George Herbert Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

George Herbert’s most important work besides The Temple is his prose treatise A Priest to the Temple: Or, The Country Parson His Character and Rule of Holy Life, written when he was in fact a country parson at Bemerton during the last years of his life, though not published until 1652. However idealized it may be, A Priest to the Temple gives a good picture of the life of humble service that Herbert offered to his God and his parishioners. The volume of Outlandish Proverbs Selected by Mr. G. H., published in 1640, testifies to Herbert’s lifelong interest in the proverb, a form of literary and moral expression that is prominent throughout the poems in The Temple. Other minor works include a translation of A Treatise of Temperance and Sobrietie of Luigi Cornaro (1634), and a series of “Briefe Notes” appended to, but indicating various disagreements with, The Hundred and Ten Considerations of Signior Iohn Valdesso (1638).


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

George Herbert has always been and perhaps will continue to be read somewhat in the shadow of John Donne, arguably the greatest and most influential of the seventeenth century Metaphysical poets. At the same time, however, Herbert has rarely lacked an audience well aware of his remarkable poetic abilities and unique voice. During his lifetime, Herbert’s English poems were most likely circulated in manuscript, no doubt within a rather restricted circle of friends, and were evidently highly regarded. Upon publication in 1633, the year of his death, The Temple began to reach an ever-widening group of readers, the number and variety of whom say something about Herbert’s appeal. It is not enough to note that Herbert was extremely popular, though he certainly was that: At least eleven editions of The Temple came out in the seventeenth century.

Perhaps more interesting is the fact that unlikely bedfellows shared an interest in Herbert and claimed him as their own. Members of the so-called High Church party found Herbert’s deep attachment to Anglican ceremonial beauty particularly congenial, and they read The Temple as a record of how spiritual conflicts might evaporate in the face of simple faith, humility, and conformity. Several important poets, including Henry Vaughan and Richard Crashaw, along with a host of minor poets, including Christopher Harvey, Ralph Knevet, and Henry Colman, looked to Herbert as a guide in their...

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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Blythe, Ronald. George Herbert in Bemerton. Salisbury, England: Hobnob Press, 2005. This biography of Herbert examines his later years, which were spent in Bemerton.

Clarke, Elizabeth. Theory and Theology in George Herbert’s Poetry: Divinitie, and Poesie, Met. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1997. Explores the relationship between Herbert’s poetry and the notion of divine inspiration rooted in devotional texts of his time. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.

Cruickshank, Frances. Verse and Poetics in George Herbert and John Donne. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2010. This study of Herbert’s poetry compares it with that of Donne and pays extra attention to the techniques used.

Hodgkins, Christopher. Authority, Church, and Society in George Herbert: Return to the Middle Way. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993. A critical analysis in which Hodgkins demonstrates that Herbert’s poetry is predominantly nostalgia for old English social, political, and religious customs. Identifies the changes in his poetry as reflections of the changing times.

_______, ed. George Herbert’s Pastoral: New Essays on the Poet and Priest of Bemerton. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2010. This collection of essays present critical analysis of Herbert’s work,...

(The entire section is 438 words.)