The Temple "Only A Sweet And Virtuous Soul, Like Seasoned Timber, Never Gives"

Stephen Spender

"Only A Sweet And Virtuous Soul, Like Seasoned Timber, Never Gives"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The Temple is a collection of lyric poems on religious subjects. Many of the poems are obscure and difficult, but not the present one. It says that when a beautiful day comes into being, so sweet, "so cool, so calm, so bright," its death is inevitable; the dews of evening mourn for it. And the sweetly perfumed rose, with flushed and beautiful face that dazzles the eyes, must also die, as its root is ever in its grave, the earth. The spring of the year is the same as the day and the rose, destined to end; it is "full of sweet days and roses"–Herbert here effects a neat coupling of the first and second stanzas of the poem–but it must die in the heat of summer. The only thing that is not transitory is a sweet and virtuous soul; it is like well-seasoned timber that does not bend under stress. The whole world can be burned into ashes and charcoal, but the virtuous soul lives on. The day, the rose, the spring, the whole world will end, but not the virtuous soul. The first stanza follows:

Only a sweet and virtuous soul
Like seasoned timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
Then chiefly lives.