Good Friday: George Herbert

George Herbert’s Poetry is inspirational and profound regardless of religious standpoint. Here are his musings on Good Friday:

 

O My chief good,

How shall I measure out thy bloud?

How shall I count what thee befell,

And each grief tell?

 

Shall I thy woes

Number according to thy foes?

Or, since one starre show’d thy first breath,

Shall all thy death?

 

Or shall each leaf,

Which falls in Autumn, score a grief?

Or can not leaves, but fruit, be signe

Of the true vine?

 

Then let each houre

Of my whole life one grief devoure;

That thy distresse through all may runne,

And be my sunne.

 

Or rather let

My severall sinnes their sorrows get;

That as each beast his cure doth know,

Each sinne may so.

 

Since bloud is fittest, Lord, to write

Thy sorrows in, and bloudie fight;

My heart hath store, write there, where in

One box doth lie both ink and sinne:

 

That when sinne spies so many foes,

Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes,

All come to lodge there, sinne may say,

No room for me, and flie away.

 

Sinne being gone, oh fill the place,

And keep possession with thy grace;

Lest sinne take courage and return,

And all the writings blot or burn.

St. Margaret's Church, Westminster. Taken on Good Friday morning before Mattins.

St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster. Taken on Good Friday morning before Mattins.

Saint Mary Woolnoth: T. S. Elliot

On a walk from St. Bride’s Church on Fleet Street to Liverpool Street Station last week, I was taken with this view of a church I had not seen before:

DSCF0687

St. Mary Woolnoth from the North-West

St. Mary Woolnoth from the North-West

 

I then discovered that it is mentioned in Elliot’s ‘Wasteland‘.

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying, “Stetson!
You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!

 

The sheer volume of churches that surround the Bank of England and the Monument is staggering. Many of them are closed during the week but can, after the correct enquiries are made, be opened. The baroque interior of this church by Nicholas Hawksmoor certainly merits exploration!

Larkin: Church Going

Philip Larkin’s famous poem certainly provokes thought about the purpose of this blog. How long will parish churches survive? What do we look for when we go inside? Why do they attract tourists still? Why are all people silent and reverential inside, even if the building is empty? Larkin poses the problems and threats, but perhaps ends optimistically.

Dennington, Suffolk

Dennington, Suffolk

 

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on

I step inside, letting the door thud shut.

Another church: matting, seats, and stone,

And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut

For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff

Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;

And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,

Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off

My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

 

Move forward, run my hand around the font.

From where I stand, the roof looks almost new –

Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don’t.

Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few

Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce

‘Here endeth’ much more loudly than I’d meant.

The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door

I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,

Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

 

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,

And always end much at a loss like this,

Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,

When churches will fall completely out of use

What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep

A few cathedrals chronically on show,

Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,

And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.

Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

 

Or, after dark, will dubious women come

To make their children touch a particular stone;

Pick simples for a cancer; or on some

Advised night see walking a dead one?

Power of some sort will go on

In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;

But superstition, like belief, must die,

And what remains when disbelief has gone?

Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

 

A shape less recognisable each week,

A purpose more obscure. I wonder who

Will be the last, the very last, to seek

This place for what it was; one of the crew

That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?

Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,

Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff

Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?

Or will he be my representative,

 

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt

Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground

Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt

So long and equably what since is found

Only in separation – marriage, and birth,

And death, and thoughts of these – for which was built

This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea

What this accoutred frosty barn is worth,

It pleases me to stand in silence here;

 

A serious house on serious earth it is,

In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

Are recognized, and robed as destinies.

And that much never can be obsolete,

Since someone will forever be surprising

A hunger in himself to be more serious,

And gravitating with it to this ground,

Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,

If only that so many dead lie round.