George Herbert on his Feast Day—The Thanksgiving

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Oh King of grief! (a title strange, yet true,
To thee of all kings only due)
Oh King of wounds! how shall I grieve for thee,
Who in all grief preventest me?
Shall I weep blood? why thou has wept such store
That all thy body was one door.
Shall I be scourged, flouted, boxed, sold?
'Tis but to tell the tale is told.
'My God, my God, why dost thou part from me? '
Was such a grief as cannot be.

But how then shall I imitate thee, and
Copy thy fair, though bloody hand?
Surely I will revenge me on thy love,
And try who shall victorious prove.
If thou dost give me wealth, I will restore
All back unto thee by the poor.
If thou dost give me honour, men shall see,
The honour doth belong to thee.
I will not marry; or, if she be mine,
She and her children shall be thine.
My bosom friend, if he blaspheme thy name,
I will tear thence his love and fame.
One half of me being gone, the rest I give
Unto some Chapel, die or live.
As for thy passion - But of that anon,
When with the other I have done.
For thy predestination I'll contrive,
That three years hence, if I survive,
I'll build a spittle, or mend common ways,
But mend mine own without delays.
Then I will use the works of thy creation,
As if I us'd them but for fashion.
The world and I will quarrel; and the year
Shall not perceive, that I am here.
My music shall find thee, and ev'ry string
Shall have his attribute to sing;
That all together may accord in thee,
And prove one God, one harmony.
If thou shalt give me wit, it shall appear;
If thou hast giv'n it me, 'tis here.
Nay, I will read thy book, and never move
Till I have found therein thy love;
Thy art of love, which I'll turn back on thee,
O my dear Saviour, Victory!
Then for thy passion - I will do for that -
Alas, my God, I know not what.

--George Herbert (1593-1633)

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Culture-WatchHistoryPoetry & Literature* International News & CommentaryEngland / UK

3 Comments
Posted February 27, 2013 at 11:25 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Thanks for selecting this sample of Herbert’s marvelous poetry, Kendall.  In the midst of our long, bitter Anglican Civil War, it’s important to remember what makes Anglicanism worth fighting for and what has made it great, or at least unique among Christian traditions.  In the heat of battle, we need to try to keep in mind, just what is it in our heritage that we are fighting to preserve, or recover, or build on?

There are many among us who revere the English reformers, and wish to uphold the reformation principles enshrined in the 39 Articles and the Book of Homilies, principles that were embodied in the lives of brave early leaders like Hugh Latimer, Nicholaus Ridley, and John Jewel, etc.  Others of us, myself included, look more to the later Caroline Divines as representing Anglicanism at its best, i.e., we see Anglicanism as being more of a Protestant-Catholic hybrid than merely being the English form of Protestantism.

The Puritan movement in England produced two immortal literary works of genius in the mid 17th century:  John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Now admittedly, Bunyan was a Baptist, and Milton a Congregationalist, so that neither was an Anglican, but both of these great writers were expressing the same basic theological stance as the Puritan wing of the CoE.

In contrast to Bunyan and Milton stand the two greatest Anglican poets of the same era, John Donne and George Herbert.  In both cases, even the most casual reader can detect a different spirit at work and coming to expressing in those two priests.  Now granted, neither man produced a great epic that could rival Bunyan and Milton, but both Donne and Herbert produced a large body of superb religious poetry, in which the Anglican “Via Media” spirit is distilled and enshrined.  John Donne enjoyed well deserved fame as a preacher and he remained humble despite his very public profile as Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  But George Herbert only became famous posthumously, since he deliberately forsook a public life and sought obscurity as a lowly parish priest in a small village.  Both men were far more concerned about what God thought of them than what men did.

And so, on this his feast day, it is for his godliness even more than for his splendid poetic output, that I thank God for the faithful life and witness of that remarkable poet parson, George Herbert.

David Handy+

February 28, 11:22 am | [comment link]
2. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Oops, I meant “coming to expression” above.  Obviously, I’m no poet or wordsmith like Herbert.

But this gives me the chance to add a further thought, for those few people who pay any atention to saint’s day threads like this one.  Like the ancient Greeks, classical Anglicanism, as represented by Carolline Divines like Herbert, Donne, and Lancelot Andrewes, cherished three great loves or cultural ideals: the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.  The great tragedy of our time is that we Anglicans can no longer agree on what is theologically true (nor on what constitutes ‘core doctrine”), or on what is ethically good.  The only thing left holding us together is a certain refined aethetic sense of what is beautiful.  Think the eloquent cadences of Cranmer’s liturgy, the matchless rhythm of the King James Bible, and the poetic genius of Shakespeare (or Donne, Herbert, etc.).

Alas, once the True and the Good (in the sense of the noble and virtuous) have been thrown overboard or are subject to endless dispute, the Beautiful isn’t strong enough glue to hold a Church together.  There is something distinctively Anglican in our deep appreciation for beauty as a chief value and gift from God.  Think of Choral Evensong, e.g., as it is still done daily, or at least weekly, in English cathedrals or Oxbridge chapels.  What is more Anglican than that?

We often start the Daily Office with the call of the Psalmist ringing in our ears or memories:  “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!”  But I think we often fail to consider that this familiar biblical refrain can carry a double meaning.  Yes, there is something beautiful about holiness, about a holy life well lived, like George Herbert’s.  But his poetry also reminds us that there is something holy about beauty as well.  And we Anglicans have always had a special fondness for the skillful use of beautfily language.

But more than that is needed for a religious tradition to survive and thrive over time.  Herbert was just as devoted to the True and the Good as he was to the Beautiful.  And that is another reason why he is a worthy example to be followed.

David Handy+

February 28, 11:49 am | [comment link]
3. evan miller wrote:

Thanks Fr. Handy,
Beautifully said.  I share your sentiments wholeheartedly.  Have you ever read the philosopher Roger Scruton on beauty?  Or seen the TV piece he did on it?  Marvelous stuff.

March 1, 1:52 pm | [comment link]
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