George Herbert 

The Call

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.

Antiphon (1)

Chorus: Let all the world in ev’ry corner sing,
My God and King.

The heav’ns are not too high,
His praise may thither flie:
The earth is not too low,
His praises there may grow.

Chorus: Let all the world in ev’ry corner sing,
My God and King.

The church with psalms must shout,
No doore can keep them out:
But above all, the heart
Must bear the longest part.

Chorus: Let all the world in ev’ry corner sing,
My God and King.

Love Bade Me Welcome

LOve bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d any thing.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungratefull?  Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

Easter

RIse heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined1 thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or, since all musick is but three parts2 vied
And multiplied,
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

I Got Me Flowers

I got me flowers to strew Thy way,
I got me boughs off many a tree;
But Thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’s Thy sweets along with Thee.
Yet though my flower be lost, they say
A heart can never come too late;
Teach it to sing Thy praise this day,
And then this day my life shall date.

The Sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, & th’ East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.
Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.

Virtue

SWEET day, so cool, so calm, so bright!
The bridal of the earth and sky—
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night;
      For thou must die.
Sweet rose, whose hue angry and brave          5
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye,
Thy root is ever in its grave,
      And thou must die.
Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie,   10
My music shows ye have your closes,
      And all must die.
Only a sweet and virtuous soul,
Like season’d timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,   15
      Then chiefly lives.

Easter Wings

Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store,
      Though foolishly he lost the same,
                  Decaying more and more,
                       Till he became
                         Most poore:

                         With Thee
                       O let me rise,
                  As larks, harmoniously,
      And sing this day Thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne;
      And still with sicknesses and shame
                  Thou didst so punish sinne,
                       That I became
                         Most thinne.

                         With Thee
                       Let me combine,
                  And feel this day Thy victorie;
      For, if I imp my wing on Thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me. 

Peace

Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell?  I humbly crave,
Let me once know.
I sought thee in a secret cave,
And ask’d, if Peace were there.
A hollow winde did seem to answer, No:
Go seek elsewhere.
I did; and going did a rainbow note:
Surely, thought I,
This is the lace of Peaces coat:
I will search out the matter.
But while I lookt, the clouds immediately
Did break and scatter.

Then went I to a garden, and did spy
A gallant flower,
The Crown Imperiall: sure, said I,
Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digg’d, I saw a worm devoure
What show’d so well.
At length I met a rev’rend good old man,
Whom when of Peace
I did demand, he thus began:
There was a Prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who liv’d with good increase
Of flock and fold.

He sweetly liv’d; yet sweetnesse did not save
His life from foes.
But after death out of his grave
There sprang twelve stalks of wheat:
Which many wondring at, got some of those
To plant and set.
It prosper’d strangely, and did soon disperse
Through all the earth:
For they that taste it do rehearse,
That vertue lies therein,
A secret vertue bringing peace and mirth
By flight of sinne.

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
And grows for you;
Make bread of it: and that repose
And peace, which ev’ry where
With so much earnestnesse you do pursue,
Is onely there.


Truly, Friend,
For ought I heare, our Master shows to you
More favour then you wot1 of. Mark the end.
The Font did onely, what was old, renew:
The Caldron suppled, what was grown too hard:
The Thorns did quicken, what was grown too dull:
All did but strive to mend, what you had marr’d.
Wherefore be cheer’d, and praise him to the full
Each day, each houre, each moment of the week,
Who fain would have you be new, tender, quick.

(from)Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert by John Drury -review

The Guardian Thursday 15 August 2013 09.01 EDT  Helen Cooper

Portrait of George Herbert

Master of simplicity … detail of Portrait of George Herbert in Bemerton by William Dyce (1806-1864). Photograph: DeAgostini/Getty Images

Giving equal weight to the man and his work, this is the perfect introduction to a parson-poet who has fallen out of fashion….

Herbert’s life does not superficially offer much for the biographer: no wars, no quarrels, a happy marriage, disengagement from the religious controversies of the day in favour of an unwavering adherence to the Church of England. What made him extraordinary in an age of colourful characters was the poetry, and that is accordingly at the centre of this book.

