Thursday, January 17, 2008

George Herbert and Vikram Seth

George Herbert (April 3, 1593 – March 1, 1633), Rector of the parish of St. Andrew, Bemerton, near Salisbury. (1630-1633)

St. Andrew's Church dating from the 13th Century. One mile west of Salisbury Cathedral

Bemerton Rectory on the banks of the River Nadder (now part of Salisbury) [house dating from 1470 restored by George Herbert] / Medlar Tree That George Herbert Planted 1630

The poet and novelist, Vikram Seth, (author of The Golden Gate , A Suitable Boy, An Equal Music) has an interesting piece in The Times Literary Supplement

He is the present owner of the former Rectory attached to St Andrews, Bemerton in Somerset, where for three years the poet and Anglican priest, George Herbert (April 3, 1593 – March 1, 1633) lived and where he died.

Seth explains his early encounter with the works of George Herbert at school studying for `A` Level English.

Many years later, by chance, the Rectory came on the market and he bought it.

He explains how the house`s associations and his earlier readings of three poems of Herbert`s (below) led him to compose a number of poems (set out in the article).

The three poems of Herbert`s referred to in the article are:

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.


SWEET day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridall of the earth and skie :
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night ;
For thou must die.

Sweet rose, whose hue angrie 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 dayes and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie,
My musick shows ye have your closes,
And all must die.

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


PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth ;

Engine against th’ Almightie, sinner's towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear ;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices, something understood.