Monday, February 15, 2010

George Herbert

Born in 1593, George Herbert is a younger contemporary of Shakespeare (by about 29 years) and John Donne (by 21 years). He was a member of British parliament before being ordained as an Anglican priest. In the year of his death, when he was already quite ill, he sent a manuscript of his poetry to his friend Nicholas Ferrar instructing him to have them published if he thought they might “turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul”, but if not to burn them. Fortunately Ferrar did see their value and Herbert’s poetry collection The Temple was published shortly after his death in 1633. His poetry has been influential on such writers as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and C.S. Lewis.

I have recently spent some time meditating on the following Herbert poem:

The Elixer

--------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 an action;
But still to make thee prepossessed,
--------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.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about George Herbert: second post third post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: