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Best Famous George Herbert Poems

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by Anthony Hecht | |

Sarabande On Attaining The Age Of Seventy-Seven

 The harbingers are come.
See, see their mark; White is their colour; and behold my head.
-- George Herbert Long gone the smoke-and-pepper childhood smell Of the smoldering immolation of the year, Leaf-strewn in scattered grandeur where it fell, Golden and poxed with frost, tarnished and sere.
And I myself have whitened in the weathers Of heaped-up Januaries as they bequeath The annual rings and wrongs that wring my withers, Sober my thoughts, and undermine my teeth.
The dramatis personae of our lives Dwindle and wizen; familiar boyhood shames, The tribulations one somehow survives, Rise smokily from propitiatory flames Of our forgetfulness until we find It becomes strangely easy to forgive Even ourselves with this clouding of the mind, This cinerous blur and smudge in which we live.
A turn, a glide, a quarter turn and bow, The stately dance advances; these are airs Bone-deep and numbing as I should know by now, Diminishing the cast, like musical chairs.

by George Herbert | |


 I cannot ope mine eyes, 
But thou art ready there to catch
My morning-soul and sacrifice: 
Then we must needs for that day make a match.
My God, what is a heart? Silver, or gold, or precious stone, Or star, or rainbow, or a part Of all these things or all of them in one? My God, what is a heart? That thou should'st it so eye, and woo, Pouring upon it all thy art, As if that thou hadst nothing else to do? Indeed man's whole estate Amounts (and richly) to serve thee: He did not heav'n and earth create, Yet studies them, not him by whom they be.
Teach me thy love to know; That this new light, which now I see, May both the work and workman show: Then by a sun-beam I will climb to thee.

by George Herbert | |

A Wreath

 A wreathed garland of deserved praise,
Of praise deserved, unto thee I give,
I give to thee, who knowest all my wayes,
My crooked winding wayes, wherein I live,
Wherein I die, not live : for life is straight,
Straight as a line, and ever tends to thee,
To thee, who art more farre above deceit,
Then deceit seems above simplicitie.
Give me simplicitie, that I may live, So live and like, that I may know thy wayes, Know them and practise them : then shall I give For this poore wreath, give thee a crown of praise.

by George Herbert | |

The Dawning

 Awake, sad heart, whom sorrow ever drowns ;
Take up thine eyes, which feed on earth ;
Unfold thy forehead, gathered into frowns ;
Thy Saviour comes, and with Him mirth :
Awake, awake,
And with a thankful heart His comforts take.
But thou dost still lament, and pine, and cry, And feel His death, but not His victory.
Arise, sad heart ; if thou dost not withstand, Christ's resurrection thine may be ; Do not by hanging down break from the hand Which, as it riseth, raiseth thee : Arise, Arise; And with His burial linen drie thine eyes.
Christ left His grave-clothes, that we might, when grief Draws tears or blood, not want a handkerchief.

by George Herbert | |


 1 My Soul, there is a country
2 Afar beyond the stars,
3 Where stands a winged sentry
4 All skillful in the wars;
5 There, above noise and danger
6 Sweet Peace sits, crown'd with smiles,
7 And One born in a manger
8 Commands the beauteous files.
9 He is thy gracious friend 10 And (O my Soul awake!) 11 Did in pure love descend, 12 To die here for thy sake.
13 If thou canst get but thither, 14 There grows the flow'r of peace, 15 The rose that cannot wither, 16 Thy fortress, and thy ease.
17 Leave then thy foolish ranges, 18 For none can thee secure, 19 But One, who never changes, 20 Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

by George Herbert | |


 Lord, with what care hast Thou begirt us round!
Parents first season us; then schoolmasters
Deliver us to laws;—they send us bound
To rules of reason, holy messengers,
Pulpits and Sundays, sorrow dogging sin,
Afflictions sorted, anguish of all sizes,
Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in,
Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,
Blessings beforehand, ties of gratefulness,
The sound of glory ringing in our ears;
Without, our shame; within, our consciences;
Angels and grace, eternal hopes and fears:
Yet all these fences and their whole array
One cunning bosom-sin blows quite away.

by George Herbert | |

The Flower

 Once in a golden hour
I cast to earth a seed.
Up there came a flower, The people said, a weed.
To and fro they went Thro' my garden bower, And muttering discontent Cursed me and my flower.
Then it grew so tall It wore a crown of light, But thieves from o'er the wall Stole the seed by night.
Sow'd it far and wide By every town and tower, Till all the people cried, "Splendid is the flower!" Read my little fable: He that runs may read.
Most can raise the flowers now, For all have got the seed.
And some are pretty enough, And some are poor indeed; And now again the people Call it but a weed.

by George Herbert | |

The Storm

 If as the winds and waters here below 
Do fly and flow, 
My sighs and tears as busy were above;
Sure they would move 
And much affect thee, as tempestuous times 
Amaze poor mortals, and object their crimes.
Stars have their storms, ev'n in a high degree, As well as we.
A throbbing conscience spurred by remorse Hath a strange force: It quits the earth, and mounting more and more, Dares to assault, and besiege thy door.
There it stands knocking, to thy musick's wrong, And drowns the song.
Glory and honour are set by till it An answer get.
Poets have wrong'd poor storms: such days are best; They purge the air without, within the breast.

by George Herbert | |

Easter Wings

 Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
  Though foolishly he lost the same,
   Decaying more and more,
     Till he became
      Most poor:
      With thee
     O let me rise
    As larks, harmoniously, 
  And sing this day thy victories:
 Then shall the fall further the flight in me.
My tender age in sorrow did begin: And still with sicknesses and shame Thou didst so punish sin, That I became Most thin.
With thee Let me combine And feel this day thy victory: For, if I imp my wing on thine, Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

by George Herbert | |

Affliction (III)

 My heart did heave, and there came forth, 'O God'! 
By that I knew that thou wast in the grief, 
To guide and govern it to my relief, 
Making a sceptre of the rod: 
Hadst thou not had thy part, 
Sure the unruly sigh had broke my heart.
But since thy breath gave me both life and shape, Thou know'st my tallies; and when there's assigned So much breath to a sigh, what's then behind? Or if some years with it escape, The sigh then only is A gale to bring me sooner to my bliss.
Thy life on earth was grief, and thou art still Constant unto it, making it to be A point of honour now to grieve in me, And in thy members suffer ill.
They who lament one cross, Thou dying daily, praise thee to thy loss.

by George Herbert | |


 Who says that fictions only and false hair
Become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty?
Is all good structure in a winding stair?
May no lines pass, except they do their duty
Not to a true, but painted chair?

Is it no verse, except enchanted groves
And sudden arbours shadow coarse-spun lines?
Must purling streams refresh a lover's loves?
Must all be veiled, while he that reads divines,
Catching the sense at two removes?

Shepherds are honest people: let them sing:
Riddle who list, for me, and pull for prime:
I envy no man's nightingale or spring;
Nor let them punish me with loss of rhyme,
Who plainly say, My God, My King.

by George Herbert | |


 Throw away thy rod,
Throw away thy wrath:
O my God,
Take the gentle path.
For my heart's desire Unto thine is bent: I aspire To a full consent.
Not a word or look I affect to own, But by book, And thy book alone.
Though I fail, I weep: Though I halt in pace, Yet I creep To the throne of grace.
Then let wrath remove: Love will do the deed; For with love Stony hearts will bleed.
Love is swift of foot; Love's a man of war, And can shoot, And can hit from far.
Who can 'scape his bow? That which wrought on thee, Brought thee low, Needs must work on me.
Throw away they rod; Though man frailties hath, Thou art God: Throw away thy wrath.

by George Herbert | |


 HERE where the loves of others close
The vision of my heart begins.
The wisdom that within us grows Is absolution for our sins.
We took forbidden fruit and ate Far in the garden of His mind.
The ancient prophecies of hate We proved untrue, for He was kind.
He does not love the bended knees, The soul made wormlike in His sight, Within whose heaven are hierarchies And solar kings and lords of light.
Who come before Him with the pride The Children of the King should bear, They will not be by Him denied, His light will make their darkness fair.
To be afar from Him is death Yet all things find their fount in Him: And nearing to the sunrise breath Shine jewelled like the seraphim.

by George Herbert | |

The Temper (II)

 It cannot be.
Where is that mighty joy, Which just now took up all my heart? Lord, if thou must needs use thy dart, Save that, and me; or sin for both destroy.
The grosser world stand to thy word and art; But thy diviner world of grace Thou suddenly dost raise and race, And ev'ry day a new Creator art O fix thy chair of grace, that all my powers May also fix their reverence: For when thou dost depart from hence, They grow unruly, and sit in thy bowers.
Scatter, or bind them all to bend to thee: Though elements change, and heaven move, Let not thy higher Court remove, But keep a standing Majesty in me.

by George Herbert | |

Love (I)

 Immortal love, authour of this great frame,
Sprung from that beautie which can never fade;
How hath man parcel’d out thy glorious name,
And thrown it on that dust which thou hast made,

While mortall love doth all the title gain!
Which siding with invention, they together
Bear all the sway, possessing heart and brain,
(Thy workmanship) and give thee share in neither.
Wit fancies beautie, beautie raiseth wit: The world is theirs; they two play out the game, Thou standing by: and though thy glorious name Wrought our deliverance from th’ infernall pit, Who sings thy praise? onely a skarf or glove Doth warm our hands, and make them write of love.

by George Herbert | |

Church Music

 Sweetest of sweets, I thank you: when displeasure
Did through my body wound my mind,
You took me thence, and in your house of pleasure
A dainty lodging me assigned.
Now I in you without a body move, Rising and falling with your wings: We both together sweetly live and love, Yet say sometimes, "God help poor Kings".
Comfort, I'll die; for if you post from me Sure I shall do so, and much more: But if I travel in your company, You know the way to heaven's door.

