Selected Poem - 'Colossians 3:3'

The Bible words 'Our life is hid with Christ in God', taken from St. Paul's letter to the Colossians, are themselves hidden within this poem. Here, George Herbert expands the line, but also personalises the words– 'our' is changed to 'my'.

'Colossians 3:3'

My  words and thoughts do both express this notion,
That Life  hath with the sun a double motion.
The first Is  straight, and our diurnal friend,
The  other  Hid,  and doth obliquely bend.
One life is wrapped In flesh, & and tends to earth:
The other winds towards Him, whose happy birth
Taught me to live here so, That  still one eye
Should aim and shoot at that which Is on high:
Quitting with daily labour all My pleasure,
To gain at harvest an eternal Treasure.

Commentary

As in many of his poems, Herbert uses pattern and shape to explore his theme. The expanded line runs diagonally through the poem, creating a tension which is only resolved in the final line.

Double meanings help to create the tension. On the one hand, we live our everyday, earthly lives. On the other hand, we live our eternal, heavenly lives. Our life 'wrapt in flesh' pulls us down to earthly things: the upward movement 'winds towards Him'. Christ himself experienced a double motion. Not only did he come down to earth from heaven in his human birth, but he was raised to heaven in his resurrection.

As in other poems by Herbert, 'sun' and 'Son' are punned. The movement of the sun is used to shine light on the movement of the Son of God. For the sun has a double motion – we are most familiar with its daily east to west motion, 'our diurnal friend'. However the sun moves annually from west to east, and this pattern was illustrated by an oblique or diagonal band around the globe (quoted in Helen Wilcox 'The English poems of George Herbert'). 'It doth obliquely bend'.

There is a hidden quality to the ways in which people live out their faith in God, for there is a hidden quality in the way God is active in the lives of people. We do not always recognise God’s purposes and ways of working in the world. We do not see the whole until the end, but for Herbert, the treasure to be found during earthly and eternal life is Christ.

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