George Herbert's commemorative poems in Latin and Greek entitled Memoriae Matris Sacrum ("To the Memory of my Mother: A Consecrated Gift") were first published in 1627 with John Donne's "Sermon of Commemoration for the Lady Danvers" (hereafter referred to as 1627). Herbert and Donne sought to eulogize together and in a public venue a great loss that was both private and public. Herbert composed these gem-like poems shortly after his mother's death at the phenomenal rate of roughly one a day, judging by the time between Lady Danvers's death and the poems' appearance in print.
These exquisite poems merit a new translation to convey their distinctive literary power. McCloskey and Murphy's translations, more in the genre of what Robert Lowell called "imitations," have led to significant distortions of Herbert's texts, personality, and poetics in subsequent Herbert criticism. Blair's translations of the Greek poems in the sequence also depart from the clear literal meaning of the originals. The truest translation, the 1874 edition by Grosart and Wilton, sacrifices sense or tone to follow strict metrical norms and end-rhyme. The present translation attempts to mirror the sense, tone, and diction of the originals and, as much as possible, their euphoniousness. The Greek and Latin poems are here "Englished," as Arthur Golding referred to his translations of Ovid, without, however, making use of end rhyme (lacking in the originals, with one notable exception in Poem 2.44-49) or consistent English meters; these translations are not free verse as the Modernists first understood the term, however, since some poems follow something like an iambic norm, and others make use of anapests, trochees, or iambs in irregular though discernible patterns: in short, they are free but patterned.
Readers also will find here a text based on 1627, preserving the orthography, spelling, and diacritical marks of that edition. However, in 1627, there are a number of minor errors in punctuation, spelling, and use of diacritical marks which we corrected; many of our corrections are in line with, but not identical to, those made by previous editors. Our full apparatus criticus itemizes every reading in [End Page vii] which our text deviates from 1627 and includes readings of previous editors. (For a full discussion of textual matters, see the section entitled "A Note on the Text" which follows this preface).
In addition, we have provided for each poem a full commentary, which contains a construe and an extended analysis. Construes are translations that hew closely to the Latin and Greek word order and literal meaning so that the reader, even one with a very basic knowledge of the ancient language, may easily check exactly how we have understood the Latin and Greek forms and syntax. Our analyses focus on uncovering the basic rhetorical forms and topoi found in a particular poem, structures learned by every sixteenth- and seventeenth-century schoolboy, while also bringing in a number of perspectives (textual, cultural, literary, syntactical, and metrical), to construct a framework adequate for grasping Herbert's poems. In our commentaries, we have called attention to the details of Herbert's technical skill and analyzed the complex thoughts and feelings expressed in each poem.
This edition includes three appendices and an extensive bibliography. The first, "Glossary of Selected Technical Terms," helps to clarify the rhetorical figures that are so extensively used in this sequence. The second, "Herbert's Metrics," contains a glossary to the technical terms used in classical metrics and lays out the formal schemes and the genre associations of the nine different classical meters Herbert employs in the sequence. The third, "Parallel Passages in The Temple," lists references to parallel passages in the English poems. Finally we include an extensive bibliography of sources throughout the edition, particularly in the commentary.
This work is the product of close collaboration between the three authors. All of us were deeply involved in every section of the volume. However, we each took primary leadership for writing different portions, with frequent input and editorial corrections from every member of the team. Greg Miller is the primary author of the literary translations, while Catherine Freis and Richard Freis are responsible for the construes. The...