I didn’t discover the poetry of George Herbert until graduate school (my undergraduate education in literature had more than a few gaps, I’m afraid. This due, mostly, to my own indiosyncratic course selection criteria: what time is the class and who is the professor?).
Thankfully, I did find Herbert, and I still remember my shock that we could actually discuss such Christ-centered poetry around a University of Chicago seminar table. Who says there’s no Jesus in higher education? Though, to be honest, there’s a lot more of Freud in my dissertation than Jesus. A lot more. I blame Virginia Woolf for leading me astray.
However, with the job market in the humanities being what it is, I have a good deal of time for Herbert these days. And, my love for the modernists notwithstanding, that’s a very good thing.
Without further ado, a poem on rest (one I’ve recently been feeling the truth of deep in my bones):
When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us” (said He) “pour on him all we can;
Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.”
So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flow’d, then wisdom, honor, pleasure;
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all his treasure
Rest in the bottom lay.
“For if I should” (said He)
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in nature, not the God of nature:
So both should losers be.
“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”
– George Herbert