George Herbert was an English poet, orator and Anglican priest with a Welsh origin. He had descended from a wealthy family and thus, was educated well. Herbert was an excellent student of language and music in his college days. Initially, he dreamt of becoming a prominent priest but his scholarship brought him into the notice of King James I/VI. During 1630s, Herbert surrendered his secular aspirations to take holy orders in the Church of England. Thereafter, he spent all his life serving as a rector of the little parish of Fugglestone St Peter with Bemerton St Andrew, near Salisbury. Herbert is also greatly known for his flawless care for his parishioners. He worked on religious poetry which was distinguished by a precision of language, a rhythmical versatility, and brilliant use of imagery. Some of the most popular poems of Herbert are “King of Glory, King of Peace” (Praise), “Let All the World in Every Corner Sing” (Antiphon) and “Teach me, my God and King” (The Elixir).
George Herbert Childhood and Early Life
Herbert was born on 3rd April, 1593 in Montgomery in Wales. He belonged to a wealthy, prominent and intellectual family. Also, his family was greatly devoted to arts. His mother, Magdalen, was a patron and friend of several poets including John Donne. His father, Richard Herbert, Lord of Cherbury passed away when George was just three years old. Herbert had 9 siblings, including Edward who later became Lord Herbert of Cherbury and a crucial poet and philosopher. Edward was also frequently called “the father of English deism”. Herbert enrolled inWestminster School when he was around 12 and became a day student. Sometime later he rose up to the level of scholar and later in 1609, got admission in Trinity College, Cambridge on the basis of scholarship. Herbert gained his bachelor’s degree and later master’s degree from the same college in 1613. After receiving degrees with distinction from Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, he was elected as a major fellow in his college. Herbert, in 1618, got appointment as a reader in Rhetoric at Cambridge. In 1620, he was chosen for the post of orator at Cambridge University. Herbert worked as an orator till 1628. Herbert, in 1624, became aMember of Parliament and represented Montgomeryshire. Although everything was favoring him to build a career at court with respectful positions and kindness of James I towards him but the deaths of King in 1625 and his two most influential patrons reversed the situation against him. However, it is believed that the servings of Herbert to the parliament may have ended in 1624 as no records are found in 1625 Commons Journal by his name.
In 1630, Herbert acquired his duties in Bemerton, a rural parish in Wiltshire which is about 75 miles southwest of London. In Bemerton, Herbert preached and worked on poems. He also helped in the reconstruction of the church with his own funds. In 1633, he completed a collection of his poems titled,”The Temple”. This work presented an impression of the architectural style of churches with the help of meaning of the words and their visible structure. Herbert treated the themes of God and Love as both psychological forces and metaphysical phenomena. He only survived three years after taking holy duties. Also it is said that lying on his deathbed, he handed over the manuscript of “The Temple” to Nicholas Ferrar, who was the founder of a semi-monastic Anglican religious community at Little Gidding, asking him to publish the same if he thinks that it might “turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul” and otherwise burn them.
One of the most looked up works of Herbert is “Easter Wings”, which was a pattern-based poem. In the work, the words are not only supposed to be read but also the structure is to look out for. To accomplish the same, the poem was published on two pages of the book, sideways, in a way that reflected as if two birds were flying upwards. In 1633, the collection of his poems was published in “The Temple”. It contained lots of holy poems and personal ejaculations which were edited by Nicholas Ferrar. The work witnessed eight editions by the year 1690. In 1652, Barnabas Oley also edited Herbert’s Remains or sundry pieces of that Sweet Singer, Mr. George Herbert, including A Priest to the Temple, or the countrey parson, Jacula Prudentum, &c. In 1671, second edition came up as A Priest to the Temple or the Country Parson. All the surviving English writing of Herbert are religious and some of them are also used as hymns too. His religious poetry included “The Altar.” Herbert’s “Jacula Prudentium”, an accumulation of pithy proverbs and was published in 1651. Apart from English, he also wrote poems in Greek and Latin. His work has been attracting many composers to set his poetry into music.
Herbert was going through a bad health and eventually died onMarch 1, 1633 of tuberculosis.
Herbert is commemorated by theAnglican Communion on 27th February every year and by the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on March 1. He also has a window to pay him homage in Westminster Abbey and a statue in niche 188 on the West Front of Salisbury Cathedral.