Can anybody resist George Herbert? An intellectual with the highest connections who decided to be a humble country parish priest. You can still visit the little church in Bemerton, near Salisbury in Wiltshire where he lived, ministered, wrote his simple, beautiful poetry and where he finally died, and where he is buried. You can’t visit it, but the ancient rectory where he lived still stands across the road from the little church pictured here.
He was one of the inspirations for my own pilgrimage to England to be a country priest, and a sweeter, more saintly Christian soul would be hard to find. He exhibits the best of England, the best of Anglicanism, the best of the simple priestly life.
Here’s his best work. It is worth memorizing. If you really want to be swept away, listen to the musical setting of it by Vaughn Williams. It is one of his ‘five mystical songs.’
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.