Criticism by T. S. Eliot

Critic: T. S. Eliot
Source: in his George Herbert, Longmans, Green & Co., 1962, 36 p.
Criticism about: The Temple; "Prayer (I)"; "The Sacrifice"; "Affliction (i)"; "The Temper (i)"; "Whitsunday"; "The Flower"; "Obedience"; "The Quip"; "Redemption"; "Faith"; "Church-monuments"; "The Windows"; "Ungratefulnesse"; "Mortification"; "Good Friday"; "Sepulchre"; "Easter"; "Holy Baptisme I"; "Repentance"; "Sighs and Grones"; "Denial"; "Miserie"; "Praise II"; "Discipline"; "Love III"
Author Covered: George Herbert (1593-1633)



Table of Contents
Essay | Source Citation
[An American-born British writer, Eliot was one of the most influential poets and critics of the first half of the twentieth century and is best remembered as the author of The Waste Land (1922). In the following excerpt, he discusses Herbert's poetic technique, comparing Herbert's works with those of the English poet John Donne.]



The poems on which George Herbert's reputation is based are those constituting the collection called The Temple. About The Temple there are two points to be made. The first is that we cannot date the poems exactly. Some of them may be the product of careful re-writing. We cannot take them as being necessarily in chronological order: they have another order, that in which Herbert wished them to be read. The Temple is, in fact, a structure, and one which may have been worked over and elaborated, perhaps at intervals of time, before it reached its final form. We cannot judge Herbert, or savour fully his genius and his art, by any selection to be found in an anthology; we must study The Temple as a whole.

To understand Shakespeare we must acquaint ourselves with all of his plays; to understand Herbert we must acquaint ourselves with all of The Temple. Herbert is, of course, a much slighter poet than Shakespeare; nevertheless he may justly be called a major poet. Yet even in anthologies he has for the most part been underrated. In Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's Oxford Book of English Verse, which was for many years unchallenged in its representative character, George Herbert was allotted five pages--the same number as Bishop King and much less than Robert Herrick, the latter of whom, most critics of to-day would agree, is a poet of very much slighter gifts. For poetic range Herbert was commonly considered more limited than Donne; and for intensity he was compared unfavourably with Crashaw. This is the view even of Professor Grierson, to whom we are greatly indebted for his championship of Donne and those poets whose names are associated with that of Donne.

And here we must exercise caution in our interpretation of the phrase 'the school of Donne'. The present writer once contemplated writing a book under that title; and lately the title has been used by a distinguished younger critic for a study covering the same ground. The phrase is legitimate and useful to designate that generation of men younger than Donne whose work is obviously influenced by him, but we must not take it as implying that those poets who experienced his influence were for that reason lesser poets. (Professor Grierson, indeed, seems to consider Andrew Marvell the greatest, greater even than Donne.) That Herbert learned directly from Donne is self-evident. But to think of 'the school of Donne', otherwise 'the metaphysical poets', as Donne's inferiors, or to try to range them on a scale of greatness, would be to lose our way. What is important is to apprehend the particular virtue, the unique flavour of each one. Comparing them with any other group of poets at any other period, we observe the characteristics which they share: when we compare them with each other, their differences emerge clearly.

Let us compare a poem by Donne with a poem by Herbert; and as Herbert's poetry deals always with religious matter, we shall compare two religious sonnets. First, Donne:


Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you

As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee', and bend

Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.

I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due,

Labour to 'admit you, but Oh, to no end,

Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,

But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.

Yet dearely' I love you,' and would be loved

faine,

But am betroth'd unto your enemie:

Divorce mee, 'untie, or break that knot againe;

Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I

Except you 'enthrall mee, never shall be free,

Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

And here is George Herbert:

`Prayer (I)'


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, sinners 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 starres heard, the

souls bloud,

The land of spices; something understood.

The difference that I wish to emphasise is not that between the violence of Donne and the gentle imagery of Herbert, but rather a difference between the dominance of intellect over sensibility and the dominance of sensibility over intellect. Both men were highly intellectual, both men had very keen sensibility: but in Donne thought seems in control of feeling, and in Herbert feeling seems in control of thought. Both men were learned, both men were accustomed to preaching--but not to the same type of congregation. In Donne's religious verse, as in his sermons, there is much more of the orator: whereas Herbert, for all that he had been successful as Public Orator of Cambridge University, has a much more intimate tone of speech. We do not know what Herbert's sermons were like; but we can conjecture that in addressing his little congregation of rustics, all of whom he knew personally, and many of whom must have received both spiritual and material comfort from him and from his wife, he adopted a more homely style. Donne was accustomed to addressing large congregations (one is tempted to call them 'audiences') out of doors at Paul's Cross, Herbert only the local congregation of a village church.

