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AO Poems of George Herbert AmblesideOnline.org

AmblesideOnline Poems of George Herbert (1593-1633)

Born in Montgomery, Wales. George Herbert was educated at Cambridge, became a public orator, then ordained in 1630. He was rector in Bemerton, near Salisbury. He is known for his poetry and care of his parish.

Portrait of George Herbert
George Herbert at Bemerton
Picture of his church
Many of these poems are from his book The Temple

Define Metaphysical Conceit and look for examples in Herbert's poetry.

Poems Selected by Bonnie Buckingham.


01 Redemption

Having been tenant long to a rich Lord,
            Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
            And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancell th' old.

In heaven at his manour I him sought:
            They told me there, that he was lately gone
            About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.

I straight return'd, and knowing his great birth,
            Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
            In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts:
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth

            Of theeves and murderers: there I him espied,
            Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.

A parable of a tenant (man) seeking his landowner (God) to work out a better deal.


02 The Agonie

        Philosophers have measur'd mountains,
Fathom'd the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk'd with a staffe to heav'n, and traced fountains:
        But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sinne and Love.

        Who would know Sinne, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
        His skinne, his garments bloudie be.
Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruell food through ev'ry vein.

        Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the crosse a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
        If ever he did taste the like.
Love in that liquour sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine.

Sin and Love: who can fathom the depths of either one?


03 Joseph's Coat
[An illustration of the story of Joseph here]

Wounded I sing, tormented I indite,
Thrown down I fall into a bed, and rest:
Sorrow hath chang'd its note: such is his will
Who changeth all things, as him pleaseth best.
    For well he knows, if but one grief and smart
Among my many had his full career,
Sure it would carrie with it ev'n my heart,
And both would run until they found a biere
    To fetch the bodie;  both being due to grief.
But he hath spoil'd the race; and giv'n to anguish
One of Joyes coats, ticing it with relief
To linger in me, and together languish.
    I live to shew his power, who once did bring
    My joyes to weep, and now my griefs to sing.

The soul learns to rejoice because God's love is given as Jacob gifted his beloved son with a coat of many colors.


04 Love (III)

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
        If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
        Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the 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 marr'd 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.

God loves and welcomes sinful man.


05 Easter-Wings
[If you turn this poem on its side, it looks like wings! See how it appeared in its original book form here.]

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
    Though foolishly he lost the same,
        Decaying more and more,
            Till  he  became
                Most poor:

                With  thee
            O  let  me  rise
        As larks, harmoniously,
    And sing this day thy victories:
Then  shall  the  fall  further  the  flight  in  me.


My  tender  age  in  sorrow  did  beginne:
    And still with sicknesses and shame
        Thou didst so punish sinne,
            That  I  became
                Most thinne.

                With  thee
            Let me combine,
        And feel this day thy victorie,
    For,  if  I  imp  my  wing  on  thine,
Affliction  shall  advance  the  flight  in  me.

The shape itself shows a falling, then rising pattern, which illustrates the death/resurrection theme of Easter.


06 Colossians III. 3.
Our Life is Hid With Christ in God

My words and thoughts do both express this notion,
That LIFE hath with the sun a double motion.
The first IS straight, and our diurnal friend :
The other HID, and doth obliquely bend.
One life is wrapt IN flesh, and tends to earth ;
The other winds t'wards HIM whose happy birth
Taught me to live here so THAT still one eye
Should aim and shoot at that which IS on high—
Quitting with daily labour all MY pleasure,
To gain at harvest an eternal TREASURE.

Both life and the sun are alike in that both have dual natures: the sun both rises straight up and curves around the earth and sets (is hidden), and man is both bound to earth, but yearns for heaven.


07 The Elixir

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything,
To do it as for Thee.

Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into action;
But still to make Thee prepossest,
And give it his perfection.

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye,
Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav'n espy.

All may of Thee partake;
Nothing can be so mean
Which with his tincture (for Thy sake)
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th' action fine.

