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Something Understood: Prayer & Other Poems by G. Herbert

 
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Alan Edward Roberts



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Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 10:15 am    Post subject: Something Understood: Prayer & Other Poems by G. Herbert Reply with quote

This is a sonnet by George Herbert, an Anglican priest and a young contemporary of Shakespeare.

I feel this comes close to expressing the inexpressible ...

Prayer

Prayer, the Church's banquet, Angels' age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days'-world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well dressed,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
The land of spices, something understood.


Last edited by Alan Edward Roberts on Wed Mar 05, 2014 5:53 pm; edited 5 times in total
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Alan Edward Roberts



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PostPosted: Thu May 10, 2012 7:21 pm    Post subject: Discovering Rest Reply with quote

Here is another beautiful poem by Herbert, on the discovery of rest, beyond all the restlessness:

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;
The beauty flow'd, 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.


Last edited by Alan Edward Roberts on Tue Oct 01, 2013 8:53 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Alan Edward Roberts



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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2013 8:33 am    Post subject: Something Understood - A Prayer List Reply with quote

February 27th features in the Anglican church as a day for remembering George Herbert, priest and poet.

This is Herbert's remarkable poem (and sonnet) Prayer, here set out in the form of a list, representing a succession of images:

Prayer

Prayer,
The Church's banquet,
Angels' age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase,
Heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;

Engine against th' Almighty,
Sinner's tower,
Reversed thunder,
Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days'-world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;

Softness,
And peace,
And joy,
And love,
And bliss,
Exalted manna,
Gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary,
Man well dressed,
The milky way,
The bird of Paradise,
Church bells beyond the stars heard,
The soul's blood,
The land of spices,
Something understood.


Last edited by Alan Edward Roberts on Tue Jul 30, 2013 8:02 am; edited 2 times in total
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Alan Edward Roberts



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PostPosted: Sat Jul 27, 2013 12:51 pm    Post subject: Hearing ... Reply with quote

Hearing, considering, a transfiguration or bliss of new being ...

Perhaps -

Herbert’s poem “Prayer” might be said to concern a process of reflection or contemplation as much as it does prayer (prayer taken in the simple petitionary, or “give me”, sense by which that undertaking is sometimes “understood”, or misunderstood):

In the first four lines of the poem the subject is identified as that which sounds out, in the sense of measuring out, the realms of both heaven and earth - the eternal breath returning from the everyday to eternity.

The second four lines depict almost the site of a battle - the field where everyday common sense is drawn to engage with, to wrestle with, to seek to overthrow, or undermine, what has been encountered (a music both heard and feared).

In the final six lines, there is a change or resolution to the process - we are not told how this takes place. The heart having begun its pilgrimage, the world having transposed in an hour, a new music has been taken to heart. Something has been understood; been taken into the being.
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Alan Edward Roberts



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PostPosted: Thu Sep 12, 2013 1:38 pm    Post subject: The Church Porch Reply with quote

George Herbert, priest and poet, died 380 years ago, on March 1st, 1633, at the age of 39.

His one book of English poetry, “The Temple”, was published later that same year.

The lengthy opening poem, “The Church Porch”, is very much the point of entry to the whole work.

“The Church Porch” consists of two sections, Perirrhanterium - itself consisting of 77 six-line verses - and Superluminare.

Perirrhanterium derives from a Greek verb meaning to sprinkle, and refers to the instrument used for sprinkling holy water upon the newly baptised.

Baptisms were traditionally conducted close to the entrance of the church proper.

Superluminare, signifying something preliminary or introductory, is a Greek-derived referring originally to the load-bearing stone above the threshold-door that separates the church porch from the church proper.

(Herbert was a Greek and Latin scholar, as were many if not most of the English-reading public of his day.)

But the rules for conduct set out in the verses of this attachment require no classical understanding in order to be heard - just a listening ear, to “Hearken unto a Verser”.

Here are the first seven verses of Perirrhanterium, a means so to speak for sprinkling seven drops of wisdom:

Perirrhanterium

Thou, whose sweet youth and early hopes enhance
Thy rate and price, and mark thee for a treasure;
Hearken unto a Verser, who may chance
Rhyme thee to good, and make a bait of pleasure.
A verse may find him, who a sermon flies,
And turn delight into a sacrifice.

