George Herbert was born in April of 1593 to a wealthy and artistic family in Montgomery, Wales. Herbert attended Trinity College in Cambridge where he excelled in languages and music. His intentions were to become an Anglican priest but his aims were thwarted when King James called him into parliament. However, later in life (in his thirties) Herbert did take holy orders in the Church of England and became a rector of a little parish near Salisbury. For the rest of his days Herbert faithfully served as the rector of Fugglestone St. Peter. He died a month before his fortieth birthday of tuberculosis.
Why You Should Know Him:
What sets Herbert apart from others is not only his stately nose undergirded by a faithful mustache, but also his beautiful poetry. Herbert’s collection of poems entitled The Temple were given to Nicholas Ferrar instructing him to either use them for the “advantage of any dejected poor soul” or to burn them. Thankfully Ferrar chose the former.
Herbert also had a book of pithy sayings published after his death. One of these sayings is probably familiar to you: “His bark is worse than his bite”. But more than anything Herbert’s poems are what set him apart from others. Particularly cool are his “pattern poems” which take the shape of an object that the poem is about. Regardless of the style, though, Herbert’s poems were always gospel-centered and aimed at promoting the beauty and majesty of Christ.
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.
LORD, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poor :
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
Let me combine,
And feel this day thy victorie,
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
There are many more poems from Herbert that will nourish your soul. They are not only poetically brilliant but they also point to the fountain of life. We live in a world of blogs and “quick reading” I invite you to look through some of Herbert’s poems and just sit awhile. Read them a few times, they are profound and you will not catch everything on just a first glance.
You can read the works of Herbert for free here: The Works of George Herbert