Amongst the more amusing forms of serendipity is to do a search on Amazon. A search for the more recent books published on George Herbert is a case in point. As well as the 17th Century priest poet there are works by the American social philosopher and psychologist George Herbert Mead, himself an influential thinker around areas of pragmatism and social behaviour. The juxtaposition of Anglican country parson and a philospher contemporary with Tiffany Glass and Art Nouveau is odd enough. But then a few items further down come books about George Herbert Walker Bush, previous President of the United States, and father of the other George W Bush who was also U S President, and the inevitable collision of ideas that happen when world views are a couple of universes away from each other.
I'll get to the point in a minute. Amongst my favourite books on the Bible and Art is Painting the Word by John Drury. That is a fine book which opened up a lot of windows when I was trying to get a handle on the role of Art as a form of biblical exegesis and as evidence of how biblical texts were received and interpreted through the centuries. So when I put in George Herbert and came across the social philosopher and the two previous Presidents, I also discovered that John Drury has a full length monograph coming on the poetry of George Herbert. The description on Amazon says:
For the first time, John Drury convincingly integrates the life and poetry of George Herbert, giving us in Music at Midnight the definitive biography of the man behind some of the most famous poems in the English Language.
That I think is saying too much too soon. Others have convincingly integrated the life and poetry of Herbert, including Amy Charles, Helen Vendler and my favourite by James Boyd White, "This Booke of Starres". Still, a New Testament scholar who is immersed in Christian Art and Christian text, and who has spent decades reading and working through Herebrt's "The Temple", is a good choice of critic and expositor. So I'm looking forward to reading this latest addition to some of the more thoughtful and accessible treatments of Herbert's "utmost art".
Here's another of the better known poems, familiar to those who still sing old hymns, and for whom daily holiness is found in the ordinary services and courtesies of human exchange:
Teach me, my God and King,
in all things thee to see,
and what I do in anything
to do it as for thee.
A man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye;
or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
and then the heaven espy.
All may of thee partake;
nothing can be so mean,
which with this tincture, "for thy sake,"
will not grow bright and clean.
A servant with this clause
makes drudgery divine:
who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
makes that and the action fine.
This is the famous stone
that turneth all to gold;
for that which God doth touch and own
cannot for less be told.