Love – George Herbert – Analysis

Love

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, 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.

George Herbert (1593 – 1633)

The poem consists of three six line stanzas with rhyming scheme ‘ababcc’. The poem is more than just the personification of ‘love’. For ‘love’ is representative of God. This is defined in poetic terms as metonymy. This can be clearly seen by replacing ‘love’ by God in the text and rereading the poem. And in (L13) ‘love’ is explicitly stated as ‘Lord’.

Metonymy = a figure of speech in which an attribute of something is used to stand for the thing itself, e.g. ‘laurels’ when it stands for ‘glory’ or ‘brass’ when it stands for ‘military officers’

The ‘guest’ can be regarded as being equivalent to humanity (unkind and ungrateful) and not worthy of the welcome but with a humble ring to the words of the guest.  An interesting concept that we are a guest in this world. Included is the religious notion of mankind being guilty of sin (L2).

The whole poem is a conversation between God and humanity. God counteracting the unworthy nature of man by stating – who made you. And then the taking of the blameand know you not who bore the blame’ – implying ‘love’ or God bore the blame (the blame for his creation). The creator taking responsiblity for the nature of creation.

Then the crucial line in the conversation, an acceptance of this fact by the guest. Acceptance of the faulty nature of humanity and that there is a God-given correction, and in response – then I will serve (L16)

And finally ‘love’ or God says you must sit down at my table and taste my meat (Jesus). Love is seen as a compensating force for the weakness of humanity epitomised by the sacrifice in the death of Christ.

This poetic portrait of Christianity shows God as Love as being central in the support of all in coming to terms with indiscretions. A case of working together for a better world on the basis of love. And George Herbert certainly lived accordingly to this doctrine –

From Wikipedia – He was noted for unfailing care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill and providing food and clothing for those in need.

George Herbert on Wikipedia

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