George Herbert: "The Church-porch"
Day 23: Evening
|When basenesse is exalted, do not bate
The place its honour, for the persons sake.
The shrine is that which thou dost venerate,
And not the beast, that bears it on his back.
I care not though the cloth of state should be
Not of rich arras, but mean tapestrie.
When baseness is raised to a high position, do not deny
the office its honor because of the [base] person who holds the status. Venerate
the shrine, not the beast that bears it on his back. I do not care if the
cloth of state is not of rich tapestry but a lowly wall hanging.
In the Seventeenth Century an arras was an expensive tapestry from Artois in France, renowned for its finely woven figures and scenes since the fourteenth century. We tend to think of all tapestries as valuable because the old ones survive in museums. In the stanza a "tapestrie" indicates any woven wall hanging of much less value and prestige. But when an obviously lower class, crass, immoral, vain person becomes the ruler, governor, bishop, boss or head of the house, can you still revere the office? I was always taught to salute the officer's insignia, regardless of the character of the person. Often we think less of the institution that permits such a leader. Many cease to participate, refuse to vote, go to another church even disown their family because of the head.
The position, the institution, the government or the family maintains its effectiveness in spite of the person who runs it. The form of government retains its viability regardless of such leaders. The potential for democracy survives. No matter what the dress and cosmetic changes, the state continues, endures and will advance. Even a business is no less effective regardless of its tyrants. The church and its people no less faithful. Even when the people become unloving, the faith remains.
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