On our Lenten Journey through Herbert’s poem Prayer, using the sonnets in my new book After Prayer, we continue Herbert’s beautiful ascent back into joy, a joy which is all the more secure and real because it has passed through and transmuted sorrow. Herbert signals this in a single line:
Softness and peace and joy and love and bliss
Yesterday’s sonnet reflected on joy, and today it is the turn of love.
Any poet responding to Herbert’s use of the word Love, is immediately confronted by the fact that Herbert himself has written perhaps the greatest ever poem on the Divine Love that meets us in Christ, a poem in which Christ is simply named Love. After Herbert’s masterpiece Love (III) with which he ends his great sequence The Temple, there is, in one sense, nothing more to be said. So in responding to the word Love in my own sequence, it seemed to me that the only thing I could do was to begin with Herbert’s poem, and simply join in the moment of welcome with which it opens. ‘Love Bade me welcome’ says Herbert, and so in my poem I create an archway through which my reader and I can walk to receive that welcome and respond to it, perhaps a little shyly, a little hesitantly, as Herbert did. You might like to re-read Herbert’s poem before you read mine!
As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.
Love took George Herbert’s hand and now takes mine,
The same quick eyes, the same wry, welcome smile,
The same spear-pierced and always-healing heart.
He turns to me and, taking bread and wine,
He spreads a table in the desert, while
I hesitate and draw back, stand apart,
Afraid, as always, of committed love.
But I have come too far to turn away,
Though Joy has vanished, she has led me here.
‘So come’, says Love, ‘there’s nothing left to prove,
And nothing that you need to do or say,
I am that perfect love that casts out fear,
Sit with George Herbert here, then taste and see
And find that all your loves are found in me.’