Poet and divine
George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633) was a Welsh-born English poet, orator and Anglican priest. Being born into an artistic and wealthy family, he received a good education that led to his holding prominent positions at Cambridge University and Parliament. As a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, Herbert excelled in languages and music. He went to college with the intention of becoming a priest, but his scholarship attracted the attention of King James I/VI.
Bemerton, Wiltshire, England
George Herbert was born to a noble family in Wales; his mother was patron to John Donne who dedicated his 'Holy Sonnets' to her. He was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where in 1620 he was elected to the prestigious post of Public Orator.
His first two sonnets were sent to his mother in 1610. On the theme that the love of God is a worthier subject for verse than the love of woman. They foreshadowed his future religious and poetic inclinations, but at first Herbert seemed bent on a secular career, much involved in court life and Member of Parliament for Montgomery in Wales from 1624-5. His only published verse during this period was in Greek and Latin, for formal occasions.
In 1627, however, he resigned as Orator and was ordained a priest, becoming rector at Bemerton in Wiltshire where he was noted for his diligence and humility, traits reflected in his poetry which also expresses the conflict between the religious and worldly life.
When he realized he was dying of consumption, he sent a collection of his poems in manuscript to his friend Nicholas Ferrar to judge whether to burn them or publish them. The result was The Temple, religious poems using common language and rhythms of speech, published to enormous popular acclaim and running to 13 editions by 1680.
Also published after his death, in 1652, was A Priest to the Temple: Or the Country Parson, his Character and Rule of Life homely, prose advice to country clerics.
Quotes by George Herbert
Works by George Herbert
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George Herbert was one of England’s more famous 17th century poets; like John Donne, his contemporary, he also served as an Anglican priest. Contemporary readers may recognize him as the author of the well-known poem, “Easter Wings.” A Priest to the Temple, on the other hand, is a prose discourse designed to offer practical advice to Anglican clergy. As well as covering such topics as prayer, preaching, and the administration of the sacraments, Herbert counsels his pastoral peers on everyday matters of household governance, dancing, food, and farming. In every area of his life, Herbert wrote, church leaders should “serve for lights even of Heavenly Truths.”
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