Saturday, 14 September 2013

Anthology 4

Unlike R.S. Thomas's deus absconditus, George Herbert's God was a very present God. The poet's relationship with him was close, intense, passionate, conflicted - bitter-sweet...


Ah, my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament and love. 

This kind of close-quarters engagement with an intensely present personal God has a Jewish flavour to it. Herbert of course was not Jewish - in his day there were officially no Jews in England - but he took a strong interest and probably knew something of the Jewish community in the Netherlands. This extraordinary poem is strongly sympathetic, even if it is essentially a plea for conversion:
Poor nation, whose sweet sap and juice
Our scions have purloin’d, and left you drie:
Whose streams we got by the Apostles sluice,
And use in baptisme, while ye pine and die:
Who by not keeping once, became a debter;
          And now by keeping lose the letter:   
          Oh that my prayers! mine, alas!
Oh that some Angel might a trumpet sound;
At which the Church falling upon her face.
Should crie so loud, untill the trump were drown’d,
And by that crie of her deare Lord obtain,
          That your sweet sap might come again!

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