The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Love” (III), a relatively brief poem of three six-line stanzas, concludes the central section of George Herbert’s The Temple, entitled “The Church.” This collection of devotional lyrics is structured as a sequence that covers the inevitable fluctuations of religious experience as a person strives to lead a faithful life. “Love” (III) is the third poem by that name in “The Church.” The first two, appearing early in the sequence, lament the fact that earthly love tends to attract more attention than the much more deserving holy love. By the end of “The Church,” however, the persona created by Herbert is able to concentrate on sacred love, and “Love” (III) dramatizes a climactic meeting between a worshiper and God, imagined not as a remote figure of vengeance or stern judgment but as an inviting lover.

The speaker narrates an action that has evidently already taken place, but despite the past tense of the verbs, the experience described is powerful and immediate, in part because the poem is structured as a dialogue. Herbert is often thought of as a person of a secure and lasting faith, but many of his poems reveal that beneath such a faith is a large amount of tension and worry. In “Love” (III), the persona’s nervous uneasiness is gradually overcome by the gentle words of a kind lover who has an answer for every question.

Herbert seems to be saying that divine love compensates for all human weaknesses. Instead of...

(The entire section is 606 words.)