George Herbert was born in 1593 to an eminent Welsh family. His mother was a patron to distinguished literary figures such as John Donne, who dedicated his Holy Sonnets to her. Herbert’s father died when he was three, leaving his mother with ten children, all of whom she was determined to educate and raise as loyal Anglicans. After completing his education at Cambridge, Herbert was appointed reader in Rhetoric at Cambridge, and in 1620 he was elected public orator.
He later resigned as orator, married, and took holy orders in the Church of England. Herbert spent the rest of his life as rector in Bemerton near Salisbury. While there, he preached, wrote poetry, and helped rebuild the church out of his own funds.
Herbert’s practical manual to country parsons, A Priest to the Temple (1652), exhibits the intelligent devotion he showed to his parishoners. On his deathbed, he sent the manuscript of The Temple to his close friend, Nicholas Ferrar, asking him to publish the poems only if he thought they might do good to “any dejected poor soul.” He died of consumption in 1633 at the age of forty and the book was published in the same year. The Temple met with enormous popular acclaim—it had been reprinted twenty times by 1680.
by George Herbert
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.
“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank You for the pure, unaffected poetry of George Herbert and for his witness, both as a parish priest, grounded in one time and place, and as a poet, read through the centuries and around the globe. We confess that in the West, we have become so distracted with things of this world that we are losing the immediacy of relationship with You and the hunger to be shaped by Your Holy Word. We are losing the desire to pay homage to You in the reading and writing of holy poetry.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
We humbly request that a new generation of clergy in the Church of England will eschew the distractions of this world, delight to rest in You, and magnify Your holy name in poetry. Amen.