This is one of my favourite wee books. Bound in soft green leather and published late 19th Century by Nelson of Edinburgh, it often goes in my pocket if I'm away and want to have something of substance to browse. The devotional poetry of the 17th Century is a theologically enriched vein of prayerful reflection. To be sure there are extravagances and conceits, and an impression of overdone cleverness and overwrought emotions. But much of that is because we live in a wildly different age, when we are likely to balk at the language of devotional intimacy and intensity, even when it is written in beautiful cadences and theological precision laden with metaphysical depth. We prefer the contemporary praise song with all its...........................(please fill in as appropriate).
But poets like George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, John Donne, Robert Herrick, Richard Crashaw, wrote their verse with devout seriousness and intensely stoked religious affections. And they wrote out of an instinctive sense of the soul's dependence on God, and with an unflinching honesty about human fallenness enountered by a love both infinite and holy. Leading up to Holy Week I'm going to post a 17th Century poem a day, offering a brief comment which alongside the poem, you can take or leave - but please take the poem. I'm leaving this one with its original spelling and punctuation - so all you incurable correctors of errant apostrophes, take it up with Herrick!
Gods boundlesse mercy is, to sinfull man,
Like to the ever wealthy ocean:
Which though it sends forth thousand streams, 'tis n'ere
Known,or els seen to be the emptier:
And though it takes all in, 'tis yet no more
Full, and fild-full, then when full-fild before.