Tuesday, April 3, 2012

George Herbert on Prayer and the Pulley

George Herbert, poet and Anglican clergyman, was born on April 3, 1593. I enjoyed Marchette Chute's dual biography of Herbert and Robert Herrick, Two Gentlemen, published in 1959. Herbert sadly died young in 1633 after only three years of service in the Church of England--he had intended a clerical career while at Cambridge but King James I's interest and patronage led him to a secular career. In 1630, he was ordained; in 1633, he completed his book of poetry, The Temple. It was published posthumously.

Two of my favorites:

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, sinner's 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 stars heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices, something understood.


WHEN God at first made man,
Having a glasse of blessings standing by ;
Let us (said he) poure on him all we can :
Let the worlds riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.
So strength first made a way ;
Then beautie flow’d, then wisdome, honour, pleasure :
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone, of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottome lay.
For if I should (said he)
Bestow this jewell also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts in stead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature :
So both should losers be.
Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlesnesse :
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least,
If goodnesse leade him not, yet wearinesse
May tosse him to my breast.


  1. Stephanie, didn't he also write "Anagram" Army/Mary.
    "How like an army her name doth represent
    In whom the Lord of Hosts didst pitch his tent"

  2. woops, here it is:
    How well her name an Army doth present,
    In whom the Lord of hosts did pitch his tent!