Herbert’s poetry sings. It is musical in its very nature. In this poem, Herbert considers what makes up a sincere offering of praise to God.
Perhaps we have here a hymn within a hymn. The repeated words 'My joy, my life, my crown' in the first verse are the true hymn, where the poet is praising God. But are those the only words that can be said? Are they really enough? Surely God deserves more than that! The poet answers himself. The words might sound inadequate, but if they are sincerely said, they are enough.
There seems to be a playful quality about the third verse. The biblical understanding is that of loving God with all the heart, mind, soul and strength but we are brought up with a jolt - the word time is substituted for heart. (After all, the first verse described how the poet had spent all day looking for inspiration). There is, however, another rhythm in the praise of God, which goes beyond rhyme and meter. A poet might be concerned with his poetic art and get the rhyme right, but that is not enough for a true hymn.
We find out what that is in the last verse. The poetic art might be inadequate, but if the heart is in the right place – that is enough for God. He will 'make up our defects with his sweet art' (Herbert’s poem 'Easter'). Even that however, is not the last word. The final resolve to man’s inadequacy and yearning lies not within him and the gaining of approval, but within the grace of God. The words of the poet fall short: God takes over as writer, and writes the word “loved” in man’s heart.
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