Many people know of George Herbert only because of his popular and inspiring Christian hymns - 'Let all the World in Every Corner Sing', 'Teach me, my God and King', and 'King of Glory, King of Peace'. These hymns represent just three of the poems from his much-admired collection 'The Temple'. From a young age, Herbert wrote religious poetry, and for many students of English Literature he is the finest devotional poet, whose work has wide appeal to those both inside and outside the Anglican Church and the Christian faith.
Inspired by Conflicting Desires
In common with most of us, George Herbert struggled for most of his life with conflicting desires. On the one hand, he was a gifted scholar who shone at school and university and for whom a glittering political career seemed to beckon. On the other, guided by his mother, he was conscious of a constant leaning towards a calling to ordination as a priest. This persistent inner turmoil was the source and inspiration of much of his poetry.
It was not until the age of 36, after considerable soul searching, that he resolved his innermost doubts. He gave up any aspirations to public life, embraced the priesthood and accepted the living of the small, insignificant parish of Fuggleston-cum-Bemerton in Wiltshire. Here he found inner peace at last, serving God and the local community, and here his poetic talent was able to flourish. Sadly, this tranquillity lasted for only three years, brought to an end by his early death just short of his 40th birthday.
There have been many George Herbert biographies, covering his life and works in much more detail than is possible on this website. We have not attempted to do more than summarise his life before he came to Bemerton, and then to tell something of his brief years as the local Rector. Those seeking fuller biographical details should follow the relevant links and consult the list of references.
People from all over the world come to Lower Bemerton to see St. Andrew's, the little church opposite the Old Rectory where Herbert lived. Its Visitors' Book is filled with the names of those who have travelled from every continent, having been deeply influenced by his poetry and wanting to see for themselves where George Herbert worshipped and spent his final days. In recent years there has been a resurgence of academic interest in the life and work of Herbert, with a great many papers, seminars and conferences seeking to expand further the boundaries of understanding and knowledge of his writings.
Herbert's fame derives mainly from his religious poetry, and the best known of his writings is a collection of over 160 poems, published under the title of 'The Temple' in 1633, the year of his death. Over the next 60 years the popularity of this collection grew so strongly that by 1709 it had passed through 13 editions. He also wrote, while in Bemerton, a prose work popularly known as 'The Country Parson', first published in 1652. We have provided on this site a brief summary of his works.
Educational Resource Pack
A pack of downloadable resource material suitable for use by young people exploring George Herbert and his works is also available on this website.