Beware of lust: it doth pollute and foul
Whom God in Baptism washed with his own blood.
It blots thy lesson written in thy soul;
The holy lines cannot be understood.
How dare those eyes upon a Bible look,
Much less towards God, whose lust is all their book?

Abstain wholly, or wed. Thy bounteous Lord
Allows thee choice of paths: take no by-ways;
But gladly welcome what he doth afford;
Not grudging, that thy lust hath bounds and stays.
Continence hath his joy: weigh both; and so
If rottenness have more, let Heaven go.

If God had laid all common, certainly
Man would have been th’ incloser: but since now
God hath impaled us, on the contrary
Man breaks the fence, and every ground will plough.
O what were man, might he himself misplace!
Sure to be cross he would shift feet and face.

Drink not the third glass, which thou canst not tame,
When once it is within thee; but before
Mayst rule it, as thou list; and pour the shame,
Which it would pour on thee, upon the floor.
It is most just to throw that on the ground,
Which would throw me there, if I keep the round.

He that is drunken, may his mother kill
Big with his sister: he hath lost the reins,
Is outlawed by himself: all kind of ill
Did with his liquor slide into his veins.
The drunkard forfeits Man, and doth devest
All worldly right, save what he hath by beast.

Shall I, to please another’s wine-sprung mind,
Lose all mine own? God hath giv’n me a measure
Short of his can, and body; must I find
A pain in that, wherein he finds a pleasure?
Stay at the third glass: if thou lose thy hold,
Then thou art modest, and the wine grows bold.

For the full treatment, download the following attachment, as updated and presented in the form of a "prayer carpet" (June 2014) ...

[... more of George Herbert's prayerful poetry is to be found in a second attachment - in the post following this]



George Herbert - The Church Porch.pdf
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Last edited by Alan Edward Roberts on Sun Jun 22, 2014 12:51 pm; edited 6 times in total
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Alan Edward Roberts



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PostPosted: Mon Nov 04, 2013 9:39 am    Post subject: More Herbert Reply with quote

Here are six more (shorter) poems by George Herbert, in the form of a two-page handout. They are among the poems we have studied on Saturday mornings as part of the Discovering Poetry course at Mandeville Place.

I am not sure of the degree to which we have fully, or even to any great degree, “understood” the poems in a literary sense, but to adapt a line from Herbert - we have “hearkened unto a verser”; and benefited very much from that hearkening, or listening, as we have first shared in reading the verses “out loud”, and then shared among ourselves the responses of each of us to their sound and music, to the stories they tell, and to their use of the English language.

One of the poems is "The Pulley", already included in this topic or thread.

A second is "The Elixir", five verses of which also take the form of Hymn 456 ("Teach me, God and King") in the English Hymnal; one of those singable verses being ...

       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 complete poem:

The Elixir

Teach me, my God and King,
        In all things thee to see,
And what I do in any thing,
        To do it as for thee:

        Not rudely, as a beast,
        To run into an 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.


Another is the third of the poems that Herbert entitled "Love".
It is possibly the most well-known and well-loved of all Herbert's poems:

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 any thing.

"A guest," I answer'd, "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 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.


So, please find attached:
The Pulley”,
"The Elixir" and
Love”,
plus
Aaron”,
Artillery” and
Virtue”.



George Herbert - Six poems .pdf
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Last edited by Alan Edward Roberts on Tue May 13, 2014 1:30 pm; edited 7 times in total
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Alan Edward Roberts



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 06, 2013 1:05 pm    Post subject: Start the Week (Next Week) ... Reply with quote

On Radio 4 next Monday morning a special edition of Start the Week, hosted by Andrew Marr, will focus on the life and poetry of George Herbert.

The Radio 4 website provides this summary of what to expect from the programme:

"[Herbert's] English poetry was never published in his lifetime, but he hoped it would act as consolation 'of any dejected poor soul', and his latest biographer John Drury argues that with its focus on love over theology, his poetry still speaks to and for modern readers. The composer Sir John Tavener and the writer Jeanette Winterson discuss prayer in a secular age, and the power of music and words to soothe the soul".

