What It Is To Be Human

She within lists my ranging mind hath brought,
That now beyond my self I list not go;
My self am centre of my circling thought,
Only my self I study, learn, and know.

I know my body’s of so frail a kind,
As force without, fevers within can kill:
I know the heavenly nature of my mind,
But ‘tis corrupted both in wit and will:

I know my soul hath power to know all things,
Yet is she blind and ignorant in all;
I know I am one of nature’s little kings,
Yet to the least and vilest things am thrall.

I know my life’s a pain and but a span,
I know my Sense is mockt with every thing:
And to conclude, I know my self a man,
Which is a proud, and yet a wretched thing.

What It Is To Be Human by John Davies

Affliction forces us to prioritize.  Absent her disruption, our lives are frittered away with novelty and sloth.  On the surface, we think Affliction is an enemy and indeed, she often visits us without invitation,  but we likewise invite her into our lives by both action and inaction. Our best aim is to understand Affliction as a teacher.

In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite points to today’s poem by John Davies as illumination:

…when things go wrong, when we are ill, or confined to quarters and thrown back on our own resources, then the real questioning, and the fruitful work can begin. Just before the passage we will read today, Davies tells us, in a playful parable, that he has met with failure, disappointment and illness, all three, summed up in the word ‘Affliction’. But in his poem Affliction appears, not as a hag or night mare, but as a wise woman teaching him what he needs to know, rather as Philosophy appeared to Boethius in his cell:

She within lists my ranging mind hath brought,
That now beyond my self I list not go;
My self am centre of my circling thought,
Only my self I study, learn, and know.

How has Affliction led you to greater self-knowledge?


Job 36:15

He delivers the poor in their affliction, and opens their ears in oppression.


D i g  D e e p e r

John Davies

(1569–1626). The Englishman John Davies distinguished himself as a poet and as a statesman. His famous work Orchestra, or a Poem of Dancing reveals a typically Elizabethan pleasure in the contemplation of the correspondence between the natural order and human activity.

Davies was born in April 1569 in Tisbury, Wiltshire, England. Educated at the University of Oxford, he was called to the bar in 1595. On the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, Davies was one of the messengers who carried the news to James VI of Scotland, who succeeded Elizabeth as James I. James received him with great favor, sent him to Ireland as solicitor general, and conferred a knighthood on him. In 1606 Davies was made attorney general for Ireland. He took an active part in the Protestant settlement of Ulster, a province in the northeastern part of the island of Ireland, and wrote several tracts on Irish affairs. He entered the Irish Parliament and was elected speaker in 1613, and after he returned to England he sat in the English Parliament of 1621. He was appointed lord chief justice in 1626 but died later that year, on December 8, before taking office.

Much of Davies’ early poetry consisted of epigrams. Epigrammes and Elegies by J.D. and C.M. (1590?) contained both Davies’ work and posthumous works by Christopher Marlowe; it was one of the books the archbishop of Canterbury ordered burned in 1599. Orchestra (1596) is a poem in praise of dancing set against the background of Elizabethan cosmology and its theory of the harmony of the spheres. In Nosce teipsum (1599; Know Thyself), he gave a lucid account of his philosophy on the nature and immortality of the soul. In the same year he published Hymnes of Astraea in Acrosticke Verse, a series of poems in which the initials of the first lines form the words Elisabetha Regina in honor of Queen Elizabeth. A volume of his collected poems was published in 1622.

“Davies, John,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).


Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.

For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.

Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

ART: A Domestic Affliction by Benjamin West



Published by

Rick Wilcox

Rick is voraciously interested in the holistic transformation of people individually and in an organizational context - enabled by technology, educated continuously through multi-channel systems and informed by the wisdom of history's greatest thinkers. He is a Ph.D. student at Faulkner University, focusing on the appearance of the Logos in English Literature. He earned a Master of Arts in Christian Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Science in Management from Sam Houston State University. His undergraduate studies earned a BA with double majors in Sociology and Theology from Houston Baptist University. Rick is an ordained minister who leads the Parenting Teens Adult Community at Faith Bible Church in The Woodlands Texas.