Selected Poem - 'Grace'

Did George Herbert experience depression? Some think he did. What is certain is that he knew struggle and suffering, and that his poems ring with the authentic note of the range of human experience. In the poem 'Grace', the poet prays to God for refreshment to come to a soul much in need of renewal.

'Grace'

My stock lies dead, and no increase
Doth my dull husbandrie improve:
O let thy graces without cease
Drop from above!

If still the sunne should hide his face,
Thy house would but a dungeon prove,
Thy works nights captives: O let grace
Drop from above!

The dew doth ev’ry morning fall;
And shall the dew out-strip thy Dove?
The dew, for which grasse cannot call,
Drop from above.

Death is still working like a mole,
And digs my grave at each remove
Let grace work too, and on my soul
Drop from above.

Sinne is still hammering my heart
Unto a hardnesse, void of love:
Let suppling grace, to crosse his art,
Drop from above.

O come! for thou dost know the way:
Or if to me thou wilt not move,
Remove me, where I need not say,
Drop from above.

Commentary

he Christian understands grace to be the gift of God. God gives his Son Jesus out of love for people. That love cannot be earned and is not deserved: it is love given freely. As the Christian receives that love, so there comes the motivation to give love to others in the power of God’s Spirit. The poem 'Grace' naturally follows on from 'Whitsunday', celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Many of the threads woven into the fabric of Herbert’s poems are found here.Pictures are taken from day-to-day life. For example, the 'husbandrie' of the first verse takes us into the world of stewardship and care of land, of garden. There are houses, dungeons, doves, morning dew, moles and graves.

There are contrasts and juxtapositions. The second verse pictures the light of the sun giving way to the darkness of night. The dove of verse three is airborne, but the mole of verse 4 works underground. And while sin has the effect (verse 5) of 'hammering my heart Unto a hardnesse' there is a softening action in the work of grace seen as 'suppling grace'.

 

There are Biblical allusions. The poem's first words 'My stock' echo Job 14:7-9, where the trunk of a tree, stripped of its branches, can yet be watered back to life. The refrain of each verse 'Drop from above' echoes Isaiah 45:8 and, incidentally, is used in Anglican liturgy.

There are linked and repeated words and phrases. The word grace comes in each verse apart from verse 3, where we find the word 'grasse' – grass can no more make dew happen than a human being can make grace happen. There is a link between the 'remove' of verse 4 and 'move' and 'remove' in the last verse. In the former, the digger removes earth to dig the grave, but in the latter, if God does not come through grace (the actual word is missing in the verse) then the poet prays to be taken from the earth.

Pictures, contrasts, Biblical allusions, repeated words and phrases make this a poem of quiet subtlety and depth. We are left in no doubt of the heartfelt yearning for grace to come as rain on dry and thirsty ground.

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