Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Heaven in the ordinary

(Tom has been away hiking in the Swiss Alps. He's back now and we'll soon be talking about the future of the blog. In the meantime, a few reprises, this from April 2009.

If I had to choose another life in another time, perhaps it would be as a country parson in Anglican England, Gilbert White, say, in the late-18th-century village of Selborne, or -- why not? -- George Herbert in little Saint Andrew Bemerton a century earlier. Herbert was not quite the naturalist White was, but he was keenly attuned to the natural world, as evidenced by this sonnet, called Prayer:
Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;

Engine against th' Almightie, sinner's towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices, something understood.
The Milky Way, the bird of Paradise, church bells heard at night, the land of spices, gladness of the best, these are the soul's blood. Herbert celebrated the divine in ordinary things -- the plough, the clod, the milkmaid's pail, the dance on the village green, the spangled dome of night -- a kind of tune that all things hear, the heart in pilgrimage.