Happy George Herbert Day

February 27, 2008

Today is George Herbert day: the Church of England selected this day to be a “lesser feast” in honor of a favorite son. Yes, he was yet another rich white guy, born into the cultural elite (his mom was buddies with John Donne), but for the last three years of his life this former member of Parliament worked as a country priest, giving communion and burying people and feeding the hungry. The Evangelical Lutherans also celebrate him. (They do it, more sensibly, on the date of his death, March 1st. I don’t know whether 2/27 has a special significance for the Anglicans, or if they just had an open slot there.) The Book of Common Prayer prescribes a special prayer for George Herbert Day, which I have included at the very end.

It was hard choosing one poem to share. It’s amazing that someone who wrote so long ago can still be so readily understood, and even possess something a post-modern reader would recognize as “edge.” And it’s pleasing to find someone for whom the quality of the literature and the depth of the theology are inextricable.

Virtue

Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky;
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night,
For thou must die.

Sweet rose, whose hue angry and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye;
Thy root is ever in its grave,
And thou must die.

Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie;
My music shows ye have your closes,
And all must die.

Only a sweet and virtuous soul,
Like season’d timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
Then chiefly lives.

***

King of glory, king of peace,
who called your servant George Herbert
from the pursuit of worldly honours
to be a priest in the temple of his God and king:
grant us also the grace to offer ourselves
with singleness of heart in humble obedience to your service;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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