Alongside his narrative of outward events  (Drury)….offers a running commentary on a full half of the 173 poems that make up the 1633 collection, The Temple, many of them quoted in full, plus four of the Latin poems. Readers who are tempted into the book by its focus on the life will finish with something far richer than more conventional biographies offer.

George Herbert was born in 1593 to a minor branch of the aristocratic Herbert family, probably in Montgomery in mid-Wales. His father died when he was three, and a few years later his mother moved to London, where she ran a household distinguished for its hospitality towards intellectuals. John Donne addressed some poems to her, and was to preach her funeral sermon. George was sent to Westminster School at the time when the great preacher and linguist Lancelot Andrewes, ….a master of style, especially of the “terse and urgent” short clause. TS Eliot was an admirer…(and preached his mother’s funeral in 1627)

A distinguished career at Trinity College, Cambridge, culminated in Herbert’s appointment as university orator in 1620. The post required him to be the public face of the university, in charge of its formal Latin correspondence and orations., (but left much of the work to others)….perhaps because of his recurrent ill health, perhaps to try to resolve his increasingly urgent personal dilemma as to whether to pursue a career that would satisfy his worldly ambitions, or to enter the priesthood.

In 1629 he married (Jane Danvers and in 1630 took holy orders) and  accepted the living of Bemerton, close to Salisbury and the cathedral music that he loved…(and) died in his parsonage in 1633. (At Bemerton, George Herbert preached and wrote poetry; helped rebuild the church out of his own funds; he cared deeply for his parishoners. He came to be known as “Holy Mr. Herbert” around the countryside in the three years before his death.)

St. Peter's

A number of the poems recorded in the early Williams manuscript allow for an exploration of how Herbert’s poetry developed. His parents’ tomb invites the poem on “Church Monuments”; his own death is the context for a discussion of his magnificent “Death, thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing”, a skeleton whose skull he re-imagines as the eggshells that “fledged souls left behind”. An account of the annual liturgical cycle makes space for his poetry on Christmas, the Passion and Easter.

….”Love bade me welcome” – is a recurrent touchstone from the first page, but every chapter is given its share of his finest poems.

Herbert is at once a master of simplicity and extraordinarily complex. Many of the difficulties for modern readers come from unfamiliarity with matters that Herbert’s contemporaries took for granted, and Drury is expert at summarising the basics needed for understanding each poem. His commentary assumes little advance knowledge, and he rarely omits any essential information that some readers might need (one instance is the image of human flesh as “but the glass, which holds the dust / That measures all our time”: an hourglass, not an unwashed beer glass). Biblical, liturgical and classical references are explained, unfamiliar words are glossed, the processes of alchemy described, and the difference between an iamb and a trochee spelled out. The last, indeed, proves especially important: the poems show an exceptionally subtle mastery of rhythm within simple metrical frameworks, and Drury will not let us overlook either (though his discussion of Latin metrics is a little odd). The Complete Poetry that Drury is now editing for Penguin Classics should fill in the gaps and provide yet more riches.

A few decades ago, some knowledge of Herbert’s poetry was a standard element of cultural literacy. His insistence on both inward and outward spirituality is scarcely fashionable now, though even atheist readers find him deeply attractive….Herbert writes of love and spiritual dryness, and can positively look forward to the Day of Judgment as a time for the reuniting of friends.

….The title comes from a recorded remark of his, that the memory of having helped a poor man with a fallen horse would supply him with a better “music at midnight” than the real thing that he made with his friends.

It isn’t easy to avoid hagiography in writing such a life (the earliest, Izaak Walton’s of 1670, for example), but Drury can at least let the poetry carry most of the weight. Ours is too cynical an age to believe in sanctity. Without ever saying so, this book is a reminder that it may be possible.

• Helen Cooper’s Shakespeare and the Medieval World is published by Arden Shakespeare.

See musical settings here.

