A True Hymn (by George Herbert)

Joy, my Life, my Crown !
My heart was meaning all the day,
Somewhat it fain would say,
And still it runneth muttering up and down
With only this, My Joy, my Life, my Crown !

Yet slight not those few words ;
If truly said, they may take part
Among the best in art :
The fineness which a hymn or psalm affords
Is, when the soul unto the lines accord.

He who craves all the mind,
And all the soul, and strength, and time,
If the words only rhyme,
Justly complains that somewhat is behind
To make His verse, or write a hymn in kind.

Whereas if the heart be moved,
Although the verse be somewhat scant,
God doth supply the want ;
As when the heart says, sighing to be approved,
“O, could I love !” and stops, God writeth, “Loved.”



This poem describes that it's like to try and write a sermon for Sunday...

So. Enough business. Enough procratination. Back to craving all the mind, and all the soul, and strength, and time....if only words would rhyme

Comments

Diane said…
and it was Very Good.
Herbert really was a gentle soul. I wonder what it was like to be a country priest back then.
Gannet Girl said…
George Herbert is becoming one of my guides to ministry.
mompriest said…
Yes. really. In some ways very difficult. I think the King assigned you, and based on whether the King liked you or not you got good positions (or not). But I think Herbert really liked his post.
mompriest said…
gannetgirl - oh, a good guide indeed!
Diane said…
okay mompriest. I left my Ciardi at church, but there's one principal we can get right now: according to Ciardi, there's no such thing (in poetry at least) as a synonym. In a good poem, the word used is the only word that can be used to give the effect that the poet wants. That's the connotation, the "denotation", often as well as the sound that the word makes. So of course sometimes we deal with words that had a different effect then than they do now -- like Crown. (with a monarchy in England, connotations of power, etc.) But I think crown also has to do with "the crowning glory"... what does it mean when we say that? (in the words of Cole Porter, "If baby, I'm the bottom, you're the Top!") Sorry. What I used to do when I studied poetry is get the Oxford English dictionary, and find out the history of the use of the word. I bet it's on line now.
Also, I'm sure that Herbert would want us to think of religious connotations of the word "crown" too. Oh, I'm doing a little stream of conscious here, (sorry) but I think that crown could carry the meaning "jack fell down and broke his crown" (meaning head) but then you take "head" and realize that it doesn't just mean "head" but also "authority" (as in, swallow hard, Christ is the head of the church... and we won't go to the next place)... so Herbert is saying a lot when he says, "Joy, my crown"

Now I need to look at the rest of the poem!
Diane said…
Think a lot about the line "when the soul unto the line accords"... sounds like Herbert was thinking about what we call "authenticity." In other words, like you, he was "seeking authentic voice."
mompriest said…
Ok. Well comment on the page of the poem itself. Works for me. So. Ciardi's point, no synonyms. This tells me, don't over-read the poem ie 'Crown". So, then I understand what crown means: all the variables of power, head, authority, Christ, King - since in the Church of England the King or Queen is the head of the Church. I believe Herbert was placed in his call, his church, by the King, as would have been common then (now?) and I think he was happy there.

Now, yes, your line "when the soul unto the line accords." What a great line. Don't you experience that sometimes when you've written something? It takes on a life of its own?

Sometimes I have only a vague idea of what is going to work in my sermon until I preach it. That's one way "the soul unto the line accords," it's in the preaching of it. Same would have been true for Herbert who wrote hymns, it would have been in the singing.

I'm going to look up the word "fain"...because in addition to Ciardi (which I'll have to find at a library, Amazon doesn't have any available), the dictionary will help. Thanks, Diane.
Diane said…
absolutely... fain is an old word... I have an inkling what it means, but not exactly, so I won't go on and on ... I like what you said about "crown"...if you can't find Ciardi, I'll look at mine, and give you the basic ideas... you seem to "get it" pretty easily...(probably because you already have a knack)
mompriest said…
Adj. 1. fain - having made preparations; "prepared to take risks"
disposed, prepared, inclined
willing - disposed or inclined toward; "a willing participant"; "willing helpers"

Adv. 1. fain - in a willing manner; "this was gladly agreed to"; "I would fain do it"
gladly, lief
Diane said…
thanks... good word! I'm also interested in his line about soul, strength ... and time... because the other things are scriptural, but not the word "TIME"... yet, I think it really rings true for a pastor, especially, in my experience... there's never enough time...
mompriest said…
Time fits with the others, in spite of it breaking with scripture, and it rhymes - the very thing he begs for.

But yes, as pastor, craving for "time"...and being "somewhat behind!" No wonder he is comforted by the realization that although the verse is scant and contains only "Joy, my life, my Crown" it becomes enough when God supplies the "want." That is always my hope in sermon prep!
Tripp Hudgins said…
This is really interesting, gang. It is nice to know Herbert struggled with authenticity and time. I have been struggling with the same lately. My most recent sermon was dull, dull, and dull lto deliver. I bored myself. It is a good read, but it is not good in the preaching.

So, once again I return to the drawing board to find out what preaching is as a performative theological act. It is not an essay. It is not a monologue. What is it then?
mompriest said…
Ahhh. I read your sermon. Sorry it was "boring" to preach. Certainly not to read. SO. the learning curve continues. Been there!

I think a sermon is a dialogue even though the other(s) may not respond verbally. Still, I aim to enter into a conversation with the idea of inviting people in, not that they actually speak with me (sigh).

