A Sonnet for George Herbert

Gentle exemplar, help us in our trials

Gentle exemplar, help us in our trials

On February 27th the Church of England keeps the feast and celebrates the memory of George Herbert, the gentle poet priest whose book the Temple, published posthumously in 1633 by his friend Nicholas Ferrar has done so much to help and inspire Christians ever since. In an earlier blog post I gave a talk on George Herbert and the Insights of Prayer, today, on the eve of his feast, I offer this sonnet, part of a sequence called ‘Clouds of Witness” in my most recent poetry book The Singing Bowl. The sequence is a celebration of the saints, intended to complement my sequence Sounding the Seasons.

You can get this book in the UK by ordering it from your local bookshop, or via Amazon, and I am vey happy to say that both book s are now available in North America from Steve Bell who has a good supply in stock. His page for my books is HERE

As always you can hear me read the sonnet by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

George Herbert

Gentle exemplar, help us in our trials,

With all that passed between you and your Lord,

That intimate exchange of frowns and smiles

Which chronicled your love-match with the Word.

Your manuscript, entrusted to a friend,

Has been entrusted now to every soul,

We make a new beginning in your end

And find your broken heart has made us whole.

Time has transplanted you, and you take root,

Past changing in the paradise of Love,

Help me to trace your temple, tune your lute,

And listen for an echo from above,

Open the window, let me hear you sing,

And see the Word with you in everything.


Filed under christianity, Poems

7 responses to “A Sonnet for George Herbert

  1. As one who has a deep understanding of Herbert you will also understand my saying that “gentle” is not a word that comprehends the poet who wrote such lines as “I struck the board and cried ‘No more!'” Or “…that when thou shalt grow fat / And wanton in thy cravings…” Or “Thou turnest th’ edge of all things on me still, / Taking me up to throw me down.” Gentleness there is, yes, but “gentle exemplar” is not how I would introduce Herbert. I might begin by warning the reader that here is an English Jacob wrestling with a “deare angrie” God.

    But I don’t mean to disparage your sonnet, which I like very much, especially the nicely woven references to The Temple – frowns and smiles, broken heart, echo, lute, window. Thank you for keeping Herbert in front of us.

    • malcolmguite

      I agree that gentle man gut give the wrong impression but even in his fiercest conflicts he had a cor gentil in the mediaeval sense and he was of course ‘gentle’ in the other sense of his birth and breeding he belonged to and breathed the culture of English gentility

      • You use an expanded sense of “gentle” which is quite right. Even at his fiercest, Herbert had that humility, that deference to his lord, his hlafweard, which informs the gentle heart.

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