One of the most powerful pictures of prayer in poetry comes from George Herbert’s stunning poem “Prayer (I).” Herbert (1593-1633) was a poet, preacher, and pastor in the Church of England, serving as the rector of the parish of St. Andrews Church, Lower Bemerton. His poetry, collected in The Temple, is associated with the work of the metaphysical poets of the 17th century, including John Donne, Andrew Marvell, and others.
Eugene Peterson borrowed the title of his book on Revelation, Reversed Thunder, from this poem, and John Piper writes: “For me, the phrase ‘reversed thunder,’ as a description of prayer, is worth more than a hundred explanations.” Here it is:
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 drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.