The difference which I have in mind is indicated even by the last two lines of each sonnet. Donne's


... for I

Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chast, unless you ravish mee

is, in the best sense, wit. Herbert's


Church-bels beyond the starres heard, the souls

bloud,

The land of spices, something understood

is the kind of poetry which, like


magic casements, opening on the foam

Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn

may be called magical.

Of all the poets who may be said to belong to 'the school of Donne', Herbert is the only one whose whole source of inspiration was his religious faith. Most of the poetry upon which rests the reputation of Donne is love poetry, and his religious verse is of a later period in his life; his reputation, and his influence upon other poets would have been as great had he written no religious poetry at all. Richard Crashaw, who had himself frequented the community of Nicholas Ferrar at Little Gidding before his conversion to the Church of Rome, might still have been a notable poet had he written no religious verse--even though his devotional poems are his finest. Herbert, before becoming Rector of Bemerton, had never been a recluse: he had, in his short life, wide acquaintance in the great world, and he enjoyed a happy marriage. Yet it was only in the Faith, in hunger and thirst after godliness, in his self-questioning and his religious meditation, that he was inspired as a poet. If there is another example since his time of a poetic genius so dedicated to God, it is that of Gerard Hopkins. We are certainly justified in presuming that no other subject-matter than that to which he confined himself could have elicited great poetry from George Herbert. Whether we regard this as a limitation, or as the sign of solitary greatness, of a unique contribution to English poetry, will depend upon our sensibility to the themes of which he writes.

It would, however, be a gross error to assume that Herbert's poems are of value only for Christians--or, still more narrowly, only for members of his own church. For the practising Christian, it is true, they may be aids to devotion. When I claim a place for Herbert among those poets whose work every lover of English poetry should read and every student of English poetry should study, irrespective of religious belief or unbelief, I am not thinking primarily of the exquisite craftmanship, the extraordinary metrical virtuosity, or the verbal felicities, but of the content of the poems which make up The Temple. These poems form a record of spiritual struggle which should touch the feeling, and enlarge the understanding of those readers also who hold no religious belief and find themselves unmoved by religious emotion. Professor L. C. Knights, in an essay on George Herbert in his Explorations, both expresses this doubt on the part of the non-Christian and dispels it:

Even Dr. Hutchinson, whose superbly edited and annotated edition of the Complete Works is not likely to be superseded ... remarks that 'if to-day there is a less general sympathy with Herbert's religion, the beauty and sincerity of its expression are appreciated by those who do not share it'. True, but there is much more than the 'expression' that we appreciate, as I shall try to show. Herbert's poetry is an integral part of the great English tradition.

Whether the religious poems of Donne show greater profundity of thought, and greater intensity of passion, is a question which every reader will answer according to his own feelings. My point here is that The Temple is not to be regarded simply as a collection of poems, but (as I have said,) as a record of the spiritual struggles of a man of intellectual power and emotional intensity who gave much toil to perfecting his verses. As such, it should be a document of interest to all those who are curious to understand their fellow men; and as such, I regard it as a more important document than all of Donne's religious poems taken together.

On the other hand, I find Herbert to be closer in spirit to Donne than is any other of 'the school of Donne'. As the personal bond, through Lady Herbert, was much closer, this seems only natural. Other powerful literary influences formed the manner of Crashaw, the Roman Catholic convert: the Italian poet Marino and the Spanish poet Gongora, and, we are told [by Mario Praz, whose Seicentismo e marinismo in Inghilterra is essential for the study of Crashaw in particular], the Jesuit poets who wrote in Latin. Vaughan and Traherne were poets of mystical experience: each appears to have experienced early in life some mystical illumination which inspires his poetry. And the other important poet of the 'metaphysical' school, Andrew Marvell, is a master of secular and religious poetry equally. In my attempt to indicate the affinity of Herbert to Donne, and also the difference between them, I have spoken earlier of a 'balance' between the intellect and the sensibility. But equally well (for one has recourse to diverse and even mutually contradictory metaphors and images to express the inexpressible) we can speak of a 'fusion' of intellect and sensibility in different proportions. In the work of a later generation of 'metaphysicals'--notably Cleveland, Benlowes and Cowley--we encounter a kind of emotional drought, and a verbal ingenuity which, having no great depth of feeling to work upon, tends towards corruption of language, and merits the censure which Samuel Johnson applies indiscriminately to all the 'school of Donne'.

