The Proper Language
WHATEVER a poet's theories of form, he creates his form through language. In a world where the ultimate reality often seems to be a matter of personal opinion, it is easy to believe that 'the style is the man' in a simplistic sense which most Renaissance writers would fail to comprehend. Yet most of the older writers conceived neither that personal experience was the only sanction for reality nor that personality must be 'refined out of existence.' Nor did they know of any one type of language which was suitable for all occasions. None of Herbert's many comments on how he believed language could and should be used indicate that at any time he believed 'quaintness' or obvious individuality proper linguistic ideals. In the poet's and the preacher's experiments, the chief consideration was not how to convey personal experience honestly but how to use language most effectively for the subject, the aim, and the intended audience of specific compositions. It is dangerous, therefore, to take as evidence of his experience or personality the language of an early seventeenth-century writer divorced from his intent. Such a modern judgment as ' Herbert's narrower experience not only limits his choice of subjectmatter, but simplifies the texture of his poems,'1 is without justification. Herbert quite consciously selected those aspects of his experience which he wished to use as 'subject-matter,' and he consistently subordinated metaphorical texture to the aim and structure of the individual poem. Herbert's language does not and was not intended to give a convenient metrical measure for the total range and depth of his experience; it does give valid evidence concerning his aims and his intended audience.
For over seven years the practice of rhetoric was literally Herbert's business. His official orations and letters and poems
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Publication information: Book title: George Herbert:His Religion and Art. Contributors: Joseph H. Summers - Author. Publisher: Harvard University Press. Place of publication: Cambridge, MA. Publication year: 1954. Page number: 95.
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