Encountering Divine in Verses: A Journey through George Herbert’s ‘The Temple

When you stroll down the lanes of a bustling farmer’s market, you are bound to come across two types of produce. One is delightful, beautiful, and something you admire before moving on to the next stall. Then there’s the other kind that doesn’t just please your eyes but also nurtures you from within, like seeds germinating inside you. This comparison, as once drawn by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, rings true for the captivating world of poetry and poets.

George Herbert, a revered poet of the 17th century, falls into the latter category. His poems are not just pieces of art to be appreciated but transformative experiences to be internalized. Esteemed personalities such as C.S. Lewis, Simone Weil, T.S. Eliot, and countless others have been profoundly influenced by Herbert’s work. His creation ‘The Temple’ resonates with readers from all walks of life, Christian and non-Christian alike, highlighting his ability to touch souls beyond religious boundaries.

Herbert, born into a prosperous aristocratic family in 1593, carved a path for himself in academia before embracing his calling as an Anglican vicar. After a life brimming with ups and downs, he passed away in 1633, leaving behind a treasure trove of literature, including his phenomenal work ‘The Temple,’ which was published posthumously.

‘The Temple’ is essentially a collection of around 160 English poems divided into three sections: “The Church-porch,” “The Church,” and “The Church Militant.” It’s the middle section, “The Church,” that truly embodies Herbert’s spiritual genius and has made him an enduring figure in religious poetry. Here are five reasons why this section resonates with readers over centuries:

  1. Direct Conversations with God: Much like Augustine’s Confessions, many of Herbert’s poems are prayers, addressed directly to God. This imbues the poems with a sense of earnestness and urgency, making them engaging and deeply relatable.
  2. Brutal Honesty: Herbert’s poems are not merely sentimental musings but reflections of his spiritual struggles, disappointments, and vulnerabilities. This honesty allows readers to empathize and connect with him deeply.
  3. Clear and Accessible: Herbert’s poems are not overly complicated but beautifully simple, employing everyday imagery. This simplicity allows readers to explore and comprehend the depth of his thoughts without feeling overwhelmed.
  4. Mastery over Craft: Herbert’s inventive approach to poetry is evident in his varied formats and evocative language. His skillful crafting of words turns simple phrases into memorable, heart-stirring expressions.
  5. The Vision of a Sovereign God: Herbert’s poems reflect his belief in a God who is omnipotent and magnanimous. Even though he upholds doctrines of election and grace, his portrayal of God appeals to a wide spectrum of readers.

As you dive into the transformative world of George Herbert’s ‘The Temple,’ here are a few tips to enhance your experience:

  • Find poems that resonate with you for their content, form, or language. Enjoy them before you try to decode the poet’s thoughts.
  • Understand the poems in their immediate and broader context. Herbert’s poems often bear significant connections to his life, his larger works, and the Holy Scriptures.
  • Allow Herbert’s poems to deepen your understanding of God and yourself. His earnestness, honesty, and godliness may challenge, inspire, and transform your thinking and feelings.

In conclusion, George Herbert’s ‘The Temple’ is more than just a collection of religious poems; it’s an invitation to experience a divine encounter through verses. Let these poems grow inside you, nurturing your spiritual journey and transforming your understanding of life and the divine.