Ah, my dear angry Lord,
Since though dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.
I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament and love.
George Herbert, 1593-1633, a Welsh born English Poet and Anglican priest
How did a man who died in 1633 manage to write a poem that so perfectly summarizes my own experience in 2011? This is why poetry is. This is why people have always loved poetry. Why I love poetry. Why the form endures. In such a brief, spare, two stanzas, Herbert manages to evoke such strong emotions, such familiarity. The poem made me feel, “Yes! Yes, that’s me!” Really good poetry universalizes the pain and joy, ugliness and beauty, kindness and cruelty of being human. It illuminates that you are not alone in this struggle, or this bliss. Someone else understood, understands, and has walked this path before you. That Herbert even begins Bittersweet with a sigh, as I am so prone to do in my writing, brought the sharp blade of recognition instantly to my throat. Begin with a sigh, yet end in love. Begin in love and end with a sigh. My daily journey. “My sour-sweet days…”
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
“Heaven in ordinary…” And finally, “Something understood.” I swoon with absurd pleasure and gratitude that someone could write such lines and give a form to such ideas that swirl through the consciousness. Name it. Capture it even for a moment.
And finally, love. Thank you, Herbert, for reminding of us of the importance of joining the love feast. It should always end with love. Everything should end with love.
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”’
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
Ah, yes. Time to eat. What is being offered? Are we wise enough to come to the table when we are called? Like jello, or chocolate, there is always enough room for love. Always end with love.