Herbert Festivall Poetry — Lent

Today is the feast day of George Herbert. Since this little corner of the interwebs is named after a line in a Herbert poem, we like to keep his octave. Last year, it is bits from A Priest to the Temple. This year, I’ll have a new Herbert poem each day for the octave. After each poem, you’ll find some commentary.


Welcome deare feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authoritie,
But is compos’d of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church sayes, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow
To ev’ry Corporation.

The humble soul compos’d of love and fear
Begins at home, and layes the burden there,
When doctrines disagree.
He sayes, in things which use hath justly got,
I am a scandall to the Church, and not
The Church is so to me.

True Christians should be glad of an occasion
To use their temperance, seeking no evasion,
When good is seasonable;
Unlesse Authoritie, which should increase
The obligation in us, make it lesse,
And Power it self disable.

Besides the cleannesse of sweet abstinence,
Quick thoughts and motions at a small expense,
A face not fearing light:
Whereas in fulnesse there are sluttish1 fumes,
Sowre exhalations, and dishonest rheumes,2
Revenging the delight.

Then those same pendant profits, which the spring
And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing,
And goodnesse of the deed.
Neither ought other mens abuse of Lent
Spoil the good use; lest by that argument
We forfeit all our Creed.

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 goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
That travelleth 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.

One could easily write a book about this exquisite poem. I’ll note just one thing: I love the ending. I love the aesthetics of it — the use of language and word sounds. But mostly I am moved by the sense of Christian faith that is exemplified.

We are not meant to keep our Christian faith private, domesticated. Rather, we should be at the door, calling in the poor. We should feed the poor, and thus feed our own soul. We do not feed the poor to help them, or out of pity. Rather, we do it because it’s what Christians do.

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