George Herbert, “Easter Wings” [Poetry for Easter]

Each week during Lent I posted a poem that I have found helpful for deeper engagement with Jesus’ journey to the Cross (see “Poetry for Lent“). Because that was so meaningful for me, I will continue into Eastertide with a similar “Poetry for Easter” series. Each week I will post a poem that helps me engage more meaningfully with the message of Easter. Here is George Herbert’s poem “Easter Wings” from The Temple. George Herbert was a priest in the Church of England and one of the most significant poets of the 17th century metaphysical poetry movement.


Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
      Though foolishly he lost the same,
            Decaying more and more,
                  Till he became
                        Most poore:
                        With thee
                  O let me rise
            As larks, harmoniously,
      And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne
      And still with sicknesses and shame.
            Thou didst so punish sinne,
                  That I became
                        Most thinne.
                        With thee
                  Let me combine,
            And feel thy victorie:
         For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

George Herbert, “Ash Wednesday” [Poetry for Lent]

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Every Thursday during Lent, I am posting a poem I have found meaningful for entering into Jesus’ journey to the Cross.This week, as we begin the Lenten journey, here is George Herbert’s poem “Ash Wednesday.” George Herbert was a poet and priest in 17th-century England.

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is composed of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to your Mother, what you would allow
To every Corporation.

*  *  *

It ‘s true, we cannot reach Christ’s fortieth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Savior’s purity;
Yet are bid, Be holy ev’n as he.
In both let ‘s do our best.

Who goes in the way which Christ has gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
Who travels the by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn, and take me by the hand, and more
May strengthen my decays.

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast
As may our faults control:
That ev’ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlor; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.

“Peace”: two poems by Herbert and Hopkins

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This past weekend, my message at Eastbrook Church was entitled “The Hunger for Peace.” It was the latest installment of our “Hungry for God” series during Lent. As with many sermons, there are aspects of study and illustrations that never make it into the actual delivered message. As a lover of poetry, I couldn’t help but want to share these two poems on peace, one by 17th century poet and priest, George Herbert, and another by 19th century poet and priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins.

“Peace” by George Herbert

Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell ?  I humbly crave,
        Let me once know.
    I sought thee in a secret cave,
      And ask’d, if Peace were there.
A hollow winde did seem to answer, No :
        Go seek elsewhere.

I did ;  and going did a rainbow note :
        Surely, thought I,
    This is the lace of Peaces coat :
      I will search out the matter.
But while I lookt, the clouds immediately
        Did break and scatter.

Then went I to a garden, and did spy
        A gallant flower,
    The crown Imperiall :  Sure, said I,
      Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digg’d, I saw a worm devoure
        What show’d so well.

At length I met a rev’rend good old man :
        Whom when of Peace
    I did demand, he thus began ;
      There was a Prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who liv’d with good increase
        Of flock and fold.

He sweetly liv’d ;  yet sweetnesse did not save
        His life from foes.
    But after death out of his grave
      There sprang twelve stalks of wheat :
Which many wondring at, got some of those
        To plant and set.

It prosper’d strangely, and did soon disperse
        Through all the earth :
    For they that taste it do rehearse,
      That vertue lies therein ;
A secret vertue bringing peace and mirth
        By flight of sinne.

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
        And grows for you ;
    Make bread of it :  and that repose
      And peace, which ev’ry where
With so much earnestnesse you do pursue
        Is onely there.

   *   *   *

“Peace” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
      He comes to brood and sit.

Prayer (I) by George Herbert

george-herbertOne 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.