Skip to content

12 September 2007

this afternoon i read poetry. all afternoon. working on the syllabus for a class i’ve never taught before. shakespeare. donne. marvel. finch. keats. bradstreet. wordsworth. shelley. coleridge. wheatley. emerson. behn. among others. (tomorrow i get to do the 19th and 20th centuries–yay!) i love it. and it intimidates the hell out of me. i fluctuate between excitement and feeling terrified. but mostly i’m excited.

i made a point of reading poems by george herbert today. i’ve always loved herbert, but before today it was an academic kind of love. it was the way he made the shape of his poems and their meanings coincide. i’ve long been fascinated by texts which use their physicality to create layers of meaning, so discovering herbert was one of the highlights of the rather boring early british lit survey course i took as an undergrad (the other highlight was my professor, who regularly wore suspenders with pigs on them and who did a spot-on thomas s. monson impression).

today i loved herbert for much more than his form. “prayer (I),” in which he describes prayer as “the soul in paraphrase,” “Christ-side-piercing spear,” “Heaven in ordinary,” and “something understood.” the image of man as “brittle crazy glass” given, through the grace of god, the “glorious and transcendent place, / To be a window” in god’s temple. herbert’s poetry is achingly beautiful–full of a spiritual insight so pointed it pierces through layers of obscuring fear and self-delusion.

i particularly loved “denial.” i’ll type it here, but you should follow the link to see it’s format (if only i could figure out how to format things better through blogger).


When my devotions could not pierce
Thy silent ears,
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse;
My breast was full of fears
And disorder.

My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasures go,
Some to the wars and thunder
Of alarms.

‘As good go anywhere,’ they say,
‘As to benumb
Both knees and heart, in crying night and day,
Come, come, my God, O come!
But no hearing.’

O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying! All day long
My heart was in my knee,
But no hearing.

Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
Untuned, unstrung:
My feeble spirit, unable to look right,
Like a nipped blossom, hung

O cheer and tune my heartless breast,
Defer no time;
That so thy favors granting my request,
They and my mind may chime,
And mend my rhyme.

so many times i’ve felt this. the frustration. the anger. the sorrow. of asking and seeking and begging. ‘but no hearing.’ but i always come back. because when i am ‘unable to look right,’ i know the only answer is to go to god and ask him to mend me. to ‘cheer and tune my heartless breast’ so that in granting that favor–the favor of re-tuning my spirit–i can align my will with his, rather than continuing to let my imperfect vision control what i seek.

herbert captures this perfectly. the anger that masks the anguish. and, when neither the anger nor the anguish gets me anywhere, the quiet turning back to god. and, god willing, for a time it’s peace not denial that colors my relationship with him.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 13 September 2007 1:19 pm

    I just did a cursory read and immediately thought of the recent revelations of Mother Teresa. When I’m not running out the door, I’ll sit down with this.

  2. 26 September 2007 2:21 pm

    Oh, are you the one who did the post at fMh? I loved that one. I have always loved George Herbert.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: