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Best Famous George Herbert Poems

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by George Herbert |

Man

          My God, I heard this day
That none doth build a stately habitation,
     But he that means to dwell therein.
     What house more stately hath there been,
Or can be, than is Man? to whose creation
          All things are in decay.

          For Man is every thing,
And more:  he is a tree, yet bears more fruit;
     A beast, yet is or should be more:
     Reason and speech we only bring.
Parrots may thank us, if they are not mute,
          They go upon the score.

          Man is all symmetry,
Full of proportions, one limb to another,
     And all to all the world besides:
     Each part may call the furthest, brother;
For head with foot hath private amity,
          And both with moons and tides.

          Nothing hath got so far,
But man hath caught and kept it, as his prey.
     His eyes dismount the highest star:
     He is in little all the sphere.
Herbs gladly cure our flesh, because that they
          Find their acquaintance there.

          For us the winds do blow,
The earth doth rest, heaven move, and fountains flow.
     Nothing we see but means our good,
     As our delight or as our treasure:
The whole is either our cupboard of food,
          Or cabinet of pleasure.

          The stars have us to bed;
Night draws the curtain, which the sun withdraws;
     Music and light attend our head.
     All things unto our flesh are kind
In their descent and being; to our mind
          In their ascent and cause.

          Each thing is full of duty:
Waters united are our navigation;
     Distinguishèd, our habitation;
     Below, our drink; above, our meat;
Both are our cleanliness.  Hath one such beauty?
          Then how are all things neat?

          More servants wait on Man
Than he'll take notice of:  in every path
     He treads down that which doth befriend him
     When sickness makes him pale and wan.
O mighty love!  Man is one world, and hath
          Another to attend him.

          Since then, my God, thou hast
So brave a palace built, O dwell in it
     That it may dwell with thee at last!
     Till then, afford us so much wit,
That, as the world serves us, we may serve thee,
          And both thy servants be.


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 |

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 |

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 Sacrifice

 Oh all ye, who pass by, whose eyes and mind
To worldly things are sharp, but to me blind; 
To me, who took eyes that I might you find: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

The Princes of my people make a head
Against their Maker: they do wish me dead, 
Who cannot wish, except I give them bread: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Without me each one, who doth now me brave, 
Had to this day been an Egyptian slave.
They use that power against me, which I gave: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Mine own Apostle, who the bag did bear, 
Though he had all I had, did not forebear
To sell me also, and to put me there: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

For thirty pence he did my death devise, 
Who at three hundred did the ointment prize, 
Not half so sweet as my sweet sacrifice: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Therefore my soul melts, and my heart's dear treasure
Drops blood (the only beads) my words to measure: 
O let this cup pass, if it be thy pleasure: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

These drops being temper'd with a sinner's tears, 
A Balsam are for both the Hemispheres: 
Curing all wounds but mine; all, but my fears, 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Yet my Disciples sleep: I cannot gain
One hour of watching; but their drowsy brain
Comforts not me, and doth my doctrine stain: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Arise, arise, they come. Look how they run.
Alas! what haste they make to be undone! 
How with their lanterns do they seek the sun! 
Was ever grief like mine? 

With clubs and staves they seek me, as a thief, 
Who am the way of truth, the true relief; 
Most true to those, who are my greatest grief: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Judas, dost thou betray me with a kiss? 
Canst thou find hell about my lips? and miss
Of life, just at the gates of life and bliss? 
Was ever grief like mine? 

See, they lay hold on me, not with the hands
Of faith, but fury: yet at their commands
I suffer binding, who have loos'd their bands: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

All my Disciples fly; fear puts a bar
Betwixt my friends and me. They leave the star
That brought the wise men of the East from far.
Was ever grief like mine? 

Then from one ruler to another bound
They lead me; urging, that it was not sound
What I taught: Comments would the text confound.
Was ever grief like mine? 

The Priest and rulers all false witness seek
'Gainst him, who seeks not life, but is the meek
And ready Paschal Lamb of this great week: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Then they accuse me of great blasphemy, 
That I did thrust into the Deity, 
Who never thought that any robbery: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Some said, that I the Temple to the floor
In three days raz'd, and raised as before.
Why, he that built the world can do much more: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Then they condemn me all with that same breath, 
Which I do give them daily, unto death.
Thus Adam my first breathing rendereth: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

They bind, and lead me unto Herod: he
Sends me to Pilate. This makes them agree; 
But yet their friendship is my enmity: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Herod and all his bands do set me light, 
Who teach all hands to war, fingers to fight, 
And only am the Lord of hosts and might: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Herod in judgement sits while I do stand; 
Examines me with a censorious hand: 
I him obey, who all things else command: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

The Jews accuse me with despitefulness; 
And vying malice with my gentleness, 
Pick quarrels with their only happiness: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

I answer nothing, but with patience prove
If stony hearts will melt with gentle love.
But who does hawk at eagles with a dove? 
Was ever grief like mine? 

