A George Herbert Poem about PRAYER

The Welsh Metaphysical poet George Herbert (3 April 1593 –-1 March 1633) is one of my favorite poets who deals with religious themes, my other favorites being Isaac Watts, John Donne, and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Herbert was a well-educated man who became an accomplished poet and noted orator. He served in parliament for two years, but in his late thirties gave up secular life to take holy orders in the Church of England. He spent the rest of his short life as the rector of a small parish, Fugglestone ST Peter with Bemerton St Andrew, in Wiltshire near Salisbury.

He was known as a faithful pastor to his flock, unfailing in his care of the sick, to whom he brought the sacrament, and to the poor, to whom he provided food and clothing. He himself was in poor health and died of tuberculosis just three years after his ordination. Here is one of his poems about prayer:

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 tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six daies world-transposing in an hour,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well dress,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls blood,
The land of spices, something understood.

(Herbert, George. The Poetical Works of George Herbert. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1857. 61-62.)

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