[The Temple, Jerusalem, Model]from The Temple (1633), by George Herbert:


¶   Vertue.

Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridall of the earth and skie:
The dew shall weep thy fall to night;
                                    For thou must die.

Sweet rose, whose hue angrie and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye:
Thy root is ever in its grave
                                    And thou must die.

Sweet spring, full of sweet dayes and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie;
My musick shows ye have your closes,1
                                    And all must die.

Onely a sweet and vertuous soul,
Like season’d timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
                                    Then chiefly lives.

1 closes - The musical ending, the final chord or chords of a piece of music. [Return] Technical music definition - There are 2 kinds of closes: 1. partial closes, a temporary, but unresolved, pause in the music, like a comma in a sentence (tonic chord before dominant), 2. full closes, like a period in a sentence (dominant or sub-dominant chord before tonic) [The sub-dominant chord followed by the tonic is also called the "A-men" ending].

Basic Outline:

  1. Everything in this world ends/dies. Examples:
    1. Day (stanza 1): its attraction (cool, calm, bright, marriage of earth and sky); image that illustrates death (dew shall weep)
    2. Rose (stanza 2): its attraction (bearing the physical marks of anger and brave, finely dressed, color effects the viewer); image that illustrates death (root is in its grave)
    3. Spring (stanza 3): its attraction made of "sweet days" [from stanza 1] and roses [from stanza 2]; image that illustrates death (music has its endings)
  2. Virtue, the virtuous soul, is the exception (stanza 4): image that illustrates [seasoned timber retains its virtue; even when the world turns to coal, it lives (in the flame of the Last Judgment, end of the world)]

Related Interpretations and Criticism:

  • "Sweet," the word that George Herbert repeats in each stanza of this poem, has often been used to describe the effect of Herbert’s poetry, both for the calm, benevolent character and for the delectable sound of the poems when read aloud. But as the dire, even grim meaning of "Virtue" suggests, Herbert is also a poet who thought deeply and perhaps perpetually of death and resignation. A miniature quality in the images (the rash gazer wiping his eye, the box of sweets, the dew, the coal) heightens, by contrast, the totality of "But though the whole world turn to coal." The mingled finality and sweetness, harmony and destruction evoked by the poem all cohere in the word "closes," which means termination--here doomsday--but also is a technical word in music: The "closes" are the sweet musical phrases. - Robert Pinsky, U.S. Poet Laureate, on "Virtue"
  • His beauties of thought and diction are so overloaded with far-fetched conceits and quaintnesses; low, and vulgar, and even indelicate imagery, and a pertinacious appropriation of Scripture language and figure, in situations where they make a most unseemly exhibition, that there is now very little probability of his ever regaining the popularity which he has lost. That there was much, however, of the real Poetical temperament in the composition of his mind, the following lines, although not free from his characteristic blemishes, will abundantly prove: "Sweet Day ! so cool, so calm, so bright, " &c. -- Henry Neele, Lectures on English Poetry, 1827. [From Moulton's Library of Criticism.]
  • At Bemerton he lived, as he wrote, the ideal life of "A Priest to the Temple." While his simple sermons and his life of goodness won his people to a good life, he was writing poems which should catch the hearts of the next generation and enlist men's sentiment and sympathy in the restoration of the Church. Herbert's life was itself the noblest of his poems, and while it had the beauty of his verses it had their quaintnesses as well. Those exquisite lines of his, so characteristic of his age and his style, give a picture suggestive of his own character:
    "Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
    The bridal of the earth and sky." 
    -- William Holden Hutton, Social England, 1895, ed. Traill, vol. iv, p. 34. [From Moulton's Library of Criticism.]

    Musical Interpretations:

  • Criticism/Interpretation: George Herbert's Poetry by Russell Fraser. [Poems cited: "Holy Scriptures I"; "The Pearl"; The Temple; "Paradise"; "Affliction"; "Home"; "The Collar"; "The Flower"; "Virtue"; "Providence"]

  • Destinations
    1633 Poem Index George Herbert & The Temple Home Page

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