Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday poetry - George Herbert

This poem of George Herbert's, The Gifts of God, always reminds me of Barbara Pym because she used a line from it as the title of her novel, A Glass of Blessings, & the poem is quoted in the novel. After spending his youth at university & then pursuing his ambitions as an orator & politician, he took orders as a deacon &  spent the last few years of his short life as rector of the parish of St Andrews, Bemerton near Salisbury.

This is a stained glass window installed in 1933 showing Herbert on the right with his friend, Nicholas Ferrar, on the left. (Picture from Herbert's poetry explores the spiritual life & our relationship to God. I love the image in this poem of God pouring His blessings on man but then, fearing that if Man has everything, he won't need God, He holds back Rest.

When God at first made Man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by;
'Let us,' said He, 'pour on him all we can:
Let the world's riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.'

So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flow'd, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone, of all His treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.

'For if I should,' said He,
'Bestow this jewel also on My creature,
He would adore My gifts instead of Me,
And rest in nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness:
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast.'


  1. Herbert is a poet about whom I know almost nothing and I've certainly read almost nothing. Thank you for this series. It has jogged my arm to make me buy a volume of poetry for my Kindle so that whenever I find myself handing around for a couple of minutes I can just whip it out and enjoy something new.

  2. I'm glad you're enjoying it, Annie. I'm enjoying rereading poems I haven't looked at for years. I only know a few of Herbert's poems but I've always liked this one.