is fair,
And but a chair
*An Angel was a gold coin
This poem is an allegory and might, perhaps, remind us of John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress which was written some 50 years later and was perhaps influenced by this poem, although Bunyan is more optimistic:
I beheld then, that they all went on till they came to the foot of the hill Difficulty, at the bottom of which there was a spring. There were also in the same place two other ways besides that which came straight from the gate: one turned to the left hand, and the other to the right, at the bottom of the hill; but the narrow way lay right up the hill, and the name of the going up the side of the hill is called Difficulty. Christian now went to the spring, (Isa. 49:10), and drank thereof to refresh himself, and then began to go up the hill
Pilgrimage was a Catholic practice that was dispensed with at the Reformation but it continued as an image of the spiritual life. The poem illustrates life’s disappointments, we achieve what we wanted but then find it has its own problems ‘a lake of brackish water on the ground was all I found’ and ultimately all we are traveling towards his death. It is a sobering thought.
The poem perhaps expresses Herbert’s restlessness. When he was young he sought advancement, but when it was in reach he walked away from it. Even when he was seemingly content as a vicar in Bemerton, he wondered if he shouldn’t be finding something better.
- Are you content or restless?
- Do you find it helpful to think of life in terms of the pilgrimage?
- Where is your next destination in life?