George Herbert Biography | Poet
Born to the eminent and wealthy Herbert family, George Herbert was one of the ten children his parents, Richard Herbert and Magdalen Newport had. He was born on 3rd April 1593 in Montgomery, Wales and died at the age of 39, on 1st march 1633. His father, a powerful Member of Parliament who later on became a high sheriff, died when George was three years old. His mother, a patron and ally to clergyman John Donne and other poets, raised her children and ensured they got the best education. George Herbert is one of the most celebrated and revered poets of the 17th Century. He was also an Anglican priest who was well grounded in church matters and whose deep religious poems are still read and interpreted around the world today. He is said to be “a pivotal figure: enormously popular, deeply and broadly influential, and arguably the most skilful and important British devotional lyricist of this or any other time.”
Major Achievements and Recognized Works by George Herbert
George Herbert was a symbol of political correctness, religious stability and an icon in the culture of his time. He was a refined poet, and one of his popular literary works is The Temple. There were at least eleven editions of this book and the first edition was published in 1633, shortly after he passed on. By 1680, the book had been reprinted twenty times. He sent his literary works to his close friend Nicholas Ferrar who published the poems shortly after his death. Nicholas Ferrar described George as a noble man of God who gave up the luxuries and perks of nobility for obedience and service to God.
After the death of his mother, he was both distraught and depressed. The collection of poems in Memoriae Matris Sacrum depicts this sad and sorrowful moment in his life. He mourns her, shares childhood memories and expresses his feelings of loneliness and distress in an equally captivating yet saddening way. His other literary collection, The Country Parson, came after he had been ordained as a priest. He talks of his spiritual journey and offers some advice to his fellow clergymen then. Not only did he cater to people’s spiritual needs, he saw to their social needs as well.
As an ordained priest, he devoted his time and strength to service to others as narrated in several poems in The Parsons. His deep involvement in the parish and its social activities was remarkable since he still got his private time to do his writing and meditation.
George Herbert was admitted into Westminster School as a day scholar at the age of twelve. He later on changed to schooling from home though. In 1609, he was admitted to Trinity College in Cambridge on a scholarship. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree and proceeded to attain a Master’s degree at the tender age of twenty three, in 1616. He excelled in his studies and was elected by his college to be a fellow major and later on, a reader in Rhetoric. Due to his undisputed fluency in Latin and Greek, he was elected the University’s Public Orator in 1620. He held this position till the year 1628.
Personal Life and Family
Herbert’s large family was held close and united by his extraordinary and more than capable mother after his father’s death. She was able to see to the academic and spiritual enrichment of all her children and still manage the complex affairs of her household. George Herbert had a deep and close relationship with her, as is evident in his poems from time to time. In The Temple, he talks of maternal love, devotion, childhood memories and authority.
He later marries Jane Danvers after moving to the countryside to stay in his Dauntesey House. Jane Danvers is his stepfather’s cousin who fell in love with him after hearing her father’s tales of his deep respect for Herbert. Their first meeting was three days before their wedding, which is often said to have been an arranged marriage. His marriage is believed to have given him the emotional stability he needed especially after the loss of his mother. He stayed with Jane and her family for a year before moving to Bermeton where he spent his remaining years in a small parish. He died of consumption.
Herbert became a Member of Parliament in 1624 through the support of his kinsman the 3rd Earl of Pembroke. He was representing Montgomery. Even though he had the support of King James I, circumstances did not favour him in the political world as King James died and shortly afterwards, two patrons that would have ensured his political success also died.
George became a priest in 1629 and he helped rebuild the St. Andrews Bermeton church out of his own funds. He preached at the church and wrote poetry when he could.
George Herbert’s Legacy
George Herbert is ranked as one of the greatest Metaphysical poets to ever exist. He was a deeply religious man who discharged his holy duties without complaints. His friend Nicholas Ferrar talks of his dedication to God and the Church, and whose “faithful discharge of the holy duties to which he was called make him justly a companion to the Primitive Saints.” His great literary works have been used as hymns and praised by many for being timeless. As a way to commemorate him, Salisbury Cathedral has a statue of him and the Anglican Communion have set the twenty seventh day of February to celebrate him. Indeed, his legacy lives on.
George Herbert: Poems
| Best Poems
| Short Poems