And another recent posting regarding Herbert’s work/writings/pastoral style

George Herbert, the sacramental imagination and the catholic Anglican future

In the course of an excellent series reflecting on George Herbert, Mthr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes discusses George Herbert’s poem The Agony:

How can we measure the immeasurable? We can’t. The stock in trade questions of academic theology – what is sin, what is love, what did Jesus’ death accomplish – are not answered. We are simply presented with the image of Christ on the cross. And in doing so, Herbert is of course at his most profoundly theological. The poem’s construction itself communicates the fundamental Christian doctrine that God’s answer to all our questions is not words or theories, but to become incarnate as a human being and simply say: I am. Taste and see.

….”Who help one another see that which we do not readily see with our own eyes”.  The role of art and artist – and to be specific, on this day of Herbert’s commemoration, the role of poetry and poet – has a particular vocation in this regards.  Take Herbert’s Aaron.  What do we see when the priest at the altar?  We see frail – often very frail – flesh-and-blood, a bundle of contradictions and aspirations.  As for the priest, him- or herself, they are only too aware of this:

Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest :
Poor priest ! thus am I drest.

Herbert, however, helps us see what we are not seeing – the sacramentality of priesthood, the gift in frail flesh-and-blood:

 Only another head
I have another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest :
In Him I am well drest.

Christ is my only head,
My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me e’en dead ;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in Him new drest.

So holy in my Head,
Perfect and light in my dear Breast,
My doctrine tuned by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come, people ;  Aaron’s drest.

What of the act of penitence?  What do we see? A form of therapy? Mindfulness?  Introspection? Herbert in The Altar, quite dramatically, brings us before what we do not initially see, the sacramentality of penitence, of penitence as gift which makes new:

A broken ALTAR, Lord, thy servant reares,
Made of a heart, and cemented with teares:
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workmans tool hath touch’d the same.
A HEART alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy pow’r doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of  my hard  heart
Meets in this frame,
To praise thy Name;
That, if I chance to hold my peace,

These stones to praise thee may not cease.
O let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,
And sanctified this ALTAR to be thine.

Herbert’s gift of leading us to reflect upon and – to some extent – experience, to at least partially ‘taste and see’ the sacramental imagination was quite powerfully described by Threlfall-Holmes in a personal reference in the first of her articles on his poetry:

For Herbert, religion is never simply a set of dogmatic assertions, or a collection of cultural practices, as historical religion is sometimes caricatured. Nobody reading these poems can be left in any doubt as to Herbert’s emotional engagement with his subject matter. The question Herbert’s poetry raises is eternally contemporary. The poems don’t ask us “Is this true?” but “How do I feel about this?”

It is this question that slipped under my guard as a teenager. It was easy to dismiss the truth of the 20 impossible things that religion seemed to expect me to believe before breakfast. It was much harder to dismiss my own emotional reaction to these poems: the beauty, the yearning, the enticing danger. They left me with the sense that I was standing on a cliff, staring out to sea, hearing marvellous tales of lands beyond the horizon and wondering if they were, after all, just fairy tales or whether the intensity with which the tales were told was evidence that the teller had indeed seen a barely imagined kingdom.

Not every teenager or adult will read or respond to Herbert.  He does, however, show how it can be done, how the veil of the secular culture can be lifted in order that the glory and beauty of the Crucified and Risen One may be perceived, touched, tasted, felt: how secular postmoderns can be embraced by the sacramental imagination.

The 19th century catholic revival in Anglicanism was much less a product of the Tracts for the Times than it was the hymns of John Mason Neale and Christina Rossetti, the architecture of the Cambridge Camden Society, and the liturgical formation provided by Directorium Anglicanum. The future of catholic Anglicanism – our ability to engage in the new evangelisation – will be similarly dependent on whether we can nurture artists, poets, writers, musicians, singers, architects who can both enact and contribute to a liturgical culture and participate in a cultural engagement which brings the consumers and citizens of the 21st century to encounter and experience the Church’s sacramental imagination: the Word made flesh, wounded and crucified, risen and glorified, who calls us to participate in his Paschal Mystery.
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