Lent with Herbert Day 27: Something Understood

Today we conclude our journey through Herbert’s poem Prayer, using the sonnets in my new book After Prayer.

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

Something Understood

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.


Filed under Poems

13 responses to “Lent with Herbert Day 27: Something Understood

  1. Thank you so much, Malcolm, for taking me on this journey through Herbert’s wonderful poem. When you began I confess that I would “fit” my reading somehow into the busy life of a parish priest. Now I have time to stop and to take the poem in deeper.
    I look forward to tomorrow’s post. It will be a time of retreat.

  2. Janice Howard

    Malcolm, I bought your book when it was published, Glad I did. I carried a copy of George Herbert’s “Poems and Proverbs” in my bag during the three months my husband was in hospital Jan-March 2018. A second hand copy, hard back, more than a hundred years old, on that thin paper which packs a lot of pages into a small volume. I’d read it and loved George Herbert’s work for years, and thought I’d understood. Of course, the poems revealed yet more meanings as I read them again, day on day, in such life changing circumstances. I really value your unpacking of the poems, both in your own poetry and in your remarks here and elsewhere. I have come to understand that, for me, the “something understood” is both resting point and an unfolding revelation. As you say, it is a resting in and revealing of Love.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks so much. I’m glad to have helped you to draw more fully from Herbert who is also such a wellspring for me

  3. Malcolm, thanks so much for this journey through Herbert’s Prayer. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it! I already had your book (one of many of yours that I have!), but it means that much more to me now that you’ve offered a bit of the background to the poems. Thank you!

  4. jillianwilkinson5986

    thank you Malcolm, it has been a wonderful journey…and I do have the book! Do you listen to Mark Tully’s early and late program on Sundays, radio 4 – Something Understood? I look forward to that each week, as I have looked forward to your sequence unfolding. all good wishes Jillian >

  5. Karen Foster

    Dear Malcolm, thank you for your wonderful poetry that has so gently guided me through Lent, and given me a new appreciation for poetry in general, and George Herbert’s in particular. Your voice is soothing to listen to.

  6. Malcolm, I have so enjoyed taking this journey with you! Your sonnets have brought George Herbert’s poem more vividly alive and aided my understanding of the lines. I have your After Prayer book and look forward to dipping into it again in future days. Thank you for your deep, meaningful reflections and breathtakingly beautiful poetry. They are both gift and grace. Blessings.

  7. Pingback: Prayer and ‘After Prayer’, a Hypertext | Malcolm Guite

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