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George Herbert and Faking It.

I'm surprised to find that I haven't written on Herbert since 2014 when I put a href="https://bebrowed.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/prynne-week-j-h-prynne-on-george-herberts-love-iii/something on Prynne's magninficent commentary on Love III on my bebrowed blog. I probably haven't done anything on arduity because Herbert didn't seem to fit in the 'difficult' coral.

During my recent estrangement from The Poem I had another look at The Country Parson, Herbert's 1632 prose guide to parsonning and became dismayed. I can recall alluding briefly to one apparent discrepancy between this and the poetry but I failed to take on board the other quite glaring differences. This is important to me as a reader and as a cobbler together of verse because I'm of the view that poetry is too powerful a tool to fuck around with in this way. More recent and damaging perpetrators, in my entirely biased view, include Eliot, Larkin, Lowell and Ashbery. As a human being, I'm not at all keen on dishonesty of any kind and am thus doubly affronted. It may be argued that this position is hopelessly naive, that poetry is simply an example of persuasive speech and that all poets indulge in heightening things for the sake of causing an effect and little else. All of these are valid and I acknowledge the naivety of my view but in many cases it has been the completely unexpected crunch point with many previously admired poets. In some other instances, it creates a 'but' in my head that won't go away.

None of these muddled and confusing prejudices should suggest that the power of poetry leads to special or additional importance in this ragamuffin that we refer to as 'our cultural landscape'. One of the main problems that The Poem is afflicted with is that far too many people in the academy and beyond rush to make this connection and thus take poetry far too seriously. It doesn't tell the truth, it isn't in a privileged position with regard to philosophy or other Big Thoughts. It does, however, have a potential for magnificence requires that we, poets and readers are required to behave honestly and with personal integrity and I get upset when this appears to be transgressed in work that I admire. This upsetment surprises me because I think of my self as being too cynically world-weary to care about this kind of artifice, that I should grow up and accept it as part of the Poem making kit that we all, to some extent, make use of.

Conversations and correspondence with other readerly types indicate that this duplicity doesn't bother others, perhaps it should.

Herbert fakes it. This is compounded because most of his subject matter is his personal relationship with God. I'm a fully paid up anti Dawkins atheist but, thanks to Sir Geoffrey Hill, i've become a fan of religious work. It does seem to me that Herbert's reputation as our finest religious poet is sullied by this kind of skullduggery. Not only does he fake it, he advocates this dissimulation as a primary tool in the parsonning manual;

Accordingly his voice is humble, his words treatable and slow; yet not so slow neither, as to let the fervency of the supplicant hang and die between speaking ; but, with a grave liGeorge Herbert and Faking It. I'm surprised to find that I haven't written on Herbert since 2014 when I put a href="https://bebrowed.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/prynne-week-j-h-prynne-on-george-herberts-love-iii/something on Prynne's magninficent commentary on Love III on my bebrowed blog. I probably haven't done anything on arduity because Herbert didn't seem to fit in the 'difficult' coral. During my recent estrangement from The Poem I had another look at The Country Parson, Herbert's 1632 prose guide to parsonning and became dismayed. I can recall alluding briefly to one apparent discrepancy between this and the poetry but I failed to take on board the other quite glaring differences. This is important to me as a reader and as a cobbler together of verse because I'm of the view that poetry is too powerful a tool to fuck around with in this way. More recent and damaging perpetrators, in my entirely biased view, include Eliot, Larkin, Lowell and Ashbery. As a human being, I'm not at all keen on dishonesty of any kind and am thus doubly affronted. It may be argued that this position is hopelessly naive, that poetry is simply an example of persuasive speech and that all poets indulge in heightening things for the sake of causing an effect and little else. All of these are valid and I acknowledge the naivety of my view but in many cases it has been the completely unexpected crunch point with many previously admired poets. In some other instances, it creates a 'but' in my head that won't go away. None of these muddled and confusing prejudices should suggest that the power of poetry leads to special or additional importance in this ragamuffin that we refer to as 'our cultural landscape'. One of the main problems that The Poem is afflicted with is that far too many people in the academy and beyond rush to make this connection and thus take poetry far too seriously. It doesn't tell the truth, it isn't in a privileged position with regard to philosophy or other Big Thoughts. It does, however, have a potential for magnificence requires that we, poets and readers are required to behave honestly and with personal integrity and I get upset when this appears to be transgressed in work that I admire. This upsetment surprises me because I think of my self as being too cynically world-weary to care about this kind of artifice, that I should grow up and accept it as part of the Poem cobbling-togather kit that we all, to some extent, make use of. Conversations and correspondence with other readerly types indicate that this duplicity doesn't bother others, perhaps it should. Herbert fakes it. This is compounded because most of his subject matter is his personal relationship with God. I'm a fully paid up anti Dawkins atheist but, thanks to Sir Geoffrey Hill, i've become a fan of religious work. It does seem to me that Herbert's reputation as our finest religious poet is sullied by this kind of skullduggery. Not only does he fake it, he advocates this dissimulation as a primary tool in the parsonning manual; Accordingly his voice is humble, his words treatable and slow; yet not so slow neither, as to let the fervency of the supplicant hang and die between speaking ; but, with a grave liveliness, between fear and zeal, pausing yet pressing, he performs his duty. (For the New Pedants among us, the OED tells me that 'treatable' in this sense means 'deliberate; distinct, clear, intelligible' and is now obscure. I've left the semicolons in the gap between the words rather than at the end of the first one because this was how it was done in Them Days.) And; What an admirable epistle is the second to the Corinthians! How full of affections! He joys, and he is sorry ; he grieves, and he glories! Never was such a care of a flock expressed, save in the great Shepherd of the fold, who first shed tears over Jerusalem, and afterwards blood. Therefore this care, may be learned there, and then woven into sermons ; which will make them appear exceeding reverend and holy. Prior to coming across this book, I'd read most of the poems in Helen Wilcox' The English Poems of George Herbert and assumed that the fervour expressed in such personal terms throughout was a direct reflection of how the poet actually felt. I was particularly impressed with the three Affliction poems for their apparent honesty and clarity. I'm now of the view that there's more than a little weaving going on in order to make the poems 'appear exceeding reverend and holy'. By way of contrast, I have no doubt whatsoever that the religious poetry of Hill and David Jones is a direct expression of how they experienced their faith. I obviously disagree with both of them and find some aspects of those feelings and views to be distasteful but I don't feel that I'm being cynically manipulated. I'm not entirely sure about R S Thomas, given what I now know about the man, but I'm prepared to (mostly) give him the benefit of the doubt. John Milton's mature work, as far as I can tell, is an expression of his theology more than his personal feelings although again I don't feel manipulated by the supreme mastery of technique therein. Comus might be a little more complicated but discussion here would distract from the matter at hand. Returning to Herbert, the saving of sinners by means of Christ's love is an aolmost constant thread throughout the work. One of the best known and admired poems is Redemption which ends with; Of theeves and murederers: there I him espied, Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died. If this is the route to salvation then it does seem to be at odds with this advice from the chapter on chatity; But he gives no set pension to any; for this in time will lose the name and effect of charity with the poor people, for they will reckon upon it, though not with God, as on a debt ; and if it be taken away, though justly, they will murmur and repine though not as much, as he that is disseised of his own inheritance. But the parson, having a double aim, and making a hook of his charity, causeth them still to depend on him : and so, by continual and fresh bounties, unexpected to them but resolves to himself, he wins them to praise God more, to live more religiously, and to take more pains in their vocation, as not knowing when they shall be relieved ; which otherwise they would reckon upon, and turn to idleness. Without getting too far into the 16th and 17th century debates about the relief of the poor and the parallels that the above has with the pernicious state of the UK welfare regime, I'd like to point to the double aim, the hook and the peril of the turn to idleness as indicative of cynical manipulation. This modus operandi would also seem to me to be at complete variance with the kind of 'universal' charity that's expressed in the poetry. As a fairly hard line non-Corbyn lefty, I find this distasteful even though I recognise it represents a mainstream position then and now. What troubles me more is the likelihood that the 'hook' is deployed with equal cynicism throught the poetry. In conclusion, I like to think that I have a personal relationship with poetry which is marked by a sense of respect and a kind of trust. These two qualities are now damaged and my pleasure in the work is also diminished because I don't think I can either respect or trust what's going on.eliness, between fear and zeal, pausing yet pressing, he performs his duty.

(For the New Pedants among us, the OED tells me that 'treatable' in this sense means 'deliberate; distinct, clear, intelligible' and is now obscure. I've left the semicolons in the gap between the words rather than at the end of the first one because this was how it was done in Them Days.)

And;

What an admirable epistle is the second to the Corinthians! How full of affections! He joys, and he is sorry ; he grieves, and heglories! Never was such a care of a flock expressed, save in the great Sheherd of the fold, who first shed tears over Jerusalem, and afterwards blood. Therefore this care, may be learned there, and then woven into sermons ; which will make them appear exceeding reverend and holy.

Prior to coming across this book, I'd read most of the poems in Helen Wilcox' The English Poems of George Herbert and assumed that the fervour expressed in such personal terms throughout was a direct reflection of how the poet actually felt. I was particularly impressed with the three Affliction poems for their apparent honesty and clarity. I'm now of the view that there's more than a little weaving going on in order to make the poems 'appear exceeding reverend and holy'.

By way of contrast, I have no doubt whatsoever that the religious poetry of Hill and David Jones is a direct expression of how they experienced their faith. I obviously disagree with both of them and find some aspects of those feelings and views to be distasteful but I don't feel that I'm being cynically manipulated. I'm not entirely sure about R S Thomas, given what I now know about the man, but I'm prepared to (mostly) give him the benefit of the doubt.

John Milton's mature work, as far as I can tell, is an expression of his theology more than his personal feelings although again I don't feel manipulated by the supreme mastery of technique therein. Comus might be a little more complicated but discussion here would distract from the matter at hand.

Returning to Herbert, the saving of sinners by means of Christ's love is an almost constant thread throughout the work. One of the best known and admired poems is Redemption which ends with;


     Of theeves and murderers: there I him espied,
     Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.

If this is the route to salvation then it does seem to be at odds with this advice from the chapter on charity;

But he gives no set pension to any; for this in time will lose the name and effect of charity with the poor people, for they will reckon upon it, though not with God, as on a debt ; and if it be taken away, though justly, they will murmur and repine though not as much, as he that is disseised of his own inheritance. But the parson, having a double aim, and making a hook of his charity, causeth them still to depend on him : and so, by continual and fresh bounties, unexpected to them but resolves to himself, he wins them to praise God more, to live more religiously, and to take more pains in their vocation, as not knowing when they shall be relieved ; which otherwise they would reckon upon, and turn to idleness.

Without getting too far into the 16th and 17th century debates about the relief of the poor and the parallels that the above has with the pernicious state of the UK welfare regime, I'd like to point to the double aim, the hook and the peril of the turn to idleness as indicative of cynical manipulation. This modus operandi would also seem to me to be at complete variance with the kind of 'universal' charity that's expressed in the poetry. As a fairly hard line non-Corbyn lefty, I find this distasteful even though I recognise it represents a mainstream position then and now. What troubles me more is the likelihood that the 'hook' is deployed with equal cynicism throughoutt the poetry.

In conclusion, I like to think that I have a personal relationship with poetry which is marked by a sense of respect and a kind of trust. These two qualities are now damaged and my pleasure in the work is also diminished because I don't think I can either respect or trust what's going on.