Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Poem As Prayer

One of the poets whose work I return to most is the metaphysical poet George Herbert, who was also an Anglican priest. He wrote his poetry in English, Latin and Greek. All of his poems deal with religious themes of man in relationship to God. Of them he once wrote, that his poems were a "picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed between God and my soul before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus, my Master." Richard Baxter, an English puritan church leader, poet and hymn writer said, "Herbert speaks to God like one that really believeth in God, and whose business in the world is most with God. Heart-work and heaven-work make up his books."

The poem "Love" is a favorite of mine, as well as being one of the most cherished poems of the great French mystic and philosopher, Simone Weil. Weil said of the poem, "I used to think I was reciting it as a beautiful poem, but without my knowing it the recitation had the virtue of a prayer." For me, I have often used this poem as a prayer, especially in times when I could not find the words to pray on my own. Poetry often has been that for me and Herbert's best translates into prayer for me just as the Psalms do, which Herbert often found inspiration from. I have used this very poem as prayer and as mediation. 

George Herbert

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I'd lack'd anything.

'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here.'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I'

'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.

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