27 February 2014

George Herbert, poet and Anglican priest, commemorated by the Anglican Communion on 27 February

(3 April 1593 - 1 March 1633)

Some of the poems of George Herbert, born in Wales of English parents, are in the edition of the Breviary published by the bishops of Australia, England & Wales, Ireland and Scotland, the one I normally use. He took holy orders in the Anglican Church when already in his mid-30s and served as rector of St Andrew's Church, Bemerton, near Salisbury in the south-west of England. He is buried there. During his three years there he showed a special love for the poor. Wikipedia says, He was noted for unfailing care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill, and providing food and clothing for those in need.

St Andrew's Church, Bemerton [Wikipedia]

One of Herbert's poems in my breviary is Love, one I often read. Here it is read by Ralph Fiennes.

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, the 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 marred 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. 

John Constable, c.1825 [Web Gallery of Art]

Twice a day George Herbert conducted services in his parish church and twice a week he went to nearby St Mary's Cathedral, Salisbury, to take part in services there. Constable's painting captures the beauty of the church with its magnificent spire.

Herbert's poem King of Glory, King of Peace is well known as a hymn to the tune Gwalchmai.

Another poem of Herbert in the Breviary is Let all the world in every corner sing, here in a setting by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams: 

I have an idea that George Herbert, though an Anglican, would find himself a kindred spirit with Benedict XVI because of his sense of beauty and of liturgy and with Pope Francis because he was one of those shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.

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