To return to the import of The Temple for all perceptive readers whether they share Herbert's faith or no. Professor Knights quotes with approval Dr. Hutchinson's description of the poems as


colloquies of the soul with God or

self-communings which seek to bring order into that

complex personality of his which he analyses so

unsparingly,

but goes on to make a qualification which seems to me very important. Dr. Hutchinson believes that Herbert's principal temptation was ambition. We need not deny that Herbert had been, like many other men, ambitious; we know that he had a hot temper; we know that he liked fine clothes and fine company, and would have been pleased by preferment at Court. But beside the struggle to abandon thought of the attractions offered to worldly ambition, Professor Knights finds 'a dejection of spirit that tended to make him regard his own life, the life he was actually leading, as worthless and unprofitable'. Mr. Knights attributes the cause partly to ill-health, but still more to a more ingrained distrust. It was perhaps distrust of himself, or fear of testing his powers among more confident men, that drove him to the shelter of an obscure parsonage. He had, Mr. Knights suggests, to rid himself of the torturing sense of frustration and impotence and accept the validity of his own experience. If this is so, Herbert's weakness became the source of his greatest power, for the result was The Temple.

I have called upon Mr. Knights' testimony in evidence that Herbert is not a poet whose work is significant only for Christian readers; that The Temple is not to be taken as simply a devotional handbook meditation for the faithful, but as the personal record of a man very conscious of weakness and failure, a man of intellect and sensibility who hungered and thirsted after righteousness. And that by its content, as well as because of its technical accomplishment, it is a work of importance for every lover of poetry. This is not, however, to suggest that it is unprofitable for us to study the text for closer understanding, to acquaint ourselves with the liturgy of the Church, with the traditional imagery of the Church, and identify the Biblical allusions. One long poem which has been subjected to close examination is 'The Sacrifice'. There are sixty-three stanzas of three lines each, sixty-one of which have the refrain 'Was ever grief like Mine?' I mention this poem, which is a very fine one, and not so familiar as are some of the shorter and more lyrical pieces, because it has been carefully studied by Professor William Empson in his Seven Types of Ambiguity, and by Miss Rosamund Tuve in her A Reading of George Herbert. The lines are to be taken as spoken by Christ upon the Cross. We need, of course, enough acquaintance with the New Testament to recognise references to the Passion. But we are also better prepared if we recognise the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the Reproaches in the Mass of the Presanctified which is celebrated on Good Friday.


Celebrant: I led thee forth out of Egypt,

drowning Pharaoh in the Red Sea: and thou hast

delivered me up unto the chief priests.

Deacon & Subdeacon: O my people, what have

I done unto thee, or wherein have I wearied

thee? Testify against me.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Empson and Miss Tuve differ in their interpretation of the following stanza:


O all ye who passe by, behold and see;

Man stole the fruit, but I must climbe the tree;

The tree of life to all, but onely me:

Was ever grief like mine?

Mr. Empson comments: 'He climbs the tree to repay what was stolen, as if he were putting the apple back'; and develops this explanation at some length. Upon this interpretation Miss Tuve observes rather tartly: 'All (Mr. Empson's) rabbits roll out of one small hat--the fact that Herbert uses the time-honoured 'climb' for the ascent of the Cross, and uses the word 'must', to indicate a far deeper necessity than that which faces a small boy under a big tree.' Certainly, the image of replacing the apple which has been plucked is too ludicrous to be entertained for a moment. It is obvious that Christ 'climbs' or is 'listed' up on the Cross in atonement for the sin of Adam and Eve; the verb 'climb' being used traditionally to indicate the voluntary nature of the sacrifice for the sins of the world. Herbert was, assuredly, familiar with the imagery used by the pre-Reformation Church. It is likely also that Donne, learned in the works of the scholastics, and also in the writings of such Roman theologians contemporary with himself as Cardinal Bellarmine, set a standard of scholarship which Herbert followed.

