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GEORGE HERBERT, a distinguished sacred poet, was born in the castle of Montgomery, in Wales, in 1593. He received his early education at Westminster School, and from thence, being a King's Scholar, he was elected to Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1612 he took his degree of B. and in 1616 that of M.A. He subsequently became Public Orator, and was finally settled as rector of Bemerton, near Salisbury; where, after having faithfully and zealously discharged the duties of his sacred calling, he died in 1632.
The Temple, or Sacred Poems, of Herbert had great celebrity in his day; and they well deserve notice now. They are perhaps the most valuable of recorded experiences in religion among uninspired compositions, and abound in natural and beautiful thoughts, and true poetical feeling.
O SACRED Providence, who from end to end,
Strongly and sweetly movest! shall I write,
To hold my quill? shall they not do Thee right?
Of all the creatures both in sea and land,
Only to man Thou hast made known thy ways,
And made him secretary of thy praise.
Beasts fain would sing; birds ditty to their notes ;
Trees would be tuning of their native lute
Are brought to man, while they are lame and mute.
Man is the world's high-priest ; he doth present
The sacrifice for all; while they below
Such as springs use that fall, and winds that blow.
He that to praise and laud Thee doth refrain,
Doth not refrain unto himself alone,
And doth commit a world of sin in one.
Wherefore, most sacred Spirit, I here present,
For me and all my fellows, praise to Thee; And just it is that I should pay the rent,
Because the benefit accrues to me.
We all acknowledge both thy power and love
To be exact, transcendant and divine; Who dost so strongly and so sweetly move,
While all things have their will, yet none but thine:
Por either thy command, or thy permission,
Lay hands on all; they are thy right and left ; The first puts on with speed and expedition,
The other curbs sin's stealing pace and theft;
Nothing escapes them both; all must appear,
And be disposed and dressed, and tuned by Thee, Who sweetly temperest all; if we could hear
Thy skill and art, what music would it be!
Thou art in small things great, not small in any;
Thy even praise can neither rise nor fall; Thou art in all things one, in each thing many:
For Thou art infinite in one, and all.
Tempests are calm to Thee, they know thy hand,
And hold it fast, as children do their fathers, Which cry and follow. Thou hast made poor sand
Check the proud sea, even when it swells and gathers.
Thy cupboard serves the world: the meat is set
Where all may reach; no beast but knows his food; Birds teach us hawking; fishes have their net :
The great prey on the less, they on some weed.
Nothing engendered doth preventi his meat,
Flies have their table spread, ere they appear ; Some creatures have in winter what to eat,
Others do sleep, and envy not their cheer.
How finely dost Thou times and seasons spin,
And make a twist checkered with night and day, Which, as it lengthens, winds and winds us in,
As bowls go on, but turning all the way.
Each creature hath a wisdom for his good,
The pigeons feed their tender offspring crying, When they are callow; but withdraw their food
When they are fledged, that need may teach 'em flying.
Bees work for man, and yet they never bruise
Their master's flower, but leave it, having done, As fair as ever, and as fit to use:
So both the flower do stay and honey run.
Sheep eat the grass, and dung the ground for more:
Trees, after bearing, drop their leaves for soil ; Springs vent their streams, and by expanse get store ;
Clouds cool by heat, and baths by cooling boil.
Who hath the virtue to express the rare
And curious virtues both of herbs and stones? Is there an herb for that? O that thy care
Would show a root that gives expressions!
And if an herb hath power, what have the stars
A rose, besides his beauty, is a cure;
Are there much surer than our art is sure.
Thou hast hid metals, man may take them thence,
But at his peril; when he digs the place, He makes a grave, as if the thing had sense,
And threatened man that he should fill the space.
E'en poisons praise Thee: Should a thing be lost ?
Should creatures want, for want of heed, their due? Since where are poisons, antidotes are most,
The help stands close, and keeps the fear in view.
The sea, which seems to stop the traveller,
Is by a ship the speedier passage made ; The winds, who think they rule the mariner,
Are ruled by him, and taught to serve his trade.
And as thy house is full, so I adore
Thy curious art in marshalling thy goods ;
The south with marble, north with fur and woods.
Hard things are glorious; easy things, good, cheap;
The common all men have; that which is rare, Men therefore seek to have, and care to keep:
The healthy frosts with summer fruits compare.
Light without wind, is glass ; warm without weight,
Is wool and furs ; cool without coldness, shade; Speed without pains, a horse; tall without weight,
A servile hawk; low without loss, a spade.
All countries have enough to serve their need :
If they seek fine things, thou dost make them run For their offence; and then dost turn their speed,
To be commerce and trade, from sun to sun.
Nothing wears clothes but man; nothing doth need
But he to wear them. Nothing useth fire, But man alone, to show his heavenly breed :
And only he hath fuel in desire.
When the earth was dry, Thou madest a sea of wet,
When that lay gathered, Thou didst broach the mountains; While yet some places could no moisture get,
The winds grew gardeners, and the clouds good fountains.
Rain, do not hurt my flowers, but gently spend
Your honey-drops ; press not to smell them here; When they are ripe, their odour will ascend,
And, at your lodging, with their thanks appear.
How harsh are thorns to pears! and yet they make
A better hedge, and need less reparation : How smooth are silks, compared with a stake,
Or with a stone! yet make no good foundation.
Sometimes Thou dost divide thy gifts to man
Sometimes unite. The Indian nut alone
Boat, cable, sail, and, need be, all in one.
Most herbs that grow in brooks are hot and dry;
Cold fruit's warm kernels help against the wind: The lemon's juice and rind cure mutually;
The whey of milk doth loose, the milk doth bind.
To show Thou art not bound, as if thy lot
Were worse than ours, sometimes Thou shiftest hands : Most things move th' under-jaw; the crocodile not ;
Most things sleep lying; th' elephant leans or stand
But who hath praise enough? nay, who hath any?
None can express thy works but he that knows them, And none can know thy works, which are so many,
And so complete, but only He that owns them.
All things that are, though they have several ways,
Yet in their being join with one advice To honour Thee; and so I give Thee praise
In all my other hymns, but in this twice.
Each thing that is, although in use and name
It go for one, hath many ways in store
Extolleth many ways; yet this, one more.