Herbert’s poetry is varied in both subjects and style. For example, while “Church Monuments” encourages the reader to reflect on the reality of death, other poems celebrate the joys of life. In “The Flower,” the poet expresses his surprise when the Lord suddenly lifts his spirits after a season of darkness. “Who would have thought my shriveled heart could have recovered greenness?” he wondered. “These are thy wonders, Lord of love.”
George Herbert – Pastor and Poet
What would the English poet George Herbert have to say at the toppling of our monuments? Maybe something similar to what he said in 1633, while contemplating the monuments to the dead inside his church’s crypt. In the end, he concluded, the dust and earth to which our bodies return will “laugh at jet and marble put for signs.”
Eventually, all monuments will turn to dust like the bodies they represent. “What shall point out them,” asks the poet, “when they shall bow, and kneel, and fall down flat to kiss those heaps which now they have in trust?”
What matters is that we learn to reflect on this uncomfortable reality, “That thou mayst fit thyself against thy fall.”
Pastor at Heart
Born on 3 April 1593 at Montgomery, a small town in central-eastern Wales, Herbert is remembered as one of the greatest poets Great Britain has produced. His poems, which he wrote throughout his life, became known only after his death, when Herbert’s friend, the deacon Nicholas Ferrar, received a manuscript the poet had sent him during the last days of his life.
Herbert asked Ferrar to consider the volume, and publish it only if he thought “it may turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul.” If not, Ferrar could burn it, “for I and it are less than the least of God’s mercies.” Ferrar published the volume in 1633, and it has remained in print ever since.
Herbert’s name is often connected with Bemerton, a rural hamlet west of Salisbury, England, although he pastored the local church there only for the last three years of his life.