To cite such an instance as this, however, is not to suggest that the lover of poetry needs to prepare himself with theological and liturgical knowledge before approaching Herbert's poetry. That would be to put the cart before the horse. With the appreciation of Herbert's poems, as with all poetry, enjoyment is the beginning as well as the end. We must enjoy the poetry before we attempt to penetrate the poet's mind; we must enjoy it before we understand it, if the attempt to understand it is to be worth the trouble. We begin by enjoying poems, and lines in poems, which make an immediate impression; only gradually, as we familiarise ourselves with the whole work, do we appreciate The Temple as a coherent sequence of poems setting down the fluctuations of emotion between despair and bliss, between agitation and serenity, and the discipline of suffering which leads to peace of spirit.

The relation of enjoyment to belief--the question whether a poem has more to give us if we share the beliefs of its author, is one which has never been answered satisfactorily: the present writer has made some attempt to contribute to the solution of the problem, and remains dissatisfied with his attempts. But one thing is certain: that even if the reader enjoys a poem more fully when he shares the beliefs of the author, he will miss a great deal of possible enjoyment and of valuable experience if he does not seek the fullest understanding possible of poetry in reading which he must 'suspend his disbelief'. (The present writer is very thankful for having had the opportunity to study the Bhagavad Gita and the religious and philosophical beliefs, so different from his own, with which the Bhagavad Gita is informed.)

Some of the poems in The Temple express moods of anguish and sense of defeat or failure:


At first thou gav'st me milk and sweetnesses;

I had my wish and way:

My dayes were straw'd with flow'rs and

happinesse;

There was no moneth but May.

But with my yeares sorrow did twist and grow,

And made a partie unawares for wo....

Yet, though thou troublest me, I must be meek;

In weaknesse must be stout.

Well, I will change the service, and go seek

Some other master out.

Ah my deare God! though I am clean forgot,

Let me not love thee, if I love thee not.

The foregoing lines are from the first of five poems all of which bear the title 'Affliction'. In the first of two poems both of which are entitled 'The Temper', he speaks of his fluctuations of faith and feeling:


How should I praise thee, Lord! how should my

rymes

Gladly engrave thy love in steel,

If what my soul doth feel sometimes,

My soul might ever feel!

The great danger, for the poet who would write religious verse, is that of setting down what he would like to feel rather than be faithful to the expression of what he really feels. Of such pious insincerity Herbert is never guilty. We need not look too narrowly for a steady progress in Herbert's religious life, in an attempt to discover a chronological order. He falls, and rises again. Also, he was accustomed to working over his poems; they may have circulated in manuscript among his intimates during his lifetime. What we can confidently believe is that every poem in the book is true to the poet's experience. In some poems there is a more joyous note, as in 'Whitsunday':


Listen sweet Dove unto my song,

And spread thy golden wings in me;

Hatching my tender heart so long,

Till it get wing, and flie away with thee....

Lord, though we change, thou art the same;

The same sweet God of love and light:

Restore this day, for thy great name,

Unto his ancient and miraculous right.

In 'The Flower' we hear the note of serenity, almost of beatitude, and of thankfulness for God's blessings:


How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean

Are thy returns! ev'n as the flowers in spring;

To which, besides their own demean,

The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.

Grief melts away

Like snow in May,

As if there were no such cold thing.

.... .

And now in age I bud again,

After so many deaths I live and write;

I once more smell the dew and rain,

And relish versing: O my onely light,

It cannot be

That I am he

On whom thy tempests fell all night.

I cannot resist the thought that in this last stanza--itself a miracle of phrasing--the imagery, so apposite to express the achievement of faith which it records, is taken from the experience of the man of delicate physical health who had known much illness. It is on this note of joy in convalescence of the spirit in surrender to God, that the life of discipline of this haughty and irascible Herbert finds conclusion: In His will is our peace.

Of all the 'school of Donne' Herbert is the closest to the old Master. Two other fine poets of the group might just as well be said to belong to the 'school of Herbert'. The debt of Vaughan to Herbert can be shown by quotation; Herbert's most recent and authoritative editor, Dr. F. E. Hutchinson, says: 'there is no example in English literature of one poet adopting another poet's work so extensively.' As for Crashaw, he undoubtedly admired Herbert. Nevertheless, in spite of a continuity of influence and inspiration, we must remember that these four poets, who form a constellation of religious genius unparalleled in English poetry, are all highly individual, and very different from each other.

