Poetry is the revelation of words by words.
George Herbert might well have been an exemplary Caroline court poet: “I know the wayes of Pleasure, the sweet strains,/The lullings and the relishes of it.” 1 But he became instead England’s greatest devotional lyricist, and he did so in fine Caroline style, with the publication of a single, though substantial, collection of verse that appeared in print only because of the help of others. Indeed, style is very much at the heart of The Temple: style as it includes issues of dress, the proper mode and language of wooing, the shape of individual poems, the role of the self, even the way one might respond to courtly games and some of the symbols and devices most in fashion by courtier poets, like posies, roses, and emblems; but style, too, as it is constantly, consciously, and at times cunningly played off against substance as identified ultimately with Christ or God’s word.
The authoritative nature of this shift from secular to sacred is the subject of the printer’s note to the reader that appeared with the first edition of The Temple in 1633 and which is usually attributed to Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding:
Being nobly born, and as eminently endued with gifts of the minde, and having by industrie and happy education perfected them to that great height of excellencie, whereof his fellowship of Trinitie Colledge in Cambridge, and his Orator-ship in the Universities, together with that knowledge which the Kings Court had taken of him, could make relation farre above ordinarie. Quitting both his deserts and all the opportunities that he had for worldly preferment, he betook himself to the Sanctuaries and Temple of God, choosing rather to serve at Gods Altar, then to see the honour of State-employments.