Tag Archives: joy

Echoes of harmonies and blisse.

St Andrew’s Church in Bemerton, Wiltshire

This is the church where George Herbert served as rector for a only a few years before his death at the age of 39. He was born in Wales in 1593, into a wealthy and powerful family. The poet John Donne was his godfather, which was surely an important role, as his father Richard died when George was three years old. After his university education he held posts at Cambridge, was briefly a member of parliament, and held the clerical post of prebend.

But it wasn’t until 1629 that he decided to enter the priesthood and was appointed to the parish where “he lived, preached and wrote poetry; he also helped to rebuild the Bemerton church and rectory out of his own funds.”

He knew he was dying (of consumption); it was in that last year of life that he sent all of his poems to his friend Nicholas Ferrar, asking him to publish them if he thought they were good for anything. He said that they held “a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed between God and my soul, before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus, my Master.” Commenting on George Herbert’s religious poetry later in the 17th century, Richard Baxter said that the poet “speaks to God like one that really believeth in God, and whose business in the world is most with God. Heart-work and heaven-work make up his books.”

His prose works include a volume of nearly 1200 “outlandish proverbs” that he collected, and which is currently available on Amazon. That’s one that looks interesting to me, too.

Charles Cotton described George Herbert as a “soul composed of harmonies,” and it seems that he was also a skilled lutenist and composed hymns. More than ninety of Herbert’s poems have been set for singing over the centuries by composers like Benjamin Britten, Henry Purcell, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. When I read that the Wesley brothers adapted a few dozen for the Methodist hymnal, I checked out our family’s inheritance of hymnals from Methodist and Presbyterian churches but only found one attribution to Herbert.

But I do have a collection of his poems. I’ve shared other works of this poet; now here is one that I only recently noticed, whose echo-dialogue and themes I like very much. I found online a thorough exploration of the poem by Inge Leimberg, who tells us that “In Herbert the three themes of death, being restored from death, and spiritual vision are closely bound up with music and poetry (which to Herbert are one and the same).” I haven’t finished reading her essay, but I did catch one example of the layers of meaning he was famous for; “holy leaves” likely refer not just to leaves, but also to pages of the Bible.

One friend was of the opinion that Herbert would be singing his melodies with the angels in heaven, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the angels do join in with this harmonious and persevering soul.

HEAVEN

O who will show me those delights on high?
Echo.         I.
Thou Echo, thou art mortall, all men know.
Echo.         No.
Wert thou not born among the trees and leaves?
Echo.         Leaves.
And are there any leaves, that still abide?
Echo.         Bide.
What leaves are they? impart the matter wholly.
Echo.         Holy.
Are holy leaves the Echo then of blisse?
Echo.         Yes.
Then tell me, what is that supreme delight?
Echo.         Light.
Light to the minde : what shall the will enjoy?
Echo.         Joy.
But are there cares and businesse with the pleasure?
Echo.         Leisure.
Light, joy, and leisure ; but shall they persever?
Echo.         Ever.

-George Herbert 1593–1633

Spider Christmas Day

I know it’s their Christmas, because all the spiders in town had been awake all night decorating. They ran to and fro along the creek banks for miles stringing their prettiest threads over pyracantha, ceanothus, grass and star jasmine — the milk thistle was draped extra thick and milky — but clearly their favorite thing to deck with silver and white was the wild fennel, at every stage of its growth, from fine fronds to long-dried seeds.

After a half hour of admiring the holy day celebrations of spiders, I was brought up short by a different sort of beauty. Willow bushes rising from the creek are lifting their buds heavenward; it must be their message of resurrection joy that filled my heart to bursting.

Christ is risen!

 

Away from shadows and wilting.

For a half hour I walked my loop bending backward to take pictures of these crazy clouds. They filled the whole sky.

After a while I thought maybe they were blending together too much to be quite as interesting, and my neck was getting tired. By then I was closer to home noticing the street view, and several unwatered lawns in the neighborhood with a cheery wildflower/weed display:

DESPAIR

So much gloom and doubt in our poetry –
flowers wilting on the table,
the self regarding itself in a watery mirror.

Dead leaves cover the ground,
the wind moans in the chimney,
and the tendrils of the yew tree inch toward the coffin.

I wonder what the ancient Chinese poets
would make of all this,
these shadows and empty cupboards?

Today, with the sun blazing in the trees,
my thoughts turn to the great
tenth-century celebrators of experience,

Wa-Hoo, whose delight in the smallest things
could hardly be restrained,
and to his joyous counterpart in the western provinces,
Ye-Hah.

-Billy Collins

Joy for bees and for me.

 

 

The Autumn Joy sedum was green and in bud for so long I forgot what to expect from it. But now its big heads are pink, which means little flowers have opened all over for the bees to stick their heads into, and those fields of flowers are so vast, several bees can range over them at once and not feel cramped.

Other things of interest in the garden are the toadflax at its thickest yellow cheeriness, and my one hydrangea that is as blue as I could want. I put lots of pine needles in the bottom of this pot, and wonder if that helped. My others had changed to pink, and I bought special food for them, hoping to affect next year’s bloom.

My garden was planned so that something is blooming almost every month. That means there is always something that has recently finished blooming and needs trimming, like the yarrow behind the sedum above. And that means always some reason for my gardener helpers and me to be out there taking joy with the bees. 🙂