Authors: George Herbert

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Welsh poet

Identity: Christian

Author Works

Poetry:

Musae Responsoriae, 1620, 1662 (printed)

Passio Discerpta, 1623

Lucus, 1623

Memoriae Matris Sacrum, 1627

The Temple, 1633

Poems, 1958, 1961

Nonfiction:

A Treatise of Temperance and Sobrietie of Luigi Cornaro, 1634 (translation)

Outlandish Proverbs Selected by Mr.G.H., 1640 (as Jacula Prudentum, 1651)

A Priest to the Temple: Or, The Country Parson His Character and Rule of Holy Life, 1652

Miscellaneous:

The Works of George Herbert, 1941, 1945 (F. E. Hutchinson, editor)

Biography

The fifth son of an aristocratic family, the poet George Herbert received his early education from his mother, whom he characterizes in his Parentalia, the only volume published in his lifetime. Between the ages of twelve and seventeen he studied at Westminster School. Winner of a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, he received his bachelor’s degree in 1613 and stayed on as minor fellow and later as major fellow until he received his master’s degree in 1616. While at Cambridge he distinguished himself as a Latin and Greek scholar and wrote Latin verses for publication. When he was twenty-three he became prelector in rhetoric, and in 1619 he became public orator. He distinguished himself in the service of James I and received many royal favors for his diligence. The death of the king and the reversal of policies set Herbert on the road that was to immortalize him–that of clergyman and Christian poet. On being ordained deacon in 1626, he resigned his post as orator of Cambridge and became prebendary of Layton Ecclesia.{$I[AN]9810000511}{$I[A]Herbert, George}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Herbert, George}{$I[geo]WALES;Herbert, George}{$I[geo]CHRISTIAN;Herbert, George}{$I[tim]1593;Herbert, George}

In 1629 he married Jane Danvers, who was, according to Izaak Walton, Herbert’s first biographer, a most pious and pleasant person. In 1630 King Charles I presented him with a clerical post at Bemerton, near Salisbury. There Herbert not only rebuilt the church and parsonage but also became an admired preacher. Walton called him “holy Herbert.” During this time, he apparently wrote the “sacred poems” that depict his own spiritual struggles and relationship with God. In its intensity and complexity his poetry is similar to that of John Donne, with whom Herbert is often compared. Three years after assuming the Bemerton living, Herbert died of consumption. He was buried under the altar of Bemerton Church on March 3, 1633. The poems contained in The Temple were collected and published in the same year by his friend Nicholas Ferrar.

BibliographyBloch, Chana. Spelling the Word: George Herbert and the Bible. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. The central book in Herbert’s poetic and devotional life was the Bible, and Bloch explores the implications of this in fascinating detail. She examines not only Herbert’s use of typology and his allusions to and direct quotations from the Bible but also subtler patterns of biblical influence in Herbert’s poems of praise, thanksgiving, instruction, and affliction.Clarke, Elizabeth. Theory and Theology in George Herbert’s Poetry: Divinitie, and Poesie, Met. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1997. Explores the relationship between George Herbert’s poetry and the notion of divine inspiration rooted in devotional texts of his time. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.Hodgkins, Christopher. Authority, Church, and Society in George Herbert: Return to the Middle Way. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993. A critical analysis in which Hodgkins demonstrates that Herbert’s poetry is predominantly nostalgia for old English social, political, and religious customs. Identifies the changes in his poetry as reflections of the changing times.Malcolmson, Cristina. George Herbert: A Literary Life. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. A reconsideration of Herbert, his poetry and his politics. This insightful biography sheds new light on the poet’s intentions and his contemporary audience.Stewart, Stanley. George Herbert. Boston: Twayne, 1986. In this brief study, Stewart surveys Herbert’s life and writings in both poetry and prose and counters emphasis on Herbert’s Protestantism by emphasizing his close connection with medieval Catholicism and High Anglican devotion. He concludes with a fine chapter on Herbert’s influence on other seventeenth century poets and a helpful annotated list of key critical works on Herbert.Strier, Richard. Love Known: Theology and Experience in George Herbert’s Poetry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983. Offers penetrating critical readings of many of the key poems of The Temple, examining in particular how they confirm Herbert’s deep debt to Protestant theology, especially that of Martin Luther. For Strier, Herbert’s poems focus repeatedly on the unreliability of reason and the drama of human unworthiness rendered inconsequential by divine love.Vendler, Helen. The Poetry of George Herbert. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975. While Vendler does not completely disregard the theological context of Herbert’s poems, her focus is on close readings that stress poetic and emotional complexity. Her model is the “reinvented poem,” one that constantly questions itself and ends inconclusively. She comments on nearly all Herbert’s lyrics and sees him at his best when he is ceaselessly analytical, dramatic, and wrought by conflict.
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