My God, where is that ancient heat towards thee,
Wherewith whole shoals of martyrs once did burn,
Besides their other flames? Doth poetry
Wear Venus’ livery? only serve her turn?
Why are not sonnets made of thee? and lays
Upon thine altar burnt? Cannot thy love
Heighten a spirit to sound out thy praise
As well as any she? Cannot thy Dove
Outstrip their Cupid easily in flight?
Or, since thy ways are deep, and still the same,
Will not a verse run smooth that bears thy name!
Why doth that fire, which by thy power and might
Each breast does feel, no braver fuel choose
Than that, which one day, worms may chance refuse.
Sure Lord, there is enough in thee to dry
Oceans of ink; for, as the Deluge did
Cover the earth, so doth thy Majesty:
Each cloud distills thy praise, and doth forbid
Poets to turn it to another use.
Roses and lilies speak thee; and to make
A pair of cheeks of them, is thy abuse
Why should I women’s eyes for crystal take?
Such poor invention burns in their low mind
Whose fire is wild, and doth not upward go
To praise, and on thee, Lord, some ink bestow.
Open the bones, and you shall nothing find
In the best face but filth; when Lord, in thee
The beauty lies in the discovery.
Comments: Here is George Herbert in the fury of youth, unmarried as of yet, in love with God rather than with a woman. We forsee his whole world-spurning, ambition-spurning character in the flame of the forge, in the moment of formation.
Later, we will survey a metaphysical poem or two, of which Herbert was great creator. But this is a rhetorical poem – arguing for a point of view.
Do you agree with his argument? In my view there is a little too much of the Puritan here if you don’t allow for a bit of hyperbole, a bit of rhetorical overstatment, of unnecessary rhetorical opposition. Nevertheless, I never fail to catch fire a little when I read it. My God, where is that ancient heat toward thee?
This is another of my youthful favorites. We will move on from them to more mature fare eventually.