This week in March, three hundred eighty-seven years ago, a country parson in England finished his race with Time. Shortly before, he had given his unpublished poetry to a friend. That country parson was George Herbert, and his poetry, published posthumously, has gone down as the finest devotional poetry in the English language.
by George Herbert (1593-1633)
Meeting with Time, slack thing, said I,
Thy sithe is dull; whet it for shame.
No marvell Sir, he did replie,
If it at length deserve some blame:
But where one man would have me grinde it,
Twentie for one too sharp do finde it.
Perhaps some such of old did passe,
Who above all things lov’d this life:
To whom thy sithe a hatchet was,
Which now is but a pruning knife.
Christs coming hath made man thy debter,
Since by thy cutting he grows better.
And in his blessing thou art blest:
For where thou onely wert before
An executioner at best;
Thou art a gard’ner now, and more,
An usher to convey our souls
Beyond the utmost starres and poles.
And this is that makes life so long,
While it detains us from our God.
Ev’n pleasures here increase the wrong,
And length of dayes lengthen the rod.
Who wants the place, where God doth dwell,
Partakes already half of hell.
Of what strange length must that needs be,
Which ev’n eternitie excludes!
Thus farre Time heard me patiently:
Then chafing said, This man deludes:
What do I here before his doore?
He doth not crave lesse time, but more.
Photo: boris misevic