Favorite Poems by George Herbert

Here are three of my favorite poems by George Herbert. As with all poetry, you will get the most out of the poems if you take them slowly and read them through several times, out loud if possible.

“THE ALTAR” – by George Herbert (Notice how the shape of the poem resembles an altar.)

A broken ALTAR, Lord thy servant rears,
Made of a heart, and cemented with tears:1
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workman’s tool hath touch’d the same.
A HEART alone
Is such a stone,2
As nothing but
Thy pow’r doth cut.3
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame,
To praise thy name.
That if I chance to hold my peace,
These stones to praise thee may not cease.4
O let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,
And sanctify this ALTAR to be thine.

1. See Psalm 51:17.
2. See Deuteronomy 27:2-6 and 2 Corinthians 3:2-3.
3. See Ezekiel 37:25-27 and Zechariah 7:12.
4. See Luke 19:40.


“REDEMPTION” – by George Herbert

Having been tenant long to a rich Lord,
    Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
    And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’ old.1

In heaven at his manor I him sought:
    They told me there, that he was lately gone
    About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.

I straight return’d, and knowing his great birth,
    Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
    In cities, theaters, gardens, parks, and courts:
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth

    Of thieves and murderers:  there I him espied,
    Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.

1. th’ old. The Old Covenant, as opposed to the New Covenant of grace.


LOVE (III) – by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
        If I lack’d anything.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
        Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, the ungrateful? Ah my dear,
        I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
        Who made the eyes but I?

Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
        My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
        So I did sit and eat.

Source (for poems and footnotes): George Herbert: The Country Parson, The Temple (The Classics of Western Spirituality; 1981)

Click here for more poems by George Herbert.
Click here for poems by Ray Fowler.

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