George Herbert – 3

[George Herbert stained-glass window, in the village church of Bishop Burton, East Riding, Yorkshire, designed by Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907)]

AG: (George Herbert’s) “The Windows” has got one funny line in it – (page) two eighty-eight – the second line – “Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?/ He is a brittle crazy glass” – that’s a nice one – “He is a brittle crazy glass” – “crazy” here is here defined as “flawed”, they say – “ Man is a brittle crazy glass” – Just an interesting little snippet I thought.

“Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?/He is a brittle crazy glass;///Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford/This glorious and transcendent place,/To be a window, through thy grace.”

And “”Virtue” page two nine-one, is a more like…those classical little lyrics about transitoriness, with a really nice cadence. So, why don’t we try that – “Virtue” – page two nine-one:

[Student (Sue) reads George Herbert’s “Virtue” in its entirety]

“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 thou the whole world turn to coal,/Then chiefly lives”./ “But though….”            – Sorry, I’ll read it again.

AG: The whole last thing.

Student (Sue); “Only a sweet and virtuous soul,/Like season’d timber, never gives;/But though the whole world turn to coal,/Then chiefly lives.”   – Is that better?

AG: Yeah. So what are the counts on that? – “Only a sweet and virtuous soul” – that’s nine syllables (that’s not enough) – “Like season’d/ tim-ber/, never/ gives” – that’s eight beats – “But though the whole world turn to coal” – that’s eight – “Then chiefly lives” – four.

He does one thing that’s been done before but he does it almost scientifically and repeatedly and… which is to arrange his stanzas so there’s one little short line (it’s his specialty) – there’s one little short line, There’s a regular four-square stanza (like everybody else’s four-line stanzas) with ABAB rhymes  (roses-lie-closes-die). Usually, they’re, here, all of equal length, the lines, tetrameter – or there’ll be a tetrameter followed by a trimeter (that is a three-beat line) – “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.” would generally be the form – that is to say, 4-3-4-3 or 4-4-4-4 – four stresses, four stresses, four stresses, four stresses – or  4-3-4-3 –  but here he’s got 4-4-4-4-2 (and he ends on 2 every time)   – “For thou must die”. – “And thou must die” – “And all must die” – “Then chiefly lives.” – So, it’s interesting, it’s composed like a funny box (die-die-die-lives)  (sky-die-I-die-lie-die-gives-lives) – And also  “Then chiefly lives.”, “And thou must die”, “And all must die” – So we’ll get it later on, where he actually makes use of that shortening of the line at the end of each stanza to make a funny special little echo, or just an extra note. In other words.. But here.. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked with a stanza like that, but you’ve got… I’m just trying to make you aware of  (the fact) that there is such a stanza where the first three lines are long and the last line is a shorty. You know.. Or you can make a shorty in any line. And if you make a shorty in the second, or third, or fourth, you get a completely different sense of the cadence. But the cadence here is kind of nice – “But thou the whole world turn to coal,/ Then chiefly lives.”

Perhaps next?…   Also, you notice cadence “closes” – “My music shows ye have your closes” – Everybody notice the footnote? – “Closes” – a musical term – “the conclusion of a musical strain” – That use of “closes”, I think (Thomas) Campion uses that too in one of his songs – “Sweet divisions and their closes”,  or some such like that – when he was making a pun on music in his songs and the beauty of his lady which was like music – or she sang music equally well to himself… but..)   So.. this is simply a little detective clue that Herbert is really involved with musical puns and is making little puns about music – “My music..” – My music shows ye have your closes” – So what are the “closes” on this? – “And all must die” – So it’s funny, the closes on each stanza, dig?, is a shortie,  And it fits in – “And all must die” – so.. he kills each stanza a little bit early, to get.. to get the maximum pathos out of it. He kills the cadence a little fast to get the pathos out of it, and he also points you, your attention, to the fact, “My music shows you have your closes/ And all must die’ – Finally – you got it? – (it’s a joke, sort of a witty joke).

However, at this point, the verse is all… well, not musical, but it’s getting further and further away from a kind of sensory experience, or direct observation in nature, it’s getting more…    – because of the abstract subject-matter generally (here, it’s about a common factor – death) but, because of the prayer form, or the centralization of his intellect through God notion, the experience contained in the poem becomes more and more a meta-experience, I think, and will become more and more so, as English poetry goes on, (up to the time of (Alexander) Pope), another hundred years (except that (William) Blake makes such a big breakthrough, and brings it back down to earth again).

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seven-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately fourteen-and-a-quarter minutes in]

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