On our Lenten Journey through Herbert’s poem Prayer, using the sonnets in my new book After Prayer, we have completed Herbert’s beautiful ascent back into bliss, a bliss which is all the more real because it has passed through and transmuted sorrow, and in our last post we saw how Herbert focused that ascent and centred it in Christ in the single image ‘Exalted Manna’.
Now, having been lifted up by Christ, he has a chance to look around and be glad, to delight again in the goodness of God’s creation as well as the wonder of his grace and mercy. Indeed Herbert’s declaration that prayer is ‘gladness of the best’ is fully comprehensive and inclusive. Rather like the General Thanksgiving, it includes ‘our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life’, but also ‘the means of grace and the hope of glory’.
When I came to respond to this phrase in my sonnet sequence I found myself drawn to the word gladness itself, to the sheer glad sound of the word. It is striking that after ‘Manna’ which is a specifically religious word, Herbert chooses ‘gladness’, whose associations, for most of us, are as much ‘secular’ as ‘spiritual’. As for me, I can’t hear the word glad without at the same time hearing the glorious sound of The Beatles singing that word, singing ‘you know you should be glad’. So I decided to celebrate that memory in my response to Herbert’s phrase.
It so happened that shortly after I wrote this poem, I found myself recording some poetry and songs in Studio 2 in Abbey Road, as part of another project, and so I had the special pleasure of reading this ‘Abbey Road’ sonnet in a place that inspired it!
As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title
If prayer itself is gladness of the best,
Then all the best in everything is prayer.
Everything excellent, from east to west,
The best of sacred, best of secular,
The Beatles sing you know you should be glad
And that glad song is gladness of the best,
You know you’re loved, you know that can’t be bad,
Your once-lost love is found and you are blessed.
From that exultant sound in Abbey Road
To jubilation in the Albert Hall,
From well-honed phrases, to a well-wrought ode,
Whatsoever things are lovely, all
Brought to the source of every excellence,
That God might give them back as sacraments.