This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.

Like the chemist's "Philosopher's Stone" that would turn everything it touched to gold, the phrase (and attitude) "for Thy sake" makes every act we do a thing of beauty.


08 Discipline

Throw away thy rod,
Throw away thy wrath :
                 O my God,
Take the gentle path.

For my hearts desire
Unto thine is bent:
               I aspire
To a full consent.

Nor a word or look
I affect to own,
           But by book,
And thy book alone.

Though I fail, I weep:
Though I halt in pace,
                 Yet I creep
To the throne of grace.

Then let wrath remove;
Love will do the deed:
              For with love
Stonie hearts will bleed.

Love is swift of foot;
Love's a man of warre,
             And can shoot,
And can hit from farre.

Who can scape his bow?
That which wrought on thee,
              Brought thee low,
Needs must work on me.

Throw away thy rod;
Though man frailties hath,
                 Thou art God:
Throw away thy wrath.

Love is a more powerful tool of correction than punishment.


09 The Altar
[This poem looks like an altar; poem is displayed beautifully here. Note that "reare" means to raise up on end.]

A  broken   A L T A R,  Lord,  thy  servant  reares,
Made  of  a  heart,  and  cemented  with   teares:
    Whose  parts  are as  thy  hand did frame;
    No workmans tool hath touch'd the same.
                A    H E A R T     alone
                Is    such    a     stone,
                As      nothing      but
                Thy  pow'r doth  cut.
                Wherefore each part
                Of   my   hard   heart
                Meets  in  this  frame,
                To  praise thy  Name;
    That,   if   I   chance   to   hold   my   peace,
    These stones to praise thee may not cease.
O  let  thy   blessed   S A C  R  I  F  I C E   be  mine,
And    sanctifie   this   A  L  T  A  R   to   be   thine.

The heart is an altar, broken, but "cemented" with tears of brokenness which can bind/bond relationships as mortar binds stones. Psalm 51:17


10 Death

Death, thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing,
                   Nothing but bones,
           The sad effect of sadder grones;
Thy mouth was open, but thou couldst not sing.

For we consider'd thee as at some six
                    Or ten yeares hence,
             After the losse of life and sense,
Flesh being turn't to dust, and bones to sticks.

We lookt on this side of thee, shooting short;
                    Where we did finde
    The shells of fledge souls left behinde,
Dry dust, which sheds no tears, but may extort.

But since our Saviours death did put some bloud
                     Into thy face;
             Thou art grown fair and full of grace,
Much in request, must sought for as a good.

For we do now behold thee gay and glad,
                  As at dooms-day;
    When souls shall wear their new aray,
And all thy bones with beautie shall be clad.

Therefore we can go die as sleep, and trust
                   Half that we have
         Unto an honest faithfull grave;
Making our pillows either down, or dust.

Death from this side of heaven looks bleak and sad, but Christ's sacrifice has made death the beginning of a beautiful new life.


11 The Pulley

     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 dispersed 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."

As Zeus gave Pandora a box of gifts, leaving hope at the bottom, God gave mankind gifts, leaving out Rest, so that man's restlessness would make him seek God.


12 The Collar

I struck the board, and cried, "No more;
                        I will abroad!
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free, free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store.
               Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me blood, and not restore
What I have lost with cordial fruit?
               Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did dry it; there was corn
     Before my tears did drown it.
          Is the year only lost to me?
               Have I no bays to crown it,
No flowers, no garlands gay? All blasted?
                        All wasted?
Not so, my heart; but there is fruit,
               And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit and not. Forsake thy cage,
                        Thy rope of sands,
Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
               And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
               Away! take heed;
               I will abroad.
Call in thy death's-head there; tie up thy fears;
               He that forbears
               To suit and serve his need
               Deserves his load."
But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
               At every word,
Methought I heard one calling, Child!
               And I replied My Lord.

Rebelling against God's divine yoke/will (the "collar") is only cured by a gentle reminder of God's authority.