Monday, May 18, 2009

A New Found Favorite

George Herbert, a metaphysical poet of the 17th century, was also an English country priest. His poetry mixes the complexities of his era with profound, often moving, spiritual reflection. Several are meditations on his role as a pastor.

Here's his poem "Aaron" about the need for another to cover his 'profaneness' and clothe him in a holiness which cannot come from his own works. He's referring to the Old Testament priest Aaron's garment worn in worship and sacrifice. (Thanks to Drew Field for calling my attention to this wonderful poem.)


HOLINESS on the head,
Light and perfection on the breast,
Harmonious bells below raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aaron's drest.*

Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest :
Poor priest! thus am I drest.

Only another head
I have another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In Him I am well drest.

Christ is my only head,
My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me e'en dead ;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in Him new drest.

So holy in my Head,
Perfect and light in my dear Breast,
My doctrine tuned by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come, people; Aaron's drest.

* drest = archaic English for 'dressed'. Referring to Exodus xxviii. 29-37.
Source: Herbert, George. The Works of George Herbert in Prose and Verse.
New York: John Wurtele Lovell, 1881. 276-277.

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