by George Herbert | |


 the yellow legged plovers live at the university and stare down
pale students who dare to walk near them

we like them

they are the smartest things around with their brown caps and stiffish know-it-all walk
god, don't they look like the newly arrived so proud to be here, 

and busy, 

the plovers should have keys and a whistle on a lanyard each 
like brisk brutish phys ed teachers they probably once were

by George Herbert | |


 And sometimes I am sorry when the grass
Is growing over the stones in quiet hollows
And the cocksfoot leans across the rutted cart-pass
That I am not the voice of country fellows
Who now are standing by some headland talking
Of turnips and potatoes or young corn
Of turf banks stripped for victory.
Here Peace is still hawking His coloured combs and scarves and beads of horn.
Upon a headland by a whinny hedge A hare sits looking down a leaf-lapped furrow There's an old plough upside-down on a weedy ridge And someone is shouldering home a saddle-harrow.
Out of that childhood country what fools climb To fight with tyrants Love and Life and Time?

by George Herbert | |

Love (III)

 Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack, From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning, If I lack'd anything.
A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here: Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, 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 marr'd 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 tast me meat: So I did sit and eat.

by George Herbert | |


 This air is flooded with her.
I am a boy again, and my mother and I lie on wet grass, laughing.
She startles, turns to marigolds at my side, saying beautiful, and I can see the red there is in them.
When she would fall into her thoughts, we'd look for what distracted her from us.
My mother's gone again as suddenly as ever and, seven months after the funeral, I go dancing.
I am becoming grateful.
Breathing, thinking, marigolds.

by George Herbert | |

Employment (I)

 If as a flower doth spread and die, 
Thou wouldst extend me to some good, 
Before I were by frost's extremity
Nipt in the bud; 

The sweetness and the praise were thine; 
But the extension and the room, 
Which in thy garland I should fill, were mine
At thy great doom.
For as thou dost impart thy grace, The greater shall our glory be.
The measure of our joys is in this place, The stuff with thee.
Let me not languish then, and spend A life as barren to thy praise, As is the dust, to which that life doth tend, But with delays.
All things are busy; only I Neither bring honey with the bees, Nor flowers to make that, nor the husbandry To water these.
I am no link of thy great chain, But all my company is a weed.
Lord place me in thy consort; give one strain To my poor reed.

by George Herbert | |

The Sinner

 Lord, how I am all ague, when I seek
What I have treasur'd in my memory! 
Since, if my soul make even with the week, 
Each seventh note by right is due to thee.
I find there quarries of pil'd vanities, But shreds of holiness, that dare not venture To show their face, since cross to thy decrees: There the circumference earth is, heav'n the centre.
In so much dregs the quintessence is small: The spirit and good extract of my heart Comes to about the many hundredth part.
Yet Lord restore thine image, hear my call: And though my hard heart scarce to thee can groan, Remember that thou once didst write in stone.

by George Herbert | |

The British Church

 I joy, dear mother, when I view
Thy perfect lineaments, and hue
Both sweet and bright.
Beauty in thee takes up her place, And dates her letters from thy face, When she doth write.
A fine aspect in fit array, Neither too mean nor yet too gay, Shows who is best.
Outlandish looks may not compare, For all they either painted are, Or else undress'd.
She on the hills which wantonly Allureth all, in hope to be By her preferr'd, Hath kiss'd so long her painted shrines, That ev'n her face by kissing shines, For her reward.
She in the valley is so shy Of dressing, that her hair doth lie About her ears; While she avoids her neighbour's pride, She wholly goes on th' other side, And nothing wears.
But, dearest mother, what those miss, The mean, thy praise and glory is And long may be.
Blessed be God, whose love it was To double-moat thee with his grace, And none but thee.

by George Herbert | |

Clasping of Hands

 LORD, Thou art mine, and I am Thine, 
If mine I am; and Thine much more 
Then I or ought or can be mine.
Yet to be Thine doth me restore, So that again I now am mine, And with advantage mine the more, Since this being mine brings with it Thine, And Thou with me dost Thee restore: If I without Thee would be mine, I neither should be mine nor Thine.
Lord, I am Thine, and Thou art mine; So mine Thou art, that something more I may presume Thee mine then Thine, For Thou didst suffer to restore Not Thee, but me, and to be mine: And with advantage mine the more, Since Thou in death wast none of Thine, Yet then as mine didst me restore: O, be mine still; still make me Thine; Or rather make no Thine and Mine.

by George Herbert | |

Praise (I)

 To write a verse or two is all the praise
That I can raise: 
Mend my estate in any ways, 
Thou shalt have more.
I go to Church; help me to wings, and I Will thither fly; Or, if I mount unto the sky, I will do more.
Man is all weakness; there is no such thing As Prince or King: His arm is short; yet with a sling He may do more.
An herb distill'd, and drunk, may dwell next door, On the same floor, To a brave soul: Exalt the poor, They can do more.
O raise me then! poor bees, that work all day, Sting my delay, Who have a work, as well as they, And much, much more.