Selected Poem - 'The Holdfast'

As the year 2018 comes to a close, we reflect on the turmoil in our jet-propelled world; how angry and dangerous it has become, and how more than ever, we are seeking stability, constancy, reassurance and a steady hand on the tiller.

'The Holdfast'

I threatened to observe the strict decree
Of my deare God with all my power & might.
But I was told by one, it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
Then will I trust, said I, in him alone.
Nay, ev’n to trust in him, was also his:
We must confesse that nothing is our own.
Then I confesse that he my succour is:
But to have nought is ours, not to confesse
That we have nought. I stood amaz’d at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend expresse,
That all things were more ours by being his.
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.


Curiously, George Herbert has a habit of creating strong images in his titles which rarely appear in the main body of his works. In 'The Holdfast' we will not find a Holdfast. But what is it? Perhaps something he might have seen in a carpenter’s or artisan’s workshop; a simple clamping devise, used on bench tops. A holdfast is often shaped like a shepherd’s hook.

In this sonnet, Herbert despairs of ever fulfilling all of God’s commandments; an impossible and hopeless task for anyone. But God already knows this. He knows everything about our human condition because everything comes from Him but, whatever inner conflicts and struggles we have, He will always understand us and be on our side.


So, Herbert resolves to put all his trust and faith in God because only God can give us secure love, hope, faith and salvation. We have no claim to creating these gifts within ourselves; such gifts are from God alone and if we put our trust in Him, He will never fail us. He will always keep his promises and He will always be our light. “Then will I trust, said I, in Him alone”.

All we need to do is let go and put our total faith in Him; hold on to it tightly and firmly; hold it fast.

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