The resemblances and differences between Donne and Herbert are peculiarly fascinating. I have suggested earlier that the difference between the poetry of Donne and Herbert shows some parallel to the difference between their careers in the Church. Donne the Dean of St. Paul's, whose sermons drew crowds in the City of London; Herbert the shepherd of a little flock of rustics, to whom he laboured to explain the meaning of the rites of the Church, the significance of Holy Days, in language that they could understand. There are, however, lines which might have come from either, where we seem to hear the same voice--Herbert echoing the idiom or reflecting the imagery of Donne. There is at least one poem of Herbert's in which he plays with extended metaphor in the manner of Donne. It is 'Obedience' where he uses legal terms almost throughout:


My God, if writings may

Convey a Lordship any way

Whither the buyer and the seller please;

Let it not thee displease,

If this poore paper do as much as they.

.... .

He that will passe his land,

As I have mine, may set his hand

And heart unto this Deed, when he hath read;

And make the purchase spread

To both our goods, if he to it will stand.

Such elaboration is not typical of Herbert. But there is wit like that of Donne in 'The Quip'. One feels obliged to quote the whole poem:


The merrie world did on a day

With his train-bands and mates agree

To meet together, where I lay,

And all in sport to geere at me.

First, Beautie crept into a rose,

Which when I pluckt not, Sir, said she,

Tell me, I pray, Whose hands are those?

But thou shalt answer, Lord, for me.

Then Money came, and chinking still,

What tune is this, poore man? said he:

I heard in Musick you had skill.

But thou shalt answer, Lord, for me.

Then came brave Glorie puffing by

In silks that whistled, who but he?

He scarce allow'd me half an eie.

But thou shalt answer, Lord, for me.

Then came quick Wit and Conversation,

And he would needs a comfort be,

And, to be short, make an Oration.

But thou shalt answer, Lord, for me.

Yet when the houre of thy designe

To answer these fine things shall come;

Speak not at large; say, I am thine:

And then they have their answer home.

Professor Knights observes very shrewdly: 'the personifications here have nothing in common with Spenser's allegorical figures or with the capitalised abstractions of the eighteenth century: "brave Glorie puffing by in silks that whistled" might have come straight from The Pilgrim's Progress'. How audible are these silks 'that whistled'! 'Puffing' is equally apt: the same participle is used, to produce another but equally striking effect, elsewhere:


Sometimes Death, puffing at the doore,

Blows all the dust about the floore.

('The Church Floore')

Herbert is a master of the simple everyday word in the right place, and charges it with concentrated meaning, as in 'Redemption', one of the poems known to all readers of anthologies:


Having been tenant long to a rich Lord,

Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,

And make a suit unto him, to afford

A new small-rented lease, and cancell th'old.

In heaven at his manour I him sought:

They told me there, that he was lately gone

About some land, which he had dearly bought

Long since on earth, to take possession.

I straight return'd, and knowing his great birth,

Sought him accordingly in great resorts;

In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts:

At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth

Of theeves and murderers: there I him espied,

Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, &

died.

The phrase 'ragged noise and mirth' gives us, in four words, the picture of the scene to which Herbert wishes to introduce us.

There are many lines which remind us of Donne:


What though my bodie runne to dust?

Faith cleaves unto it, counting evr'y grain

With an exact and most particular trust,

Reserving all for flesh again.

('Faith')


My God, what is a heart?

Silver, or gold, or precious stone,

Or starre, or rainbow, or a part

Of all these things, or all of them in one?

('Mattens')


... learn here thy stemme

And true descent; that when thou shalt grow fat,

And wanton in thy cravings, thou mayst know,

That flesh is but the glasse, which holds the dust

That measures all our time; which also shall

Be crumbled into dust....

('Church-monuments')


Lord, how can man preach thy eternall word?

He is a brittle crazie glasse: ...

('The Windows')


My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,

Did flie asunder: ...

('Deniall')

Herbert must have learned from Donne the cunning use of both the learned and the common word, to give the sudden shock of surprise and delight.


But man is close, reserv'd, and dark to thee:

When thou demandest but a heart,

He cavils instantly.

In his poore cabinet of bone

Sinnes have their box apart,

Defrauding thee, who gavest two for one.

('Ungratefulnesse')


The fleet Astronomer can bore,

And thred the spheres with his quick-piercing

minde:

He views their stations, walks from doore to

doore,

Surveys, as if he had design'd

To make a purchase there: he sees their dances,

And knoweth long before

Both their full-ey'd aspects, and secret glances.

('Vanitie')


My thoughts are all a case of knives, ...

('Affliction IV')

The following lines are very reminiscent of Donne:


How soon doth man decay!

When clothes are taken from a chest of sweets

To swaddle infants, whose young breath

Scarce knows the way;

Those clouts are little winding sheets,

Which do consigne and send them unto death.

