National Poetry Month–George Herbert and your life

9th April, 2013 - Posted by Christine Perrin - No Comments

The Pulley.

VVhen God at first made man,
Having a glasse of blessings standing by;
Let us (said he) poure on him all we can:
Let the worlds riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.

So strength first made a way;
Then beautie flow’d, then wisdome, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all his treasure
Rest in the bottome lay.

For if I should (said he)
Bestow this jewell also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts in stead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlesnesse:
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least,
If goodnesse leade him not, yet wearinesse
May tosse him to my breast.

Herbert, who understood how hard our lives are, makes concrete our restless weariness in this poem. He pictures God baptizing us at creation (our pouring from a glass) with blessings. He pours on us the world’s riches including strength, beauty, wisdom, honor, pleasure. At the bottom of the glass he stops and thinks hard before he gives us rest, believing that if he gave us rest we would not need to be in relationship with him and would instead rest in his gifts. Why does he pause? Because he is a power mongering monster? No, because “both (God and humankind) should losers be.” Hence we are rich and weary and its purpose–this repining restlessness–is to toss us to his breast, to put us into an intimate relationship with him. Our restlessness, our weariness is the instrument of God’s love, meant to help us seek out his consolation, his fellowship, his presence.

This is Augustine’s version of the same thought (sometimes written in poem form):

Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”

 

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