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Entries in George Herbert (14)


A little George Herbert

H. Scriptures I
OH Book !  infinite sweetness!  let my heart 
     Suck ev’ry letter, and a honey gain, 
     Precious for any grief in any part ; 
To clear the breast, to mollify all pain. 
Thou art all health, health thriving, till it make 
     A full eternity:  thou art a mass
     Of strange delights, where we may wish and take. 
Ladies, look here;  this is the thankfull glass, 
That mends the lookers eyes:  this is the well 
     That washes what it shows.  Who can indear 
     Thy praise too much?  thou art heav’ns Lidger here, 
Working against the states of death and hell. 
     Thou art joys handsell:  heav’n lies flat in thee, 
     Subject to ev’ry mounters bended knee. 

A Year With George Herbert - April 21, 2012

This week's poem is "The Temper (I)."  We have a particular idea of what "temper" means,  i.e., being angry.  It is related, but that's not what Herbert is talking about here.  The process of "tempering" something is to heat it to make it more or less hard, depending on what you want to use it for.  For example,  steel is heated and then plunged into cold water or oil so that it is hard enough for specific use.  This tempering process is what Herbert likens to his emotional highs and lows.  God is "tempering" him, trying him, for whatever use he needs.

HOW should I praise thee, Lord !  how should my rhymes 
    Gladly engrave thy love in steel, 
    If what my soul doth feel sometimes, 
            My soul might ever feel! 

Although there were some forty heav’ns, or more, 
    Sometimes I peere above them all ; 
    Sometimes I hardly reach a score, 
            Sometimes to hell I fall. 

O rack me not to such a vast extent; 
    Those distances belong to thee: 
    The world’s too little for thy tent, 
            A grave too big for me. 

Wilt thou meet arms with man, that thou dost stretch 
    A crumme of dust from heav’n to hell ? 
    Will great God measure with a wretch ? 
            Shall he thy stature spell ? 

O let me, when thy roof my soul hath hid, 
    O let me roost and nestle there : 
    Then of a sinner thou art rid, 
            And I of hope and fear. 

Yet take thy way;  for sure thy way is best: 
    Stretch or contract me thy poore debter: 
    This is but tuning of my breast, 
            To make the music better. 

Whether I flie with angels, fall with dust, 
    Thy hands made both, and I am there. 
    Thy power and love, my love and trust, 
            Make one place ev’ry where. 

Jim Scott Orrick comments on the fifth stanza.  The poet is saying:

If you will just keep me  heaven-high emotionally, you will no longer be pestered with sinful me, and I will not be tortured with these emotions that vacillate between hope and fear.

I love the last stanza.  Here the poet says:

You have the power to love and to do what is best for me.  If I only love you and trust you then my emotional location is irrelevant to my ultimate well-being. 



Love (I) - George Herbert

Immortal Love, author of this great frame,
Sprung from that beauty which can never fade;
How hath man parcel'd out thy glorious name,
And thrown it on the dust which thou has made,
While mortal love doth all the title gain!
Which siding with invention, they together
Bear all the sway, possessing heart and brain
(Thy workmanship) and give thee share in neither.

Wit fancies beauty, beauty raiseth wit:
The world is theirs; they two play out the game,
Thou standing by:  and thou thy glorious name
Wrought our deliverance from the eternal pit,
Who sings thy praise? only a scarf or glove
Doth warm our hands, and make them write of love.

This poem argues that while men will write about earthly love, they will often not write about the greatest love, the love of God.

Jim Scott Orrick comments on the last verse:

Poets sometimes write about a piece of clothing belonging to their lover.  Herbert scorns the idea that a poet can be inspired to write a poem because of a piece of clothing while he is not inspired by something infinitely more significant:  deliverance from hell. 


A Year With George Herbert - March 14, 2012

This poem is called "Prayer (I)."  Jim Scott Orrick describes it:

There is not a single verb in the entire sonnet.  It is a cleverly thought-out and constructed list of word pictures describing prayer.  This is one of Herbert's most anthologized poems.  The various elements of this list admit a wide variety of interpretations.

PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age, 
        Gods breath in man returning to his birth, 
        The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage, 
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth ; 

Engine against th’ Almightie, sinner's towre, 
        Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear, 
        The six daies world-transposing in an houre, 
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear ; 

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse, 
        Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best, 
        Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest, 
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise, 

        Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud, 
        The land of spices, something understood. 

Only a poet could get away with having no verbs.  Some good images to think about during this day.



Affliction (1)

This poem by George Herbert is one of his saddest.  He had a number of poems called "Affliction."  He suffered a great deal, dying from tuberculosis before the age of forty.  This poem has a conclusion, but it does not end cheerfully.  I think it shows, though, that Herbert understood God's control over his life.

The poem can be found here.  I didn't reproduce it in its entirety for the sake of space, but please do read it.

Herbert begins by discussing how when he first entered the ministry, he was full of joy:

Such stars I counted mine:  both heav'n and earth
Paid me my wages in a world of mirth (l. 10-11)

He talks about how God gave him "milk and sweetnesses" (l. 18) and how there was "no month but May." (l. 21).  But things changed.  Beginning in l. 25, he recounts various tragedies, beginning with his own illness.  "Sicknesses cleave my bones," he says.  When he did regain health, some of his friend died (l. 32).  I'm sure this was common.  This was in the day when people simply did not live long.  Something as simple as a strep throat probably killed people.  He describes himself as "thin and lean without a fence or friend" (l. 35).

Herbert then talks about how God gave him academic success:  Thou didst betray me to a lingring book and wrap me in a gown" (l.39-40), the gown referring to his success at Cambridge.  Herbert was very successful in his academic pursuits.  He was elected Public Orator of Cambridge.  It was  one of the most prestigous positions in England.

Herbert became ill again after this success, stating in l. 49-55 something along the lines of "In case I was too happy, you made me sick."  He describes his situation:

Now I am here, what thou wilt do with me 
                None of my books will show : 
I read, and sigh, and wish I were a tree— 
                For sure, then, I should grow 
To fruit or shade ; at least, some bird would trust 
Her household to me, and I should be just. 

Yet, though Thou troublest me, I must be meek ; 
                In weakness must be stout : 
Well, I will change the service, and go seek 
                Some other master out. 
Ah, my dear God !  though I am clean forgot, 
Let me not love Thee, if I love Thee not.

You can hear his despair in l. 55-60.  He wishes he was a tree.  That's sad.  The last line is rather confusing.  Orrick provides a note on that paradoxical line.  He summarizes it:

God, even though you mistreat me to the point of forgetting me, I protest that in spite of all, I still love you.  I am so confident of my love for you that if you should see that I do not love you, I am willing to be deprived of that whcih I value most, namely, my love for you.

Orrick points out that Shakespeare did something similar in Sonnet 116.

Clearly, Herbert coped with his affliction through writing.  The Psalmist did the same thing.  We are often told to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps when we are afflicted, that it isn't becoming to be afflicted.  I don't think that's the answer.  We have to acknowledge it and understand God's sovereignty despite our affliction.