Sunday Poem and Larkin

The topic of the poem by Herbert is money, or the greed for money. This is a trap. You can accumulate and not enjoy, or you can enjoy overmuch and not accumulate. A wise man leaves an inheritance for his grandchildren. But there is more to life than one’s bank balance. Which is why Larkin, that pagan from the 1960s, is linked with Herbert, from four centuries previous.


Money, thou bane of blisse, & sourse of wo,
Whence com’st thou, that thou art so fresh and fine?
I know thy parentage is base and low:
Man found thee poore and dirtie in a mine.

Surely thou didst so little contribute
To this great kingdome, which thou now hast got,
That he was fain, when thou wert destitute,
To digge thee out of thy dark cave and grot:

Then forcing thee by fire he made thee bright:
Nay, thou hast got the face of man; for we
Have with our stamp and seel transferr’d our right:
Thou art the man, and man but drosse to thee.

Man calleth thee his wealth, who made thee rich;
And while he diggs out thee, falls in the ditch.

The temple, George Herbert


Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
‘Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
You could get them still by writing a few cheques.’

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don’t keep it upstairs.
By now they’ve a second house and car and wife:
Clearly money has something to do with life

—In fact, they’ve a lot in common, if you enquire:
You can’t put off being young until you retire,
And however you bank your screw, the money you save
Won’t in the end buy you more than a shave.

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

Philip Larkin

Both knew money was not the end, but what then was? For Larkin, it was pleasure, but I have a suspicion that Herbert loved better, because he had a deeper love, shared with his wife, that was God.