Seventeenth century Britain produced a number of impressive figures, but few as creative and provocative as the poet George Herbert. Though he died young (only 39), he still produced an amazing body of work, and is considered one of the most influential of the “metaphysical poets,” or people who used poetry to craft their ideas about the essential nature of the universe. And Herbert’s poems continue to be widely read and studied today. In addition to his poetry, Herbert also served in Parliament for a couple of years and spent the last decade or so of his life as the rector of a small church near Salisbury.
George Herbert died on March 1, 1633. In honor of his amazing life and ministry, this Sunday’s prayer comes from him. It’s actually a sonnet that he wrote about prayer, filled with powerful and often conflicting images about what prayer is, ultimately concluding with the simple assertion that despite the mystery of prayer, it is “something understood.”
Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
…..Gods 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’ Almightie, sinners towre,
…..Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
…..The six-daies world transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear;
Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
…..Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
…..Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The Milkie way, the bird of Paradise,
…..Church-bels beyond the starres heard, the souls bloud,
…..The land of spices; something understood.