Sunday, 3 April 2011

More poetry...

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.”

So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.

“For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead 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 restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”

'The Pulley' by George Herbert, from The Temple (1633)

I love that line 'a glass of blessings standing by'. I once had a seminary lecturer, Dr Maurice Schild (successor to Sasse's chair), who told us that there was something wrong with Lutheran pastors who did not read poetry (Dr Schild was known for his rhetoric!). Granted, poetry is not everyone's 'cup of tea', particularly in these prosaic times, but I think that what Maurice was getting at was that, apart from the pure enjoyment and stimulation that poetry provides, good poetry stretches our imagination and improves our use of language. Preachers can always benefit from that. But if that doesn't convince you to take up reading poetry, consider this: even the Holy Spirit chose to inspire men to write poetry!

From the Wiki entry on Herbert: George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633) was a Welsh born English poet, orator and Anglican priest. He took up his duties in Bemerton, a rural parish in Wiltshire, about 75 miles southwest of London in 1630. Here he preached and wrote poetry; also helping to rebuild the church out of his own funds.

In 1633 Herbert finished a collection of poems entitled The Temple, which imitates the architectural style of churches through both the meaning of the words and their visual layout. The themes of God and love are treated by Herbert as much as psychological forces as metaphysical phenomena.

Suffering from poor health, Herbert died of tuberculosis only three years after taking holy orders. On his deathbed, he reportedly gave the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar...telling him to publish the poems if he thought they might "turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul", and otherwise, to burn them.

Pic: George Herbert at Bemerton (Dyce, 1851).


Pr. Alex Klages said...

George Herbert is great. I'm also quite fond of TS Eliot, who really had a lot more poetry going in his poems than most of his would-be imitators.

And I hesitate only slightly to add that I had one of my poems published in a real, live literary journal what now seems like a lifetime ago.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

You're a man of fine taste in poetry, Alex!
Do you still write poems?
Eliot was actually the first serious poet I ever read, back in my teens. I spent months going through the references and allusions in 'The Waste Land'; it was an education in itself. You'll no doubt be aware of the connection between Herbert and Eliot? Little Gidding, that is.