George Herbert (1593–1633) was a priest who composed devotional poems as a hobby. As he approached his early death (age 39), he collected his poems and submitted them for publication.
That collection, The Temple, went through eight editions in the next few decades, which speaks to its popularity in 17th century England. In a tumultuous era, his voice—calm, assured, embracing doubt as a necessary part of devotion—was a beloved one.
“Who would have thought my shriveled heart / Could have recovered greenness?” he asks in “The Flower.” He adds, “It was gone / Quite underground.” The poem, after the jump:
The FlowerHow fresh, oh Lord, how sweet and cleanAre thy returns! even as the flowers in spring;To which, besides their own demean,The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.Grief melts awayLike snow in May,As if there were no such cold thing.
Who would have thought my shriveled heartCould have recovered greenness? It was goneQuite underground; as flowers departTo see their mother-root, when they have blown,Where they togetherAll the hard weather,Dead to the world, keep house unknown.
These are thy wonders, Lord of power,Killing and quickening, bringing down to hellAnd up to heaven in an hour;Making a chiming of a passing-bell.We say amissThis or that is:Thy word is all, if we could spell.
Oh that I once past changing were,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 flowerWant a spring shower,My sins and I joining together.
But while I grow in a straight line,Still upwards bent, as if heaven were mine own,Thy anger comes, and I decline:What frost to that? what pole is not the zoneWhere all things burn,When thou dost turn,And the least frown of thine is shown?
And now in age I bud again,After so many deaths I live and write;I once more smell the dew and rain,And relish versing. Oh, my only light,It cannot beThat I am heOn whom thy tempests fell all night.
These are thy wonders, Lord of love,To make us see we are but flowers that glide;Which when we once can find and prove,Thou hast a garden for us where to bide;Who would be more,Swelling through store,Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 19 asks us to reflect on the word, “Underground.”
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