Sunday, January 16, 2011

Prayer (I) - George Herbert

17th-century English clergyman George Herbert is one of those poets who, on a bad day, can resemble a Hallmark card, but on a good day, is truly astonishing.  Thankfully for us, most of his days were good days, and this fascinating sonnet -- one of his most famous -- was obviously written on one of the best.  Rather than including even a single complete sentence, it consists entirely of fragments, phrases which express what prayer is and means.  It's a great one to read slowly, thinking about the metaphors and images.  Isn't "the soul in paraphrase" a marvelous line?!

Prayer (I)

Prayer, the church's banquet, angel's age,
         God's 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' Almighty, sinner's tow'r,
         Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
         The six-days’ world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
         Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
         Heaven in ordinary, man well dressed,
The Milky Way, the bird of Paradise,
         Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
         The land of spices; something understood.

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