Friday, October 21, 2016

'The Altar' by George Herbert - POTW October 19-20, 2016

One of the most exciting things about the religious poet George Herbert (1593-1633), who was also an Anglican priest, is that he was appreciated by all the different religious groups of his period. His great critic (and editor) Helen Wilcox has argued that Herbert deliberately took a mediating stance to help promote more peaceful relations among the religious factions of the period.

Although many of Herbert's poems are deceptively simplistic looking on a first reading, they stand the test of repeated readings and reveal hidden complexities when you spend time with them.

'The Altar' is a wonderful example of this. It is an emblem poem, and people are usually keen to observe an altar, a pillar, a cup, or the letter I when they look at the poem. Of course deep religious meanings and the notion of sacrifice are contained within the words of the poem. But there is also a discourse about art that generates new meaning, and one revealing trick is to count the times you can spell art in the poem, frontwards, backwards and sideways, using letters within words such as altar, heart, part, etc.


For a reliable on-line version of the poem: