THE major assumption of this book is that George Herbert, the parson-poet of seventeenth-century England, is one of the best lyric poets who has written in the English language. I have not attempted the hopeless task of 'proving' such an assumption; rather, I have tried to assume an ideal reader of taste and availability to literary experience who will recognize a good poem once he is given the materials which enable him to understand it. I have hoped also for a reader interested in the relations of a work of art to its conceptual framework and to history. Such considerations help our understanding of most poetry. They are essential to an understanding of George Herbert The Temple.
Although Herbert has been the subject of a number of recent essays, there was no book-length study of his work between George Herbert Palmer's essay of 1905 and Rosemond Tuve fine A Reading of George Herbert of 1952. That gap of nearly half a century is largely responsible for the organization of this volume. In my first three chapters I have considered the past and present myths concerning Herbert's poetry, his life, and his religion, and I have tried to correct them. Chapters IV and V concern Herbert's theories of form and language, both basic to his poetic and religious practice; and in the final section I have attempted to relate those theories directly to the poems.
I determined to undertake this study in 1941, when Kenneth B. Murdock first introduced me to The Temple. Since that time I have acquired an enormous indebtedness to many individuals as well as to many printed volumes. I have attempted to indicate the latter in my notes, but the former is more difficult to acknowledge precisely: many students as well as faculty members of the English Department and of History and Literature at Harvard and Radcliffe have contributed more than they know. I owe particular debts to Mr Douglas Bush and the late F. O. Matthiessen and Theodore Spencer, with whom I worked closely on