George Herbert's Pastoral: New Essays on the Poet and Priest of Bemerton

George Herbert's Pastoral: New Essays on the Poet and Priest of Bemerton

George Herbert's Pastoral: New Essays on the Poet and Priest of Bemerton

George Herbert's Pastoral: New Essays on the Poet and Priest of Bemerton


As poet and as country parson, George Herbert engaged the pastoral in all of its varied senses. In October of 2007, many of the world's leading Herbert scholars met at Sarum College in Salisbury, England to locate Herbert's pastoral life and writings more particularly in early Stuart Wiltshire. They explored the relations between the pastoral locale of Herbert's last years (1630-1633) in nearby Bemerton and the themes, images, and tenor of his writing. How did the specific country place, time, and people shape the life and work of this especially lyrical country priest? The fourteen essays in this collection address Herbert's pastoral poetry and practice, cast new light on his actual relations with specific local personalities and places, make fresh connections to the inward biblical and liturgical spaces of his work, consider his outward links to garden and pasture, and discover fictional and theological reverberations beyond Herbert's local, pastoral world.


Christopher Hodgkins

PASTORAL IS AN ANCIENT, URBANE MODE CELEBRATING AN IMAGINED, ideal rural life—in other words, it has always been ripe for irony, or, to put it more harshly, prone to aesthetic hypocrisy. As Donald Friedman notes in his essay “Pastoral Conversions,” below, “[P]astoral has from its beginning announced itself as a way of talking about matters under a guise, an approach to its genuine concerns that proceeds by dressing them in images and locutions drawn from a markedly different, imagined world.” As pastoral is virtually birthed in irony, its origins and course have won it much dispraise; as Edmund Gosse wrote long ago, perhaps echoing Keats, “[P]astoral is cold, unnatural, artificial, and the humblest reviewer is free to cast a stone at its dishonored grave.” But if we want to know why this sometimes dishonored mode has lasted well over two millennia, and why supposedly jaded urban and courtly poets have been and still are genuinely moved to invoke the pastoral, we need only look at Salisbury, at George Herbert’s nearby village of Bemerton, and at the surrounding country.

A walk on a fine fall day around Salisbury’s Cathedral Close, or through the water meadows and pastures of Wiltshire, with the distant bleating of their sheep and the fragrance of their new-mown hay, might well put even a hardened urbanite in a pastoral frame of mind. In the mood for this mode, we may envy, or at least admire, all sorts of country pastors: both the pastoralists who, at their own more leisurely pace, have for ages tended the flocks that produce some of the finest wool in the world; and the country parsons who for centuries have sought to guide, protect, and nurture their human flocks in these quiet rural places.

So the approximately one hundred poets, critics, historians, and sympathetic civilians who met in Salisbury for the “George Herbert’s Pastoral” conference in October 2007 came to reflect extensively on the relations between the particularly pastoral locale of . . .

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