George Herbert  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Herbert was born in 1593 and became University Orator at Cambridge. He was quite ambitious and hoped to parlay this position into a brilliant career at court. He was elected to Parliament in 1624 but nothing much came of that. Within a couple of years James I and two of George's most influential patrons all died, and public life lost a lot of its allure. He decided to act on a long-suppressed vocation to Holy Orders. He became a priest in 1630 and was made vicar of Bemerton. He threw himself into the priesthood with total abandon, and soon earned his parishioners' sobriquet "Holy Mr Herbert." Alas, this only lasted until 1633, when he died at the age of 39.

George left behind a body of poetry(his chief claim to fame in the secular world) as well as A Priest to the Temple; or, The Country Parson, a sort of how-to-do-it for parish life in 17th century England. I've chosen a short bit from the latter (it fits me too well), in addition to one of his best poems, set to music by Vaughn Williams in his Five Mystical Songs. If you haven't heard this piece yet, do so by all means.

Scholar's Temptation

Curiosity in prying into high speculative and unprofitable questions is another great stumbling block to the holiness of scholars.

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything

"A guest," I answered, "worthy to be here."
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?'

"Truth, Lord, but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.