“… the simple conclusion suggests words are utterly inadequate.”
In the back of ‘The Priest & A Priest To The Temple’ by George Herbert (1927, Everyman’s Library 309, London: J. M. Dents & Sons Ltd.) is a short essay.
In the front is:
H. M. McLuhan
Marshall McLuhan seems to have acquired many books during his stay in England, as evidenced by the above notation. When I’ve completed my inventory of his library, perhaps I will publish a list of the books I’ve found which are so-dated… it would be a perhaps valuable list of what he was interested enough in at the time to buy, and ship home at some expense.
Here’s the essay:
“Herbert’s poems are each independent – even though
they are spiritual autobiography – because he states
his premise clearly, usually by means of an
image, in the form of a prose argument. The reader
is never befogged; the words represent clear-cut ideas
[rather than rousing vague emotions – they are isolated
and swift-] through which the poet’s emotion is
conveyed. The emotion is not less than that of
more nebulous poets but is presented in closer
association with thought. His feelings take shape
in the imagery of the poem and is articulated
with logical precision. There is a fusion of thought
and feeling at considerable heat:
Death thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing
c.f. p. 195
(The fourth line the fourth stanza contain
a serious wit which is yet humour – the
romantics derive wit and humour from poetry)
Contrast the statement of immortality in the above
poem with any stanza from In Memoriam
What art thou then? I cannot guess;
But tho I seem in ^ flowers and star
to feel the same diffusive power
I do not therefore love thee less:
My love involves the love before
my love is vaster passion now;
tho mixed with God and nature thou,
I seem to live thee more and more
“Seem” dominates the poem. There are hosts of
hopeless abstractions “vaster passions” etc.
Tennyson may have know what he felt – we may
doubt if he sincerely tells us – but he certainly
didn’t know what he thought.
Herbert is a master of tone and tension. As
in “The Collar” he can create a great crescendo and
then suddenly release the whole tension in a phrase. Or
as in “Love” the climax is in the middle and the
simple conclusion suggests words are utterly inadequate.
Grierson makes an interesting comparison
with Cranshaw: In Cranshaw neither
spiritual conflict controlled and directed
by Christian inhibitions and aspirations, nor
mystical yearning for a closer communion with the
divine, is the burden of his religious song, but
love, tenderness, and joy. In Cranshaw’s poetry as in
the later poetry of the Dutch Vondel, a note is
heard which is struck for the 1st time in the 17th
century, the accent of the convert to Romanism,
the joy of the troubled soul who has found rest and
a full expansion of heart in the rediscovery of a
ritual and a faith and order which give entire
justification to the imagination and the affections.
The Catholic poet is set free from the painful
diagnosis of his own emotions and spiritual
condition which so preoccupies the Anglican
Herbert. The Catholic poet loses this anxious
sense of his own moods in he consciousness
of the opus operatum calling on him only
for faith, and thankfulness and adoration.
Faith can believe
As fast as love new laws doth give.
Faith is my force, faith strength affords
To keep pace with those powerful words
and words more sure more sweet than they
Love could not think, truth could not say.”
I’ve included photographs of the pages so readers may look over the writing for themselves and, if so inclined, find any errors with my transcript. The number ’28’ at the bottom corner of the second page is a note indicating where in the library the book belongs (shelf 28).
Thanks for reading,
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