The Elixir by George Herbert
George Herbert is best known as one of the metaphysical poets from the 1600s. He was a Christian and chose the life of a country pastor.
Here is one of the poems about the daily Christian life from his collection, “The Temple”, in which each poem had its own unique form. This collection was published after his death.
By George Herbert
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.
Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossest,
And give it his perfection.
A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.
All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture—”for Thy sake”—
Will not grow bright and clean.
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th’ action fine.
This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.
While John Donne is more famous, perhaps due to his reacknowledgment by T. S. Eliot, Herbert poems are very good, too. He has also achieved the difficult task of making very good poems with positive emotions rather than melancholic or negative ones.
The poem structure: this is the only poem written this way in the collection. It has six stanzas, and each stanza has four lines. Each stanza has a 3 foot line, a 3 foot line, a 4 foot line, and a 3 foot line (for foot think stress). The feet are iambic (de-dum). The rhythm scheme is a b a’ b’, like stone/gold/own/told.
Each stanza is broken into two parts: (stanza one) seeing and doing; (stanza two) negative and positive action; (stanza three) looking through or at a glass; (stanza four) good action and how; (stanza five) role and action; and (stanza six) image and explanation.
“in 1610 he [George Herbert] declared that “my poor abilities in poetry shall be all, and ever consecrated to God’s glory”…”
Read more at George Herbert’s Life Before Bemerton
“While he and his wife Jane had no children of their own, they adopted his three orphaned nieces who lived with them in the rectory. They were generous in their hospitality to both parishioners and strangers, and sought to fashion their family life according to the way of Christ…”
Read more at George Herbert – The Bemerton Years