The programme will be broadcast on Monday morning (9am), be re-broadcast on Monday evening (9.30pm) and then be available through the BBC iPlayer.
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 06, 2013 7:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Alan,
I hadn't looked at this thread before but I should have done. So that's where they got the title of the programme Something Understood. Herbert's Prayer contains some startling imagery. "Engine against th' Almighty", "Sinners tower" - is that the Tower of Babel? - "Reversed thunder" and the intriguing "A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear" Do you know what he means by all this? And thanks for the useful info. I'll try and catch that.
Pete
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Alan Edward Roberts



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 07, 2013 5:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pete,

Thank you for looking! ... and responding.

Yes it is where they got the title for "Something Understood"; what a great half-line for closing out a sonnet!

With you, I feel the central section, on which the sonnet turns - before again turning, or resolving itself, with a final volta - is quite startling (and possibly awakening) in its imagery:

Engine against th' Almighty,
Sinner's tower,
Reversed thunder,
Christ-side piercing spear,
The six-days'-world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear


Poet, priest and song-writer Malcolm Guite writes of this section of the poem ...

"This is an extraordinary clutch of images, all drawing on pictures of warfare and violence against God to describe part of our relation with him in prayer. Herbert achieves his effect by a sudden reversal of perspective ... epitomised here in the phrase 'reversed thunder'. We think of God thundering down on us, but in prayer we are at liberty to thunder back at him as indeed in desperation we sometimes do and perhaps those are our best prayers. The 'Engine against the Almighty' is almost certainly intended to conjure the image of a canon shot at God, since the other engine, the siege tower, is already covered in the phrase 'sinner's tower'."

Malcolm Guite's reflections on the poem can be found via the following link ...

http://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/george-herbert-and-the-insights-of-prayer/

I get the sense of the battlefield where the everyday, workaday self can - having opened a process or pilgrimage beyond itself - wrestle and engage with something more true (though initially and quite fiercely opposed); with that final transposition towards ... something understood. The poem is a succession of images, a single sentence without a main verb - and, I think potentially, as we listen and then let go of each defining phrase, a fearsome tune and invitation.

Alan
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Alan Edward Roberts



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PostPosted: Mon Nov 11, 2013 1:31 pm    Post subject: Start the Week Reply with quote

The iPlayer link to the excellent Start the Week programme centreing on George Herbert is attached ...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03gv7xm
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Sat Nov 23, 2013 9:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Alan.
I am wondering whether "the soul in paraphrase" might link to the Greek word periphrasis which means 'circumlocution'. This would be applicable to the ancient view of the soul as circular moving down from the eternal into the world of body, and circling back up in a kind of recursus. There is also Greek paraphrasis but there is hardly any information on it. Otherwise it must have a special meaning known only to a small circle of friends for I can find nothing else that makes any sense. Perhaps others might be able to help.
Pete
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Mark Stocks



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PostPosted: Sat Nov 23, 2013 4:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As long as there is.......................something

Understood

There is food for dot

In the heart



MAS
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Alan Edward Roberts



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PostPosted: Mon Nov 25, 2013 4:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pete

If paraphrase does link to periphrasis then the phrase “the soul in paraphrase” links in the sense of a circular or returning motion to the preceding line “God’s breath in man returning to his birth”. My (Penguin) copy of Herbert’s poetry just has the note equating paraphrase with “expansion, fullness”.

As a Greek and Latin scholar Herbert was often making links between the etymological and sound associations held by Greek, Latin and English words. In the Introduction to the Penguin edition of Herbert it is noted, for example, regarding the otherwise puzzling title given to his poem “The Pulley” that ...

"For example. Matthias Bauer has shown there is subtle wordplay in 'The Pulley' on the English 'rest', the Latin 'restis', the rope that is essential to the pulley, and 'ampullae', the plural of the Latin for 'jar' or 'flask' from which liquids (or graces) are poured, pronounced a little differently from our first declension 'eye' sound for the ending in the plural with an 'e' sound equalling 'ampulley'."

The writer of the introduction has earlier noted that "Herbert ... was always ... in the middle of a paradoxical universe ... It is not surprising ... that Herbert should be as a writer so intriguing a punster, finding in non-ironic wordplay a device to illustrate the fused unions of so many of the truths he believed in."

Alan


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Mark Stocks



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PostPosted: Mon Nov 25, 2013 8:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks All an may we continue in this lovely space

Wink
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