Preface of a Saint
[Common of an Artist, Writer, or Composer]
[Common of a Theologian and Teacher]
[Common of a Pastor]
[For Artists and Writers]
Almighty God, who didst call thy servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a poet and a pastor of soulst: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to dedicate all our powers to thy service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
PRAYER (contemporary language):
Almighty God, you called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a poet and a pastor of souls: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to dedicate all our powers to your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This commemoration appears in Lesser Feasts & Fasts with revised lessons and collects.
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Last updated: 26 Dec. 2020
PRIEST AND POET (27 FEBRUARY
Herbert was born in 1593, a cousin of the Earl of Pembroke. His mother
was a friend of the poet John Donne. George attended Trinity College,
Cambridge, and became the Public Orator of the University, responsible
for giving speeches of welcome in Latin to famous visitors, and writing
letters of thanks, also in Latin, to acknowledge gifts of books for the
University Library. This brought him to the attention of King James I,
who granted him an annual allowance, and seemed likely to make him an
ambassador. However, in 1625 the king died, and George Herbert, who had
originally gone to college with the intention of becoming a priest, but
had his head turned by the prospect of a career at Court, determined anew
to seek ordination. In 1626 he was ordained, and became vicar and then
rector of the parish of Bemerton and neighboring Fugglestone, not far
He served faithfully as a parish priest, diligently
visiting his parishioners and bringing them the sacraments when they were
ill, and food and clothing when they were in want. He read Morning and
Evening Prayer daily in the church, encouraging the congregation to join
him when possible, and ringing the church bell before each service so
that those who could not come might hear it and pause in their work to
join their prayers with his. He used to go once a week to Salisbury to
hear Evening Prayer sung there in the cathedral. On one occasion he was
late because he had met a man whose horse had fallen with a heavy load,
and he stopped, took off his coat, and helped the man to unload the cart,
get the horse back on its feet, and then reload the cart. His spontaneous
generosity and good will won him the affection of his parishioners.
Today, however, he is remembered chiefly for
his book of poems, The
Temple, which he sent shortly before his death to his friend Nicholas
Ferrar, to publish if he thought them suitable. They were published
after Herbert's death, and have influenced the style of other poets, including
Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Several of them have been used as hymns,
in particular "Teach me, my God and King," and "Let all the world in every
corner sing." Another of his poems contains the lines:
Prayer, the Church's banquet,
God's breath in man returning to
The soul in paraphrase, the heart
The Christian plummet sounding
heav'n and earth.
Two more of his poems follow:
How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and
are Thy returns! Even
as the flowers in spring,
to which, besides their own demean,
the late-past frosts
tributes of pleasure bring.
snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
Who would have thought my shrivelled
could have recovered
greenness? It was gone
quite underground, as flowers depart
to see their
mother-root, when they have blown;
dead to the world, keep house unknown.
These are Thy wonders, Lord of
killing and quickening,
bringing down to hell
and up to heaven in an hour;
making a chiming of a
Thy word is all, if we could spell.
Oh, that I once past changing
fast in Thy paradise,
where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
offering at heaven,
growing and groaning thither;
nor doth my
my sins and I joining together.
But while I grow in a straight
still upwards bent, as
if heaven were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline.
What frost to that?
What pole is not the zone
and the least frown of Thine is shown?
And now in age I bud again;
after so many deaths I
love and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
and relish versing. O
my only Light,
that I am
on whom Thy tempests fell all night.
These are Thy wonders, Lord of
to make us see we are
but flowers that glide;
which when we once can find and
Thou hast a garden for
us where to bide.
forfeit their paradise by their
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
guilty of dust and
sin. But quicked-ey'd Love, Observing me grow
from my first entrance in, Drew near
to me, sweetly questioning,
if I lack'd any thing.
A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You should be he.
I the unkinde, engrateful? ah my deare,
I can not look on thee. Love
took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but
Truth Lord, but I hav marr'd them: let my shame
go where it doth
deserve. And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
Glory to God on High And on earth Peace good will toward
He also wrote a volume for parish clergy called A Priest to the Temple,
or the Country Parson.
He died on 1 March 1633, but is commemorated two days earlier, to avoid
conflict with other commemorations.
by James Kiefer
Several of his poems are also available online.