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ยป. George Herbert's "Heaven The Eloquence of Silence by P.S. Weibly In structuring the poems of "The Church" as a sequence, Herbert leaves little doubt in the reader's mind as to where the dutiful man ends. The closing poem, "Love" (III), has rightly received a great deal of attention for the exquisitely subdued way in which it details man's final union with God. But perhaps the preceding poem, "Heaven," also deserves such careful attention, focusing on exactly how it helps Herbert conclude "The Church" with the peace and rest that have been so elusive up until this point. Much more than simply describing the final resting place, "Heaven" also presents a remarkable solution to a stylistic problem that Herbert faces again and again in his poems. A brief survey of the questions Herbert asks regarding the almost impossible task of the sacred poet provides a useful introduction to "Heaven," which answers those questions subtly and persuasively. The opening lines of "The Dedication" to The Temple provide a key to George Herbert's conception of his role as a religious poet. He begins: Lord, my first fruits present themselves to thee; Yet not mine neither: for from thee they came. And must return. (II. 1-3)' In these lines we hear the speaker proudly offer his "first fruits" to the Lord, then immediately correct himself, disclaiming his right to call the following lyrics his. "Not mine neither," he amends, rejecting his initial use of the possessive pronoun. P.S. Weibly The poet's self-correction stresses that the lyrics are gifts from the Lord and must be returned; the Lord is both the source of his poetry and its audience. To Stanley Fish these lines epitomize the self-consuming nature of Herbert's art: the need for the poet to humiliate himself, to lose himself, to relinquish claims of authorship.2 Certainly, by refusing to own his lyrics, Herbert points to the divine Logos as the architect of The Temple. As he reaffirms in "The Holdfast," "We must confesse that nothing is our own" (I. 7). But does such a confession mean that the self is reduced to nothing before God as Fish suggests? Are human words, especially the perfected words of poetry, incapable of significance or true eloquence? I think not. The false start of "The Dedication," Herbert's self-conscious denial of a personal role in his verse, calls attention to the self, particularly to the relationship of "mine" and "thine."3 Thus even when seemingly suppressed, the human element of Herbert's poetry asserts itself, forbidding us to dismiss the human poet's role in presenting the holy lyrics. As Chana Bloch persuasively argues, "The Word of God goes forth to do its work out of the mouths of men: It is a human being, after all, who invokes the Word and activates its superhuman powers."4 By pointing to God as the source of his poetry, Herbert defines himself as a mediator rather than a maker, as the priest of The Temple, not its builder. In his capacity as poet-priest he can activate the power of the Word by serving as God's instrument, resounding God's Word purely and sweetly without human embellishment. As the speaker's friend advises him in "Jordan" (II): There is in love a sweetnesse readie penn'd: Copie out onely that, and save expense. (II. 17-18) Again, Herbert asks us to see the religious poet as a copier rather than a creator. He is a vehicle that transmits a truth already penned. He need not personally bedeck that truth with "curling metaphors," for divine sweetness does not need a coating of human words. It only requires the poet to be HERBERTS "HEAVEN" receptive to divine truth, to have earned what Joseph Summers calls true "simplicity of spirit,"5 a state of being further defined by Michaei P. Gallagher as a "spiritual viewpoint" that allows the poet to recognize "the heart and its trust in God [as] the source of fineness and true wit."6 If he has achieved inner simplicity, if his soul is in accord with the Almighty, then the poet is a fit receptacle...


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