I travell’d on, seeing the hill, where lay
A long it was and weary way.
The gloomy cave of Desperation
I left on th’ one, and on the other side
The rock of Pride.
And so I came to fancy’s meadow strow’d
With many a flower:
Fain would I here have made abode,
But I was quicken’d by my hour.
So to care’s copse I came, and there got through
With much ado.
That led me to the wild of Passion, which
Some call the wold;
A wasted place, but sometimes rich.
Here I was robb’d of all my gold,
Save one good Angell, which a friend had ti’d
Close to my side.
At length I got unto the gladsome hill,
Where lay my hope,
Where lay my heart; and climbing still,
When I had gain’d the brow and top,
A lake of brackish waters on the ground
Was all I found.
With that abash’d and struck with many a sting
Of swarming fears,
I fell, and cry’d, Alas my King!
Can both the way and end be tears?
Yet taking heart I rose, and then perceiv’d
I was deceiv’d:
My hill was further: so I flung away,
Yet heard a crie
Just as I went, None goes that way
And lives: If that be all, said I,
After so foul a journey death is fair,
And but a chair.
The Pilgrimage by George Herbert
George Herbert’s The Pilgrimage describes a journey which may have been the inspiration for John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. It speaks of our pilgrimage as one of stops and starts with empathy toward us, his fellow travelers. Referring to other great champions of faith, Patrick Comerford said “Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote of Herbert’s diction that “Nothing can be more pure, manly, or unaffected.” The poet laureate WH Auden wrote of him: “His poetry is the counterpart of Jeremy Taylor’s prose: together they are the finest expressions of Anglican piety at its best.”
In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite thoughtfully guides his reader though the poem and says
I love this poem by George Herbert; it makes me feel that when I’m tired and disoriented he has been in that place too, so at least I am in good company!
Though our Lenten journey is likewise one of purposeful challenge, its goal is to guide us to a destination of unity with God.
How does today’s poem speak to your own pilgrimage?
2 Kings 2:11
Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
D i g D e e p e r
by Malcolm Guite
Gentle exemplar, help us in our trials,
With all that passed between you and your Lord,
That intimate exchange of frowns and smiles
Which chronicled your love-match with the Word.
Your manuscript, entrusted to a friend,
Has been entrusted now to every soul,
We make a new beginning in your end
And find your broken heart has made us whole.
Time has transplanted you, and you take root,
Past changing in the paradise of Love,
Help me to trace your temple, tune your lute,
And listen for an echo from above,
Open the window, let me hear you sing,
And see the Word with you in everything.
On February 27th the Church of England keeps the feast and celebrates the memory of George Herbert, the gentle poet priest whose book the Temple, published posthumously in 1633 by his friend Nicholas Ferrar has done so much to help and inspire Christians ever since. In an earlier blog post I gave a talk on George Herbert and the Insights of Prayer. I offer this sonnet, part of a sequence called ‘Clouds of Witness” in my most recent poetry book The Singing Bowl. The sequence is a celebration of the saints, intended to complement my sequence Sounding the Seasons.
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.
For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.