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Herbert's Pearl: I know the ways ... yet I love thee

 
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Alan Edward Roberts



Joined: 26 Nov 2008
Posts: 188
Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Tue Jul 29, 2014 5:35 pm    Post subject: Herbert's Pearl: I know the ways ... yet I love thee Reply with quote

This is the first verse of The Pearl, a four-verse poem by George Herbert, with a subtitle referring to chapter 13 of the Gospel according to St Matthew.

I know the ways of learning; both the head
And pipes that feed the press, and make it run;
What reason hath from nature borrowed,
Or of itself, like a good huswife, spun
In laws and policy; what the stars conspire,
What willing nature speaks, what forc'd by fire;
Both th'old discoveries and the new-found seas,
The stock and surplus, cause and history;
All these stand open, or I have the keys:
Yet I love thee.

The final line carries such weight, the phrase "I love thee" providing a balancing to the rest of the verse, that this and each of the other verses of the poem seem like little-songs, variations on the sonnet form which so entranced the imagination of the English Renaissance.

The second and third verses concern the poet's knowledge of the ways of honour and pleasure. I will post those on another day.


Last edited by Alan Edward Roberts on Sun Sep 28, 2014 8:26 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Alan Edward Roberts



Joined: 26 Nov 2008
Posts: 188
Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Sat Aug 23, 2014 6:47 am    Post subject: Twenty Hundred Years and More Reply with quote

Here, as promised, is the second verse:

I know the ways of honour; what maintains
The quick returns of courtesy and wit;
In vies of favours whether party gains
When glory swells the heart and moldeth it
To all expressions both of hand and eye,
Which on the world a true-love-knot may tie,
And bear the bundle wheresoe'er it goes;
How many drams of spirit there must be
To sell my life unto my friends or foes:
         Yet I love thee.

... and the third:

I know the ways of pleasure; the sweet strains
The lullings and the relishes of it;
The propositions of hot blood and brains;
What mirth and music mean; what love and wit
Have done these twenty hundred years and more;
I know the projects of unbridled store;
My stuff is flesh, not brass; my senses live,
And grumble oft that they have more in me
Than he that curbs them, being but one to five:
         Yet I love thee.

When I first read the poem I thought that “these twenty hundred years” must refer in some way back to the lifetime of Christ, Herbert being both poet and priest, and the whole poem being presented almost as a commentary on a chapter of Christian Gospel, and in particular of Jesus’s story of the pearl of great price (Matthew Chapter 13, verses 45-46, King James Version:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it”.)

And yet,
twenty hundred years and more back from the time of Herbert (1593-1633) goes back to the time not of Christ but of Plato (circa 425-350 BCE) and Socrates (circa 470-399 BCE). Western understanding of both love and wit owe much to the Platonic-Socratic tradition. And the reference to “projects of unbridled store” resonates with the story set out in Plato’s Phaudrus concerning naturally restrained (bridled) and unrestrained (unbridled) horses, and their effect upon their charioteer or soul (Phaudrus 246a-254d).

References to wings in the same Plato story prompt for me references to another Herbert poem, Easter Wings:
“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” (from verse one)
and
“With thee
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me” (from verse two).

Helen Wilcox, in her wonderful edition of “The English Poems of George Herbert”, links Easter Wings back to the Wings of Eros (or Love) in the Greek tradition (Wilcox, pages 143-146).

There is much delight in reading and in speaking the poems of George Herbert.

And, always, opportunities for further study and understanding of Herbert, poet, priest, musician, scholar and man.

(I will post the fourth and final verse - on another day)
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Alan Edward Roberts



Joined: 26 Nov 2008
Posts: 188
Location: Twickenham, London, UK

PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 10:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here is the full poem, together with the King James Bible reference ...

The Pearl
Matthew xiii

I know the ways of learning; both the head
And pipes that feed the press, and make it run;
What reason hath from nature borrowed,
Or of itself, like a good huswife, spun
In laws and policy; what the stars conspire,
What willing nature speaks, what forc'd by fire;
Both th'old discoveries and the new-found seas,
The stock and surplus, cause and history;
All these stand open, or I have the keys:
         Yet I love thee.

I know the ways of honour; what maintains
The quick returns of courtesy and wit;
In vies of favours whether party gains
When glory swells the heart and moldeth it
To all expressions both of hand and eye,
Which on the world a true-love-knot may tie,
And bear the bundle wheresoe'er it goes;
How many drams of spirit there must be
To sell my life unto my friends or foes:
         Yet I love thee.

I know the ways of pleasure; the sweet strains
The lullings and the relishes of it;
The propositions of hot blood and brains;
What mirth and music mean; what love and wit
Have done these twenty hundred years and more;
I know the projects of unbridled store;
My stuff is flesh, not brass; my senses live,
And grumble oft that they have more in me
Than he that curbs them, being but one to five:
         Yet I love thee.

I know all these and have them in my hand;
Therefore not seeled but with open eyes
I fly to thee, and fully understand
Both the main sale and the commodities;
And at what rate and price I have thy love,
With all the circumstances that may move.
Yet through the labyrinths, not my grovelling wit,
But thy silk twist let down from heav'n to me
Did both conduct and teach me how by it
         To climb to thee.

George Herbert

(Matthew 13: Verses 45-46:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.)
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Pol Paul
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2016 4:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank u!Very interesting!
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