George Herbert’s ‘Love (III)’

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 any thing.
 
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, 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 marred 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.
-George Herbert

George Herbert was a metaphysical poet who was prominent during the Elizabethan era. He was also a theologian, priest and an orator. Herbert is renowned for his spiritually inclined poems that touches upon metaphysical and philosophical topics. Most of his spiritual poems recounted his wavering, yet strong relationship with God and the internal conflicts that ensues when he thinks of a material life beyond the constraints of a religious life. His poems are allegorical, auto-biographical and an intimate reflection of his own struggles as a devotee of God.

Herbert’s Love (III) is a part of ‘The Church’, a central part of his work ‘The Temple’. In his ‘Love’ series, he explores various types of relationships and connections. Love (I) entails the relation between mortal and immortal love. Love (II) explores the connection between divine love and human lust. Love (III) is an exploration of sacred love by personifying love in a dialogue between a worshipper and God. Herbert’s connection with his god is exemplified through his lexical simplicity. Here, Herbert’s God is kind and gentle, like an inviting lover whose love compensates for human weaknesses. His worries and doubts of his love for God despite his immense faith is a common theme that runs through this poem as well.

He explicates that Divine Love is unconditional. God, for Herbert, is all forgiving and considers the distance between himself and is devotee more sinful than the internal conflicts that a devotee has. He reinforces the Christian ideology that human resistance to love can be overcome by the love and sacrifice of Christ. His allusion of God as a host has been mentioned several times throughout the bible. And similarly, the part of the speaker resisting the God’s invitation is also a recurring notion that has been shown through prophets like Moses, Isiah, and Jeremiah. But nevertheless, the God is portrayed as a kind and gentle being which represents the idea of Christ. He embraces all his devotees and forgives them no matter how sinful they are. This is referred to as ‘The mystery of God’s love’ in Christian mysticism.

Herbert’s language is very simple and it reflects the conversational tone that has been represented between the God and the Man in the Bible. His style reflects the tender ways in which the psalmists addressed the god, or how the lovers talk to each other in ‘songs of Solomon.’ This is very unlike the vengeful version of God found in other poems of Herbert like ‘Discipline’. Although the concepts in his poems seem borrowed, they are fresh and delivers the simplest poem written on the Christian tradition of ‘Holy Communion’.  Thus Love (III) can be thus considered to be a quintessential Herbert Poem.  

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Categories: Book Review, Literature