Or, another great approach is to think of preaching as a "poetry slam." I recently heard a GREAT sermon at the Cathedral (St. James Episcopal, Chicago) that was a lot like a poetry slam (for confirmation, about the Holy Spirit), grounded in the preaching style of African American Baptist preachers. But, as the preacher said, if you preach this way you have to teach the congregation to respond like a Baptist congregation. Meaning, they need to respond or "talk back."

Preaching is a combination of finding what is natural to you and connects with your congregation. So for me at this time and place I approach preaching as a "spiritual exercise." The folks at small church are more mystics than theologians, so a less heady more spiritual approach is useful. And, I think, a fairly organic process for me too. I use John Shea's books of spritual reflections on the lectionary for years A, B, and C to help guide me. Of course I do a lot of exegesis, but often the point I emphasize comes from John Shea (ie prayer, faith, etc). And. Poetry is a great place start.
Diane said…
Preaching is both what is true for all times and places and what is contextual... delivery-wise, so much depends on who you are "conversing with"... I do think preaching is a conversation...every once in awhile I do a sermon with a "call and response" in it... a phrase that the congregation repeats.

I do think that preaching has something to do with poetry (e.g. attending to the sounds, the importance of the form to the meaning). Poetry is a little more elliptical (as Archibald MacLeish once said, "A poem should not mean but be.") Of course, you can say this about a sermon too, but in a different way.

I remember hearing Barbara Brown Taylor speak once, and she actually recommended a book by Mary Oliver for preaching. "A Poetry Handbook"... a prose guide to understanding and writing poetry. If none of us can find the old old Ciardi book, I'll bet we can find help from Oliver, and she's still in print.

I wish Gannet Girl would stop by too. I appreciated Tripp's comments.
mompriest said…
I sent gannet girl an email (so much for being anonymous...). So hopefully she'll drop by. Others are welcome as well.

And, sure, we can use Mary Oliver. I love her poetry too.
Diane said…
I got waylaid... do you want to look more at this one or choose another poem? Other things to look at are: meter, rhyme, form (i.e. if it is a sonnet), the sounds of particular words... do you want to stick with Herbert, or other metaphysical poets (i.e. Donne, he had all those Holy Sonnets)...

I'm standing by...
Diane said…
often Herbert's last lines are, like this one, pure Gospel... God writeth, "Loved".... I'm thinking as well of the last line of Love III
mompriest said…
Let's spend just a brief time looking at meter rhyme and form in this one, then move on. You choose the next one.

Any suggestions about how one begins to discuss meter, rhyme and form? I mean I have some ideas about this Herbert poem, but I like your pointers to move me along.
Diane said…
I don't feel quite equipped to do this: so far what I am noticing is the rhyme scheme: ABBAAA (not sure what to make of that.. first and third lines are shorter, and 2, 4 and 5 are shorter, basically, he is using the iambs "du DAH du DAH, but there are some uneven spots, which I think he does on purpose, to make the meter not too smooth. He wants the meter to feel a little broken because he's struggling. So, for the meter to be smooth, he would start, "My joy,..., but he leaves off "My" because that's more abrupt.

The other thing, about sounds, in the very last line, the word "stops" is perfect, because if you say it out loud, you have to stop the sound, and then of course God intervenes in his struggle with a Word of grace.

I should have the poem in front of me when I do this...tell me what YOU think. I like your insights.
mompriest said…
Well. I notice that he uses five lines of phrases and the first, fourth and fifth rhyme, as do the third and fourth. (So, that would be the ABBAA scheme). I had noticed, although didn't really know why, he left off the "My" in the first line. So, I like your analysis, that he wanted it to be a bit bumpy to show the struggle.

However even as he uses rhyme, he does not make the syllables even - in the first phrase of one section he will use 6 syllables (He who craves all the mind) and then in the first phrase of the next section he uses 7 (Whereas if the heart be moved). However it seems that the other lines are even syllables. Perhaps it's the pronounciation that changes the syllables. In that case it would be kind of like Hiaku in that it has a consistent structure (although not the same structure as Hiaku).

So. How important is all that to a poem? Is it all very intentional? I've always thought that the structure and syllable and rhyme (or not) were very intentional, that that is what really makes a poem a poem instead of prose.

How about if you choose the next one and let me know what you've chosen. I was downtown all day with the Refugee work so I haven't had a chance to go to the library or bookstore, but I will (by Friday at the latest) for Ciardi and Oliver books.
Diane said…
Yes, everything is intentional...not in a brow-knitting kind of way, sometimes in a fun, playing-around-with-words way. But yes, syllable and rhyme I think are very intentional. I'm not sure what I'll do next... maybe one of Donne's Holy Sonnets... a lot of people hate "Batter my heart, three-personed God" (too violent). Or, do you know Milton's sonnet, "On his blindness"... or, if you aren't totally wed to religious poetry, my favorite sonnet of all, Shakespeare's #116, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments. Love is not love/" I'll decide tomorrow...
Diane said…
I've kind of gotten behind, but I'll try to post a poem tomorrow. it may surprise you...
mompriest said…
Diane, no hurry. looking forward to what you post and where it takes us.
Gannet Girl said…
I just foudn the email! I'll come back and read in detail later.
mompriest said…
Ok, yeah, gannet girl (and anyone else) look forward to you joining the poetry slam...ok, not a slam, but at least some fun looking at poetry. (well, it could be a "slam" if anyone has a poem that fits that genre....).
Diane said…
ok I posted a poem by Robert Frost at my place...but I don't expect anyone until Sunday p.m or Monday... as today it is all sermon all the time... trying to get something in preaching shape

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