My silence rather doth augment their cry; 
My dove doth back into my bosom fly; 
Because the raging waters still are high: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Hark how they cry aloud still, 'Crucify: 
It is not fit he live a day, ' they cry, 
Who cannot live less than eternally: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Pilate a stranger holdeth off; but they, 
Mine own dear people, cry, 'Away, away, '
With noises confused frighting the day: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Yet still they shout, and cry, and stop their ears, 
Putting my life among their sins and fears, 
And therefore wish my blood on them and theirs: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

See how spite cankers things. These words aright
Used, and wished, are the whole world's light: 
But honey is their gall, brightness their night: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

They choose a murderer, and all agree
In him to do themselves a courtesy: 
For it was their own cause who killed me: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

And a seditious murderer he was: 
But I the Prince of peace; peace that doth pass
All understanding, more than heav'n doth glass: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Why, Caesar is their only King, not I: 
He clave the stony rock, when they were dry; 
But surely not their hearts, as I well try: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Ah! how they scourge me! yet my tenderness
Doubles each lash: and yet their bitterness
Winds up my grief to a mysteriousness.
Was ever grief like mine? 

They buffet me, and box me as they list, 
Who grasp the earth and heaven with my fist, 
And never yet, whom I would punish, miss'd: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Behold, they spit on me in scornful wise, 
Who by my spittle gave the blind man eyes, 
Leaving his blindness to mine enemies: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

My face they cover, though it be divine.
As Moses' face was veiled, so is mine, 
Lest on their double-dark souls either shine: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Servants and abjects flout me; they are witty: 
'Now prophesy who strikes thee, ' is their ditty.
So they in me deny themselves all pity: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

And now I am deliver'd unto death, 
Which each one calls for so with utmost breath, 
That he before me well nigh suffereth: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Weep not, dear friends, since I for both have wept
When all my tears were blood, the while you slept: 
Your tears for your own fortunes should be kept: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

The soldiers lead me to the common hall; 
There they deride me, they abuse me all: 
Yet for twelve heavn'ly legions I could call: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Then with a scarlet robe they me array; 
Which shows my blood to be the only way.
And cordial left to repair man's decay: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Then on my head a crown of thorns I wear: 
For these are all the grapes SIon doth bear, 
Though I my vine planted and watred there: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

So sits the earth's great curse in Adam's fall
Upon my head: so I remove it all
From th' earth unto my brows, and bear the thrall: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Then with the reed they gave to me before, 
They strike my head, the rock from whence all store
Of heavn'ly blessings issue evermore: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

They bow their knees to me, and cry, 'Hail king': 
What ever scoffs or scornfulness can bring, 
I am the floor, the sink, where they it fling: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Yet since man's sceptres are as frail as reeds, 
And thorny all their crowns, bloody their weeds; 
I, who am Truth, turn into truth their deeds: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

The soldiers also spit upon that face, 
Which Angels did desire to have the grace, 
And Prophets once to see, but found no place: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Thus trimmed forth they bring me to the rout, 
Who 'Crucify him, ' cry with one strong shout.
God holds his peace at man, and man cries out.
Was ever grief like mine? 

They lead me in once more, and putting then
Mine own clothes on, they lead me out again.
Whom devils fly, thus is he toss'd of men: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

And now weary of sport, glad to engross
All spite in one, counting my life their loss, 
They carry me to my most bitter cross: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

My cross I bear my self, until I faint: 
Then Simon bears it for me by constraint, 
The decreed burden of each mortal Saint: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

O all ye who pass by, behold and see; 
Man stole the fruit, but I must climb the tree; 
The tree of life to all, but only me: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Lo, here I hang, charg'd with a world of sin, 
The greater world o' th' two; for that came in
By words, but this by sorrow I must win: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Such sorrow, as if sinful man could feel, 
Or feel his part, he would not cease to kneel, 
Till all were melted, though he were all steel: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

But, O my God, my God! why leav'st thou me, 
The son, in whom thou dost delight to be? 
My God, my God -
Never was grief like mine.

Shame tears my soul, my body many a wound; 
Sharp nails pierce this, but sharper that confound; 
Reproaches, which are free, while I am bound.
Was ever grief like mine? 

Now heal thy self, Physician; now come down.
Alas! I did so, when I left my crown
And father's smile for you, to feel his frown: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

In healing not my self, there doth consist
All that salvation, which ye now resist; 
Your safety in my sickness doth subsist: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Betwixt two thieves I spend my utmost breath, 
As he that for some robbery suffereth.
Alas! what have I stolen from you? death: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

A king my title is, prefixt on high; 
Yet by my subjects am condemn'd to die
A servile death in servile company; 
Was ever grief like mine? 

They gave me vinegar mingled with gall, 
But more with malice: yet, when they did call, 
With Manna, Angels' food, I fed them all: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

They part my garments, and by lot dispose
My coat, the type of love, which once cur'd those
Who sought for help, never malicious foes: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

Nay, after death their spite shall further go; 
For they will pierce my side, I full well know; 
That as sin came, so Sacraments might flow: 
Was ever grief like mine? 

But now I die; now all is finished.
My woe, man's weal: and now I bow my head.
Only let others say, when I am dead, 
Never was grief like mine.


by George Herbert |

Sin

 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 |

Peace

 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 |

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 |

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 |

Mattins

 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.