Yesterday we looked at the final image, the Land of Spices, and now we see how Herbert himself looks back at the effort of the whole poem, in all its myriad images and insights, and modestly concludes that it might offer us some understanding. something understood, but not everything. It may well be that Herbert was consciously offering the preceding twenty-six images as a kind of primer, a table of the letters of prayer’s alphabet, helping us to spell out for the imagination a little more of the mystery of our prayer lives, but by finishing his poem with the phrase something understood he brings us back to the brink of experience itself, asking us to move beyond his images, his experience and understanding into our own. these at least were some of the thoughts in my mind as I penned this final sonnet and brought my own sequence of sonnets ‘After Prayer‘ to a close. Tomorrow I will post a ‘hypertext’ of the whole poem, where each of herbert’s phrases is itself a link to my responding sonnet.
I hope you have enjoyed hearing me read and reflect on them. I have been glad to share them here, (though I would also be glad if you were to buy the book, if you’ve not already done so), That way you can enjoy them privately and at your leisure, for poetry is always better on the page and on the tongue than on the screen.
As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title
And so the spell of Prayer comes to an end,
An end that offers us a place to start,
An invitation from a loving friend,
A colloquy where ‘heart speaks unto heart’.
These twenty-six attempts to say the Name,
The simple letters of prayer’s alphabet,
Bring us a little way, but end the same
Just on the brink of what’s not spoken yet.
With each new understanding we begin,
Again, and turn from text to mystery,
To prayer itself, that draws us deeper in,
Where knowledge ends, but love has mastery.
Still on that brink, I share, as pilgrims should,
Some of the somethings I have understood.