Holy Week Poetry 2016, Maundy Thursday: “Love (III)” by George Herbert

Bookends, that’s what we’ve got here. Where Monday’s poem “The Altar” was the opening of George Herbert’s collection of poetry The Temple (1633), today’s poem is the final lyric of Herbert’s book. It’s the third poem titled “Love” and presents both Love and the Lord as one and the same. Because of that, this poem fits nicely on Maundy Thursday. Many scholars believe that the word “Maundy” came from the Latin “mandatum,” specifically from Jesus’ teaching in John 13:34: Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos or “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”

The scene is dinner: Love hosts, and the speaker, the guest, hesitates. With Love as the warm, welcoming, and encouraging host,and thinking of how comforting and nourishing it can be to share a meal, it’s tempting to see a maturing trajectory from the first poem, “The Altar,” to this last one. In “The Altar” the speaker tells the Lord that the speaker’s heart is an altar and hopes it will be accepted. In “Love (III)” the relationship is more interactive, and speaker’s self-conscious offering in “The Altar” has changed to a self-conscious awareness of unworthiness and even failure. It may be tempting to see such a trajectory across the two poems, but the comfort level of the speaker as guest is still ambiguous by the end of the poem. And probably rightfully so–just what is it to break bread with the Lord? Enjoy this poem on Maundy Thursday, the day commemorating the Last Supper.

Love (III)
by George Herbert
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.
 
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, 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 marred 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.

 

apples-maybe by rembrandt

 

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