Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter by George Herbert

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without Delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise;
That, as he death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or since music is but three parts vied
And multiplied,
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

I got me flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs of many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought'st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sun Arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th' East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.

This is one of my favorite poems. Reflecting on the Resurrection, Herbert is moved to compose a song (lines 1-18) which he then shares (lines 19-30). Some of the imagery he uses is either cryptic or archaic (the poem is just shy of 400 years old), but thankfully, that's what study notes are for.

Herbert prepares for Easter by addressing his heart. "Calcined" is a chemical term which in this case refers to the removing of impurity from precious metal. Romans 6:4 is clearly in view: the believer participates in Jesus' death and resurrection, being re-created into a new creation.

Herbert, an avid musician, turns to his lute to assist him in song. Just as the wooden cross proclaimed Jesus' atoning work, so Herbert's wooden lute resonates with the same message.

"His stretched sinews" is a grotesque but fantastic image. Here Herbert pictures Jesus' arms stretched tight on the cross. Lute strings in Herbert's day were made from the muscle fibers of animals. Also, sacred music was traditionally set to higher keys than secular music. The tighter the string, the higher the pitch.

Just as chords are fundamentally composed of triads, Herbert sees the worship of his heart and lute as incomplete, in fact impossible, without the Holy Spirit's aid. The Spirit makes "up our defects with his sweet art."

The change of structure in line 19 indicates the beginning of the song alluded to in line 1 (interestingly, Herbert also utilized a two-part structure in Easter 's sister poem Good Friday). The first allusion in the song is to Palm Sunday (cf. Mark 11:8-9) and the second is the women who brought spices to Jesus' tomb (cf. Mark 16:1-2). However, the resurrected Jesus does not need their gifts. In fact, all gifts offered to Christ (the sun illumining the empty grave, the Magi providing frankincense and myrrh years before) pale in comparison to the glory of the resurrection. For this reason Herbert sees Easter as the definitive moment in human history.

No comments: