George Herbert was a vicar in the Church of England as well as one of the most beloved poets of the 17th century. The monasteries on England were no more, but it is clear that neither all-out devotion to God nor mystical experience had disappeared. Herbert wrote many poems expressing a deep, affective devotion and an imagination awakened to God’s infinite love as found in Jesus.
The following poem is one of his best. It assumes knowledge of the New Testament’s simple teaching, “God is love.” With connotations of the communion rite, it describes our hesitancy to accept the grace of God. “Can I really join You, be with You, without becoming perfect first, without having earned the right?”
The poem had a momentous effect on the 20th century philosopher and social activist Simone Weil, as we will see in the next installment.
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 lacked any thing.
“A guest,” I answered, “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 marred 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.
Quotation marks added to clarify who's speaking.