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September 18th, 2007 East Harwich, Massachusetts From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

George Herbert was born on April 3, 1593, the fifth son of an eminent Welsh family. His mother, Magdalen Newport, held great patronage 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. Herbert left for Westminster School at age ten, and went on to become one of three to win scholarships to Trinity College, Cambridge.

Herbert received two degrees (a B.A. in 1613 and an M.A. in 1616) and was elected a major fellow of Trinity. Two years after his college graduation, he was appointed reader in Rhetoric at Cambridge, and in 1620 he was elected public orator—a post wherein Herbert was called upon to represent Cambridge at public occasions and that he described as "the finest place in the university." In 1624 and 1625 Herbert was elected as a representative to Parliament. He resigned as orator in 1627, married Jane Danvers in 1629, and took holy orders in the Church of England in 1630. 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.

Herbert's poems have been characterized by a deep religious devotion, linguistic precision, metrical agility, and ingenious use of conceit. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote of Herbert's diction that "Nothing can be more pure, manly, or unaffected," and he is ranked with Donne as one of the great Metaphysical poets.

The Pulley

George Herbert, 1593 - 1633
   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 disperséd lie, 
   Contract into a span."

   So strength first made a way; 
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honor, 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." 

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

George Herbert

George Herbert

George Herbert was born on April 3, 1593, the fifth son of

by this poet

poem
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,
poem
I struck the board, and cry'd, No more.
                 I will abroad.
     What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
     Loose as the winde, as large as store.
        Shall I be still in suit?
     Have I no harvest but a thorn
     To let me bloud, and not restore
poem
Love built a stately house, where Fortune came,
And spinning fancies, she was heard to say
That her fine cobwebs did support the frame,
Whereas they were supported by the same;
But Wisdom quickly swept them all away.

The Pleasure came, who, liking not the fashion,
Began to make balconies, terraces,
Till she had