from The Temple (1633), George Herbert:

The Furniture Poems


¶   Church-monuments.

	WHile that my soul repairs to her devotion,
	Here I intombe my flesh,1 that it betimes
	May take acquaintance of this heap of dust;
	To which the blast of deaths incessant motion,
	Fed with the exhalation of our crimes,
	Drives all at last. Therefore I gladly trust

	My bodie to this school, that it may learn
	To spell his elements, and finde his birth
	Written in dustie heraldrie and lines;
	Which dissolution sure doth best discern,
	Comparing dust with dust, and earth with earth.
	These laugh at Jeat and Marble put for signes,

	To sever the good fellowship of dust,
	And spoil the meetings. What shall point out them,
	When they shall bow, and kneel, and fall down flat
	To kisse those heaps, which now they have in trust?
	Deare flesh, while I do pray, learn here thy stemme
	And true descent; that when thou shalt grow fat,

	And wanton in thy cravings, thou mayst know,
	That flesh is but the glasse, which holds the dust
	That measures all our time; which also shall
	Be crumbled into dust. Mark here below
	How tame these ashes are, how free from lust,
	That thou mayst fit thy self against thy fall.

1  Teachers' note by Professor Armstrong: In churches of this time, the deceased may be buried under the stones on the floor, behind plaques on the wall (both true in Salisbury Cathedral) and in monuments inside the church (George Herbert’s parents at St. Nicholas Church, Montgomery, Wales).George Herbert himself was buried under the altar at St. Andrew’s, Bemerton, Wiltshire. [Return]

¶   Church-musick.

	SWeetest of sweets, I thank you: when displeasure
	         Did through my bodie wound my minde,
	You took me thence, and in your house of pleasure
	         A daintie lodging me assign’d.

	Now I in you without a bodie move,
	         Rising and falling with your wings:
	We both together sweetly live and love,
	         Yet say sometimes,God help poore Kings.

	Comfort, I’le die; for if you poste from me,
	         Sure I shall do so,and much more:
	But if I travell in your companie,
	         You know the way to heavens doore.

Modern version

"Already in The Mount of Olives (1652) Vaughan called Herbert ’a most glorious true Saint, and a Seer’, mentioning especially ’his incomparable prophetick Poems, and particularly these, Church-musick, Church-rents and schisms, The Church militant’, and quoting Life in full. In the preface to the enlarged edition of Silex Scintillans (1655) he attributes his conversion to sacred poetry to ’the blessed man, Mr. George Herbert, whose holy life and verse gained many pious Converts, (of whom I am the least)’. [Hutchinson, F. E. The Works of George Herbert. xli.] See Vaughan’s poems "I saw Eternity the other night" and "The World."

  • Personal Commentary: Jay D. Weaver's "Finding Heaven's Door"

    Background Music: Orlande de Lassus (c.1532-94, Flemish), "Music Is The Highest Gift Of God." Click to open music in new window.

  • ¶   Church-lock and key.

    I Know it is my sinne, which locks thine eares,
                                                     And bindes thy hands,
    Out-crying my requests, drowning my tears;
    Or else the chilnesse of my faint demands.
    But as cold hands are angrie with the fire,
                                                     And mend it still;
    So I do lay the want of my desire,
    Not on my sinnes, or coldnesse, but thy will.
    Yet heare, O God, onely for his blouds sake
                                                     Which pleads for me:
    For though sinnes plead too, yet like stones they make
    His blouds sweet current much more loud to be.

    Shawcross, John T. "'The Virtue and Discipline' of Wrestling with God." Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 7 (May, 2001): 3.1-29 URL: Comparison with other authors.

    ¶   The Church-floore.

    MArk you the floore? that square & speckled stone,
                                 Which looks so firm and strong,
                                              Is Patience:
    And th’ other black and grave, where with each one
                                 Is checker’d all along,
    The gentle rising, which on either hand
                                 Leads to the Quire above,
                                              Is Confidence:
    But the sweet cement, which in one sure band
                                 Ties the whole frame, is Love
                                              And Charitie.
    	Hither sometimes Sinne steals, and stains
    	The marbles neat and curious veins:
    But all is cleansed when the marble weeps.
    	Sometimes Death, puffing at the Doore,
    	Blows all the dust about the floore:
    But while he thinks to spoil the room, he sweeps.
    	Blest be the Architect, whose art
    	Could build so strong in a weak heart.

    Engraving of Little Gidding interior. Mark you the floor.

    [Little Gidding, interior]

    ¶   The Windows.

    LOrd, how can man preach thy eternall word?
                      He is a brittle crazie glasse:
    Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
                      This glorious and transcendent place,
                      To be a window, through thy grace.
    But when thou dost anneal in glasse thy storie,
                      Making thy life to shine within
    The holy Preachers; then the light and glorie
                      More rev’rend grows, & more doth win:
                      Which else shows watrish, bleak, & thin.
    Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one
                      When they combine and mingle, bring
    A strong regard and aw: but speech alone
                      Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
                      And in the eare, not conscience ring.

    Editor’s note: In the 1633 edition, the title above the poem is "The Windows." The title listed in the index is "Church-windows."

    Explication on "The Windows." Southwest College, Houston. The etching of Little Gidding is also from this site.

    Criticism: "'To love the strife': George Herbert's Struggle for his Poetry" by Bruce A. Johnson. Renascence, 00344346, Winter94, Vol. 46, Issue 2. [Poems cited: "Praise (III)," "Denial," "Jordan (II)," "Providence," "The Altar," "The Windows," "Aaron," "The Priesthood," "Grief," "Judgement," "Employment (II)," "The Banquet."]

    1633 Poem Index Links to Criticism George Herbert & The Temple Home Page