('Mortification')

Here and there one can believe that Herbert has unconsciously used a word, or a rhythm of Donne, in a very different context from that of the original, as perhaps in the first line of 'The Discharge':

Busie enquiring heart, what wouldst thou know?

Donne begins 'The Sunne Rising' with the line

Busie old foole, unruly Sunne ...

If Herbert's line be an echo and not a mere coincidence--the reader must form his own opinion--it is all the more interesting because of the difference in subject matter between the two poems. If Herbert, in writing a poem of religious mortification, could echo a poem of Donne which is an aubade of the lover's complaint that day should come so soon, it suggests that the literary influence of the elder man upon the younger was profound indeed.

Herbert's metrical forms, however, are both original and varied. To have invented and perfected so many variations in the form of lyrical verse is evidence of native genius, hard work and a passion for perfection. Two of his poems are such as would be considered, if written by a poet today, merely elegant trifles: 'The Altar' and 'Easter Wings'. In each, there is a disposition of longer and shorter lines so printed that the poem has the shape, the one of an altar and the other of a pair of wings. Such a diversion, if employed frequently, would be tedious, distracting and trying to the eyesight and we must be glad that Herbert did not make further use of these devices: yet it is evidence of Herbert's care for workmanship, his restless exploration of variety, and of a kind of gaiety of spirit, a joy in composition which engages our delighted sympathy. The exquisite variations of form in the other poems of The Temple show a resourcefulness of invention which seems inexhaustible, and for which I know no parallel in English poetry. Here, we can only quote a stanza from each of a brief selection to suggest the astonishing variety:


O my chief good,

How shall I measure out thy bloud?

How shall I count what thee befell,

And each grief tell?

('Good Friday')


O blessed bodie! Whither are thou thrown?

No lodging for thee, but a cold hard stone?

So many hearts on earth, and yet not one

Receive thee?

('Sepulchre')

Poems in such measures as these, and more obviously 'The Sacrifice', which we have quoted earlier, seem to indicate an ear trained by the music of liturgy.


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 calcined thee to dust,

His life may make thee gold, and much more,

just.

('Easter')

The slow movement of the last line quoted above has something of the movements of the exquisite line which ends Donne's 'Nocturnall upon S. Lucies Day':

Both the yeares, and the dayes deep midnight is.

Somewhat similar to the movement of 'Good Friday' (quoted above) is:


Since, Lord, to thee

A narrow way and little gate

Is all the passage, on my infancie

Thou didst lay hold, and antedate

My faith in me.

('Holy Baptisme I')

Close enough to the form of 'Holy Baptisme' for its difference to be all the more striking is:


Lord, I confesse my sinne is great;

Great is my sinne. Oh! gently treat

With thy quick flow'r, thy momentarie bloom;

Whose life still pressing

Is one undressing,

A steadie aiming at a tombe.

('Repentance')

The next question has a solemn liturgical movement suited to the subject-matter and the title:


O Do not use me

After my sinnes! look not on my desert,

But on thy glorie! then thou wilt reform

And not refuse me: for thou onely art

The mightie God, but I a sillie worm;

O do not bruise me!

('Sighs and Grones')

Herbert knows the effect of denying a rhyme where it is expected:


When my devotions could not pierce

Thy silent eares;

Then was my heart broken as was my verse:

My breast was full of fears

And disorder:

('Deniall')

The roughness of metre of the line

Then was my heart broken, as was my verse

is exactly what is wanted to convey the meaning of the words. The following stanza has an apparent artlessness and conversational informality which only a great artist could achieve:


Lord, let the Angels praise thy name.

Man is a foolish thing, a foolish thing,

Folly and Sinne play all his game.

His house still burns, and yet he still doth sing,

Man is but grasse,

He knows it, fill the glasse.

('Miserie')

The next poem to be quoted is one of several poems of Herbert which, while being, like all the rest of his work, personal, have been set to music and sung as hymns:


King of Glorie, King of Peace,

I will love thee:

And that love may never cease,

I will move thee.

('Praise II')

The same masterly simplicity is visible in:


Throw away thy rod,

Throw away thy wrath:

O my God,

Take the gentle path.

('Discipline')

I wish to end by giving in full the poem which, significantly, I think, ends The Temple. It is named 'Love III', and indicates the serenity finally attained by this proud and humble man:


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.





Source Citation: Eliot, T. S., in his George Herbert, Longmans, Green & Co., 1962, 36 p.

   
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