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Complete English Poems


Publisher writes

George Herbert combined the intellectual and the spiritual, the humble and the divine, to create some of the most moving devotional poetry in the English language. His deceptively simple verse uses the ingenious arguments typical of seventeenth-century metaphysical' poets, and unusual imagery drawn from musical structures, the natural world and domestic activity to explore a mosaic of Biblical themes. From the wit and wordplay of The Pulley' and the formal experimentation of Easter Wings' and Paradise', to the intense, highly personal relationship between man and God portrayed in The Collar' and Redemption', the works collected here show the transcendental power of divine love.

Author Information

George Herbert, (edited by John Tobin), John Tobin

George Herbert was born in 1593. He was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was appointed Reader in Rhetoric in 1618, and PUblic Orator in 1620. Though he seemed destined for a great public career, attracting the attention of influential patrons, including King James I. However, when his patrons died, Herbert resigned from parliament and took holy orders in 1626, becoming rector of a tiny parish on Salisbury Plain. He died in 1633. John Tobin is currently a Professor of English Literature at the University of Massachusetts. he has published widely on the sources of Renaissance poetry.

Judges' and contributors' comments

Cally Hammond: Like Julian, this is a work loved in parts and anthologies as much as for its entirety. Many of its words and ideas have the peculiar power of the very finest poetry to put into words what we, experiencing spiritual realities, were ourselves entirely powerless to express.

Jenny Monds: We felt strongly that the list should include a poetry as well as prose, and for our top 10, it had to be George Herbert. The priest/poet who died in 1633 left us a richness of poetry which still has a wide appeal, as evidenced by the 2,000 tickets sold for the George Herbert Festival held in Salisbury in July 2014.

In choosing my favourite book on the list I looked for a ‘Desert Island Disc’ book, i.e. one that would be capable of sustaining me throughout life in the absence of other books (or with just the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare in addition).  For this I think I need to turn to poetry, and will chose the collected poems of George Herbert, No. 10 on our list. I was somewhat steeped in Herbert in July, and had the privilege of hearing Rowan Williams, Andrew Motion, Gillian Clarke and Helen Wilcox give their thoughts on his wonderful poetry. Rowan Williams described “Love Bade Me Welcome” as ‘possibly the greatest poem in the English language’. Steeped in the psalms, these beautifully musical poems would give me enough sustenance, range of emotion and intellectual stimulation to survive my desert island.

Mark Oakley: This is my No. 1! These poems, full of Herbert’s colloquial energy, reassure me of the reverence and rebellion that make the life of faith one of perplexing adventure and ultimate surprise. 

Reader comments

Simon Surtees

10 October 2014 @ 10:47

Perhaps we could add as an accompaniment to these wonderful poems that they are even better when you have John Drury's Music at Midnight" to contextualise them

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