1 Sam 12:23
Now I saw in my dream, that just as they had ended this talk, they drew nigh to a very miry slough that was in the midst of the plain: and they being heedless, did both fall suddenly into the bog. The name of the slough was Despond. Here, therefore, they wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with the dirt; and Christian, because of the burden that was on his back, began to sink in the mire.
Pliable: Then said Pliable, Ah, neighbor Christian, where are you now?
Christian: Truly, said Christian, I do not know.
Pliable: At this Pliable began to be offended, and angrily said to his fellow, Is this the happiness you have told me all this while of? If we have such ill speed at our first setting out, what may we expect between this and our journey’s end? May I get out again with my life, you shall possess the brave country alone for me. And with that he gave a desperate struggle or two, and got out of the mire on that side of the slough which was next to his own house: so away he went, and Christian saw him no more.
Wherefore Christian was left to tumble in the Slough of Despond alone; but still he endeavored to struggle to that side of the slough that was farthest from his own house, and next to the wicket-gate; the which he did, but could not get out because of the burden that was upon his back: but I beheld in my dream, that a man came to him, whose name was Help, and asked him what he did there.
Christian: Sir, said Christian, I was bid to go this way by a man called Evangelist, who directed me also to yonder gate, that I might escape the wrath to come. And as I was going thither, I fell in here.
Help: But why did not you look for the steps?
Christian: Fear followed me so hard that I fled the next way, and fell in.
Help: Then, said he, Give me thine hand: so he gave him his hand, and he drew him out, and he set him upon sound ground, and bid him go on his way.
Then I stepped to him that plucked him out, and said, “Sir, wherefore, since over this place is the way from the city of Destruction to yonder gate, is it, that this plat is not mended, that poor travellers might go thither with more security?” And he said unto me, “This miry slough is such a place as cannot be mended: it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore it is called the Slough of Despond; for still, as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there arise in his soul many fears and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place: and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.
“It is not the pleasure of the King that this place should remain so bad. His laborers also have, by the direction of his Majesty’s surveyors, been for above this sixteen hundred years employed about this patch of ground, if perhaps it might have been mended: yea, and to my knowledge,” said he, “there have been swallowed up at least twenty thousand cart loads, yea, millions of wholesome instructions, that have at all seasons been brought from all places of the King’s dominions, (and they that can tell, say, they are the best materials to make good ground of the place,) if so be it might have been mended; but it is the Slough of Despond still, and so will be when they have done what they can.
“True, there are, by the direction of the Lawgiver, certain good and substantial steps, placed even through the very midst of this slough; but at such time as this place doth much spew out its filth, as it doth against change of weather, these steps are hardly seen; or if they be, men, through the dizziness of their heads, step beside, and then they are bemired to purpose, notwithstanding the steps be there: but the ground is good when they are once got in at the gate.”
Now I saw in my dream, that by this time Pliable was got home to his house. So his neighbors came to visit him; and some of them called him wise man for coming back, and some called him fool for hazarding himself with Christian: others again did mock at his cowardliness, saying, “Surely, since you began to venture, I would not have been so base as to have given out for a few difficulties:” so Pliable sat sneaking among them. But at last he got more confidence, and then they all turned their tales, and began to deride poor Christian behind his back. And thus much concerning Pliable.
Commentary and full references
He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.
Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you.
1 Sam 12:23
Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way.
A VERY MIRY SLOUGH - a slough is a boggy or swampy patch of ground, the description of it as miry connects it to Bunyan's biblical reference of Psalm 40:2 in connection to the later rescue by Help.
in the midst of the plain - a repeated echo back to the Genesis 19 account of the sins and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
HEEDLESS - careless, not paying attention
DESPOND - disheartenment
WALLOWED - physical description of struggle of near submersion that can also function as a spiritual description of inability or inertia
BEDAUBED WITH DIRT - Isaiah 57:20 associates mire and dirt with the wicked.
BEGAN TO SINK IN THE MIRE : this echoes Psalm 69:2a "I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing" which serves as text for the River of Death at the close of the book too.
WHERE ARE YOU NOW? - an inquiry from Pliable as to Christian's confidence rather than location.
BEGAN TO BE OFFENDED - to take offense or be offended is a common phrase on Jesus' lips as a description of the reaction of his opponents in the gospels, whereas his disciples will not be offended. The clear echo here is of Mark 4:17(b) and the parable of the sower and the soils: "afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended."
SUCH ILL SPEED AT OUR FIRST SETTING OUT - this concern of Pliable's about the difficulty of the journey just begun fits the Mark 4 parable of the sower and the soils likewise.
POSSESS THE BRAVE COUNTY - this is language of the Old Testament Israel's conquest of the promised land, as well as Hebrews 11 from which Bunyan so often draws.
DESPERATE STRUGGLE OR TWO, AND GOT OUT - Pliable takes advantage of the fact that he bears no burden.
ENDEAVOURED TO STRUGGLE...WICKET-GATE - Christian, is determined, despite this set back to continue in the direction Evangelist has pointed him.
BECAUSE OF THE BURDEN UPON HIS BACK
A MAN CAME TO HIM, WHOSE NAME WAS HELP: another echo from Psalm 40, famously rendered in the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer from the King James, v13b: "O Lord, make haste to help me." This calling on God for help might allow readers to see Help as Jesus.
I WAS BID TO GO THIS WAY...I FELL IN HERE
FEAR FOLLOWED ME...FELL IN
GIVE ME THINE HAND....DREW HIM OUT ...SOLID GROUND...BID HIM GO ON HIS WAY - Psalm 40:2 "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings."
THEN I STEPPED UP TO HIM - the dreaming narrator will gradually recede from Bunyan's narrative, but the creative framing is still evident here as a device for further explanation of the nature of the Slough of Despond
WHEREFORE,...IS IT, THAT HIS PLAT IS NOT MENDED - by plat is meant path.
SCUM AND FILTH THAT ATTENDS CONVICTION FOR SIN DOTH CONTINUALLY RUN
AS THE SINNER IS AWAKENED
NOT THE PLEASURE OF THE KING
HIS LABORERS...ABOVE SIXTEEN HUNDRED YEARS
SWALLOWED UP ...WHOLESOME INSTRUCTIONS...ALL SEASONS
DIRECTION OF THE LAWGIVER, CERTAIN GOOD AND SUBSTANTIAL STEP
MEN, THROUGH THE DIZZINESS OF THEIR HEADS - Romans 7?
NOW I SAW IN MY DREAM
SAT SNEAKING AMONG THEM
TURNED THEIR TALES
THUS MUCH CONCERNING PLIABLE we do in fact meet him once more in Faithful's account (LINK)