Posted by: duncandrews | July 9, 2009

By George! The humility, depth, love and wit of George Herbert

George Herbert

George Herbert, by Philocrites on Flickr

“Christians are wrong, but all the rest are bores”
– C. S. Lewis, on reading George Herbert before he became a Christian.

I first came across George Herbert in high school through studying the metaphysical poets. I read this poem and was hooked. I remember I didn’t really get the poem, but I still felt something of its weight and beauty:

“My stuffe is flesh, not brasse; my senses live,
And grumble oft, that they have more in me
Then he that curbs them, being but one to five :
Yet I love thee.”

I find that when I read someone’s writing, more than ideas and plots and characters I get an impression of the author. This impression seems to stick with me in a more significant way than the specifics of the book. Maybe that’s just because I have a bad book memory – I always struggle to remember the details, even just hours after I’ve read something!

Anyway, the impression this poem left me with was of someone who was deep in his love and yearning for God, and also was so real, so earthy and ready to admit his weakness, so humble. He was someone who knew the ways of learning and honour and pleasure; who didn’t cling to God in ignorance of these things but fully aware of them:

“I know all these, and have them in my hand :
Therefore not sealed, but with open eyes
I flie to thee, and fully understand
Both the main sale, and the commodities ;
And at what rate and price I have thy love ;
With all the circumstances that may move :
Yet through these labyrinths, not my groveling wit,
But thy silk twist let down from heav’n to me,
Did both conduct and teach me, how by it
To climbe to thee.”

Another reason I love Herbert is his moral and practical conviction. His LONG poem The Church-Porch is brilliant in its wit and wise advice:

The way to make thy son rich is to fill
His mind with rest, before his trunk with riches:
For wealth without contentment climbs a hill
To feel those tempests, which fly over ditches.
But if thy son can make ten pound his measure
Then all thou addest may be called his treasure.

Or this, so moving and insightful:

Be calm in arguing: for fierceness makes
Error a fault, and truth discourtesy.
Why should I feel another man’s mistakes
More than his sickness or poverty?
In love I should: but anger is not love,
Nor wisdom neither: therefore gently move.

George Herbert's parish church

George Herbert's parish church, by Philocrites on Flickr

Herbert’s output was huge, and there’s much more to say – but instead of filling up more post-space, go and read for yourself! If you’re ok with reading a computer screen, go here. Otherwise if you’re a bibliophile like me, get to a good 2nd hand bookshop and find some Herbert to fill up your soul.

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Responses

  1. Thanks Duncan, I went and bought some Herbert yesterday.

  2. Excellent!

    Since you’re blogging on it, check out Church Porch number 72-74 for his take on preaching…

    Here’s a taste:
    ‘The worst speak something good: if all want sense,
    God takes a text, and preacheth patience.’

    Actually, I just realised he’s not talking about preaching but about how we listen to preachers. That doesn’t excuse bad preaching!


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