Spontaneous Poetics – (George Herbert)

George Herbert (1593-1633)

AG: On George Herbert, there are a few poems which.. I mean, there is a great deal to read. Has anybody read any of Herbert? How many have read Herbert? And how many don’t know any of his poems. Raise your hands. So I’ll just get a couple in. He was a priest, and “God” ‘s in and out of his poetry, plus a funny kind of personal eccentricity and crankiness, which makes him interesting now because he’s a strange goof. [Allen begins by reading George Herbert’s “The Collar”] – (“I struck the board and cried, “No more,/ I will abroad!?/ What? shall I ever sigh and pine?…”…”But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild/ At every word./Methought I heard one calling Child!/ And I replied, My Lord!”) – Big, strange shift. I think there’s an element of S & M, of masochism, in Herbert, which comes through, which I don’t think has been commented on completely by critics. Here’s one called “Discipline” [Allen reads, in its entirety, George Herbert’s poem, “Discipline“] – (“Throw away thy rod,/ Throw away thy wrath,/ O my God,/ Take the gentle path..”..,”Throw away thy rod,/ Though man frailties hath,/ Thou art God/ Throw away thy wrath.”) – That’s like good pleading. Now…

Student: Can you wait a second, Allen? [end of the tape…tape then resumes]

AG: So this is in the 1630s – round about – One poem on death and one on love, of his. Really funny conceptions and funny images. (First), on death [Allen reads, in its entirety, George Herbert’s poem, “Death”– (“Death, thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing,/ Nothing but bones,/ The sad effect of sadder groans:/ Thy mouth was open but thou could not sing”…”But since our Savior’s death did put some blood/ Into thy face,/ Thou art grown fair and full of grace,/Much in request, much sought for as good”.)

And on love – this is again that odd element of spiritual S & M, but (an) almost universal display of it. Here, the love of Christ or God, but it’s mixed with total erotic, straightforward, imagery (or straightforward erotic imagery) [Allen reads, in its entirety, George Herbert’s poem, “Love”] – (“Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back/ Guilty of dust and sin/ But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack/ From my first entrance in,/ Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning/ If I lacked anything..”..””You must sit down”, says Love, “and taste my meat”/ So I did sit and eat.”) – That’s pretty good. You can have that with a God, or you can have that with a human being. You can have that particular relationship with a human.

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