from The Temple (1633), by George Herbert:


¶   Miserie.

Hieronomus Bosch, 'The Haywain Triptych,' Center Panel. [The other 2 are 'Paradise' and 'Hell']

        LOrd, let the Angels praise thy name.
Man is a foolish thing, a foolish thing,
        Folly and Sinne play all his game.
His house still burns, and yet he still doth sing,
                            Man is but grasse,
                      He knows it, fill the glasse.

        How canst thou brook his foolishnesse?
Why, he’l not lose a cup of drink for thee:
        Bid him but temper his excesse;
Not he: he knows, where he can better be,
                            As he will swear,
                      Then to serve thee in fear.

        What strange pollutions doth he wed,
And make his own?  as if none knew, but he.
        No man shall beat into his head,
That thou within his curtains drawn canst see:
                            They are of cloth,
                      Where never yet came moth.

        The best of men, turn but thy hand
For one poore minute, stumble at a pinne:
        They would not have their actions scann’d,
Nor any sorrow tell them that they sinne,
                            Though it be small,
                      And measure not their fall.

        They quarrell thee, and would give over
The bargain made to serve thee: but thy love
        Holds them unto it, and doth cover
Their follies with the wing of thy milde Dove,
                            Not suff’ring those
                      Who would, to be thy foes.

        My God, Man cannot praise thy name:
Thou art all brightnesse, perfect puritie;
        The sunne holds down his head for shame,
Dead with eclipses, when we speak of thee:
                            How shall infection
                      Presume on thy perfection?

        As dirtie hands foul all they touch,
And those things most, which are most pure and fine:
        So our clay hearts, ev’n when we crouch
To sing thy praises, make them lesse divine.
                            Yet either this,
                      Or none, thy portion is.

        Man cannot serve thee; let him go,
And serve the swine: there, there is his delight:
        He doth not like this vertue, no;
Give him his dirt to wallow in all night:
                            These Preachers make
                      His head to shoot and ake.

        Oh foolish man! where are thine eyes?
How hast thou lost them in a croud of cares?
        Thou pull’st the rug, and wilt not rise,
No not to purchase the whole pack of starres:
                            There let them shine,
                      Thou must go sleep, or dine.

        The bird that sees a daintie bowre
Made in the tree, where she was wont to sit,
        Wonders and sings, but not his power
Who made the arbour: this exceeds her wit.
                            But Man doth know
                      The spring, whence all things flow:

        And yet as though he knew it not,
His knowledge winks, and lets his humours reigne;
        They make his life a constant blot,
And all the bloud of God to run in vain.
                            Ah wretch! what verse
                      Can thy strange wayes rehearse?

        Indeed at first Man was a treasure,
A box of jewels, shop of rarities,
        A ring, whose posie was, My pleasure:
He was a garden in a Paradise:
                            Glorie and grace
                      Did crown his heart and face.

        But sinne hath fool’d him. Now he is
A lump of flesh without a foot or wing
        To raise him to a glimpse of blisse:
A sick toss’d vessel, dashing on each thing;
                            Nay, his own shelf:
                      My God, I mean my self.

Isaiah 40:6 The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: 7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. 8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

1 Peter 1:24 For, "All flesh is like grass, And all of man's glory like the flower in the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls; 25 But the Lord's word endures forever."

In the Williams MS, this poem is titled "The Publican." See Luke 18: 9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. - King James Version

Related Criticism: "The audience shift in George Herbert's poetry." by Bruce A. Johnson. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Wntr 1995 v35 n1 p89(15) [Poems cited: "Windows," "The Invitation," "The Thanksgiving," "Miserie."]

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