Time and The Temple
GEORGE HERBERT is one of the best English lyric poets. To our attempts to see his poetry today, the past images of it formed by Laudians, Puritans, neo-classicists, Evangelicals, Romantics, Transcendentalists, Anglo-Catholics, and modern apostles of Donne bring partial if valuable illumination. With certain notable exceptions, those who have admired the poems in the immediate as well as in the distant past can be roughly divided into two groups: the religious readers who bowed to Herbert's piety and the literary men who praised the 'wit' and 'ingenuity' or perhaps the form and the language. Each group often had strong reservations: the dévot could sometimes ignore the wit for the sake of the piety; and the littérateur might be able, reluctantly, to do the reverse. In either process both the poetry and the religion suffered, for they are intimately and inextricably interrelated in The Temple.
Herbert wrote just before the conflict which changed the English world--and the religious and literary 'interpretations' of his poetry began almost immediately. His English poetry had probably been known to a distinguished circle of friends before the posthumous publication of The Temple in 1633, and he had published one Latin poem as early as 1612. In 1625, moreover, Francis Bacon had dedicated his Translation of Certaine Psalmes to Herbert and thus furthered Herbert's reputation as a poet. But Herbert's literary stature depended upon the English poems in The Temple. The number of editions of The Temple indicates that Herbert was the most popular religious poet within his own century aside from the voluminous Francis Quarles; and except for John Cleveland, he was the most popular of the so-called 'metaphysical poets,' sacred or profane.1
Within seven years after the publication of The Temple, Herbert had already received the dubious flattery of unin-