Today’s poem is for one of my most beloved poets: George Herbert, the seventeenth-century Anglican minister who also wrote poems of breathtaking honesty and beauty. Herbert wrote extensively in Latin, but his English poems were only published after his death when his friend Nicholas Ferrar ignored Herbert’s request to have them all destroyed. I couldn’t possibly do Herbert justice with my own words, so I have gone instead for homage. If you have not read Herbert for yourself, read “Prayer (I)”, his masterpiece and the framework for my poor imitation.
Temple Prayers (For George Herbert, Priest and Poet)
Wrestling in submissive, humbled prayer,
The soul contorting in its hopeful rise;
The weight of comfort lighter than the air,
A fall, a leap, a tower to the skies.
The spirit moving in the tug and pull
Of rest and restless groping towards peace,
The six-days’ work contracting, emptied, full;
A Sabbath-voice of calm on tempered seas.
The heart rejoicing in the tears of praise;
The cry that echoes out beyond the walls
Of broken temples in their rise and fall;
The call to make an altar of our days.
Soft freedom found within these vast constraints;
Incense-prayers, the poetry of saints.