The first poem today comes from a time of plagues and impending war. Herbert lived during the time of the Stuarts, and befor that of Cromwell and the republic, but the tendency was there. He described these poems as a result of his spiritual conflicts, and shared them with Donne and Ferrar: the latter published “The temple” after his death. The Nine Years of the English Civil War did not start until 1642. This is a man who acknowledges history and tradition, a son of his church, in a time of conflict. He was seen as the best of his generation by all.
Bright spark, shot from a brighter place,
Where beams surround my Saviours face,
Canst thou be any where
So well as there?
•et, if thou wilt from thence depart,
Take a bad lodging in my heart;
For thou canst make a debter,
And make it better.
First with thy fire-work burn to dust
Folly, and worse then folly, lust:
Then with thy light refine,
And make it shine:
So disengag’d from sinne and sicknesse,
Touch it with thy celestiall quicknesse,
That it may hang and move
After thy love.
Then with our trinitie of light,
Motion, and heat, let’s take our flight
Unto the place where thou
Before didst bow.
Get me a standing there, and place
Among the beams, which crown the face
Of him, who dy’d to part
Sinne and my heart
That so among the rest I may
Glitter, and curle, and winde as they:
That winding is their fashion
Sure thou wilt joy, by gaining me
To flie home like a laden bee
Unto that hive of beams
The Temple, George Herbert
Contrasting this is Baxter, who had faith, but by the middle of the 1960s was losing it. His childhood Quaker background did not satisfy, and eventually he was received in the Catholic faith. His hatred of history, his hope of making an syncretic New Zealand was a folorn project. Instead of Little Gidding, where Ferrar had a community, her retreated to Jerusalem.
The only commonality is that they both died too early.
I advise rest; the farmhouse
we dug you up in has been
modernized, and the people
who hung you as their ikon
against the long passage wall
are underground — Incubus
and excellent woman, we
inherit the bone acre
of your cages and laws. This
dull green land suckled at your
blood’s frigor Anglicanus,
crowning with a housewife’s tally
the void of Empire, does not
remember you — and certain
bloody bandaged ghosts rising
from holes of Armageddon
at Gallipoli or Sling
Camp, would like to fire a shot
through the gilt frame. I advise
rest, Madam; and yet the tomb
holds much that we must travel
barely without. Your print — ‘from
an original pencil
drawing by the Marchioness
‘of Granby, March, eighteen nine-
ty seven…’ Little mouth, strong
nose and hooded eye — they speak
of half-truths my type have slung
out of the window, and lack
and feel the lack too late. Queen,
you stand most for the time of
early light, clay roads, great trees
unfelled, and the smoke from huts
where girls in sack dresses
stole butter . . . The small rain spits
today. You smile in your grave.
James K Baxter
Perhaps the problem with the Anglicans of Baxter’s time was that they lacked fervency. The ones who followed that generation did, at least in his hometown: they had been infected by the liberal presbyterianism of that region that makes the Quakers seem orthodox.
But I think the metaphysical poets had more fervency. At prayer, in marriage, and in life. They knew their time could be short, and the future uncertain. For many of them, it was.