restricted access George Herbert and Mark Strand
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George Herbert and Mark Strand

In all literary genres, the lyric poem is the least changeable. Its themes are rooted in the continuity of human subjectivity and from antiquity has assumed a connection between privacy and universality. Poetry reminds us of what we are inside; the facts of history tell us what has surrounded who we are. When I wrote "Pot Roast," I was reporting on what I saw out the window: no living thing. That was real. But other parts of the poem, like lifting my fork, never happened. Even tasting the things I say I taste . . . I never tasted them. I merely copied the recipe from The Joy of Cooking, which was the only cookbook my mother had in our house. So I did lean on the real, but the urgency of the poem doesn't really depend on it.

- Mark Strand1

Mark Strand published "Pot Roast" in his sixth collection of poetry, The Late Hour (1978).2 "Pot Roast" is deeply influenced by George Herbert's well-known poem, "Love" (III). In "Love" (III), Herbert blends elements of the Old and New Testaments and complicates the convention of a traditional lover's banquet by setting his poem as a liturgical act of communion. As Chana Bloch notes, the sacred and profane Herbert of "Love" (III) is "a consummate example of the way in which Herbert uses biblical materials - and makes them speak in his own voice."3 My essay explores this connection between Strand and George Herbert. As I explicate "Pot Roast" in relation to "Love" (III), I call attention to broader connections between the two poets. Strand's inventive adaptation of Herbert's religious concerns and liturgical setting into a contemporary situation and idiom provides us with important insights into Herbert's legacy and contemporary poetry.

Strand has published eleven books of poetry, and has been a major voice in American poetry since the 1960s. His first collection, Sleeping with One Eye Open (1964), contains poems that remain widely anthologized today. Reasons for Moving (1968) and Darker (1970) continue the momentum of his first book and show developments in subject and style. In The Story of Our Lives (1973), Strand writes about the death of his father, a challenge that reveals an interesting tension in [End Page 83] his often detached poetry. The Late Hour (1978), the book that includes "Pot Roast," represents a key development in his career by moving beyond an emphasis on plot toward metaphysical and mystical concerns. After The Late Hour, Strand did not publish another new volume of poetry until his widely-acclaimed The Continuous Life (1990). He followed this with Dark Harbor (1993), which won the Bollingen prize and Blizzard of One (1998), for which he was awarded the Pulitzer prize. Most recently, Strand has published Man and Camel (2007), which contains poems that speak profoundly about our individual relationship with the world.4

In general, we tend to think of Strand's return to poetry in 1990 after a ten-year publishing hiatus as the beginning of his major phase, but glimmers of it appear earlier in Darker and The Late Hour. Its attributes are a turning away from plot as a driving force in the poem toward a more meditative, lyrical, metaphysical, and allegorical relationship with the world. The influence of Herbert's "Love" (III) on "Pot Roast" represents a key moment in Strand's career and this poem embodies his developing poetics. His next book of poems after The Late Hour, contains the longer, more lyrical and mystical lines that would earn him such distinction throughout the 1990s. Strand himself says that he did not see the seeds of the coming silence in the poems of The Late Hour, poems that "were edging toward the autobiographical, and that was something I wished to avoid" (Strand/McNees). He explains that "my feeling is that art is much more interesting than life. It is my eschewing of the autobiographical and my belief in the made-up that make my poems 'metaphysical.'" (Strand/McNees)

"Pot Roast" borrows diction from The Temple and in particular follows the ritualistic setting of "Love" (III) by implementing a performative scheme consistent...