The Pearl

June 4, 2006 at 5:47 pm Leave a comment

George Herbert


I know the ways of Learning; both the head
And pipes that feed the press, and make it run;
What reason hath from nature borrowed,
Or of itself, like a good huswife, spun
In laws and policy; what the stars conspire,
What willing nature speaks, what forced by fire;
Both th’ old discoveries, and the new-found seas,
The stock and surplus, cause and history:
All these stand open, or I have the keys:
Yet I love thee.

I know the ways of Honour, what maintains
The quick returns of courtesy and wit:
In vies of favours whether party gains,
When glory swells the heart, and moldeth it
To all expressions both of hand and eye,
Which on the world a true-love-knot may tie,
And bear the bundle, wheresoe’er it goes:
How many drams of spirit there must be
To sell my life unto my friends or foes:
Yet I love thee.

I know the ways of Pleasure, the sweet strains,
The lullings and the relishes of it;
The propositions of hot blood and brains;
What mirth and music mean; what love and wit
Have done these twenty hundred years, and more:
I know the projects of unbridled store:
My stuff is flesh, not brass; my senses live,
And grumble oft, that they have more in me
Than he that curbs them, being but one to five:
Yet I love thee.

I know all these, and have them in my hand:
Therefore not sealed, but with open eyes
I fly to thee, and fully understand
Both the main sale, and the commodities;
And at what rate and price I have thy love;
With all the circumstances that may move:
Yet through these labyrinths, not my grovelling wit,
But thy silk twist let down from heav’n to me,
Did both conduct and teach me, how by it
To climb to thee.

Yet another love poem to God. This one, simpler and less urgent than Donne’s impassioned sonnet, a marvel of quiet fidelity. True faith, like true love, Herbert says, comes not from ignorance or oppression, not from a suspension of the mind or the senses, but rather from a careful weighing of both the scientific and the sensual against the spiritual, representing not a negation, but a carefully struck bargain [1]. And it’s that sense of balance that the poem itself swells with, with its ababccdede rhyme scheme and its carefully measured sound. This is poetry because it embodies the richness that the language is capable of, the full, glorious sound of the educated tongue.


[1] The reference to ‘The Pearl’ comes from Matthew 13.45:

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls; who, when he had found one, sold all that he hand and bought it.”

Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, George Herbert.

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