Sometimes a poem just knocks you flat. George Herbert is one of those kindred souls I love to dabble my way through. He was probably an Enneagram Four as well (aren’t all poets?). In my copy of Seventeenth Century Verses (New Oxford edition), I came across one of his poems I’d never seen before: “The World.” Allow me to quote:
Love built a stately house; where Fortune came,
And spinning phansies, she was heard to say,
That her fine cobwebs did support the frame,
Whereas they were supported by the same:
But Wisdome quickly swept them all away.
Then Pleasure came, who, liking not the fashion,
Began to make Balcones, Terraces,
Till she had weakned all by alteration:
But rev’rend laws, and many a proclamation
Reformed all at length with menaces.
Then enter’d Sinne, and with that Sycomore,
Whose leaves first sheltred man from drought & dew,
Working and winding slily evermore,
The inward walls and sommers cleft and tore:
But Grace shor’d these, and cut that as it grew.
Then Sinne combin’d with Death in a firm band
To raze the building to the very floore:
Which they effected, none could them withstand.
But Love and Grace took Glorie by the hand,
And built a braver Palace then before.
Blazing across the world from 1633, that last stanza blindsided me. Sin and Death formed an alliance to burn this world to the ground. No one could stop them. This creation’s stains will be purged by fire. It’s going to happen. But what comes next? Do we end in despair? Do we “hold with those who favor fire”?
Love and Grace took Glory by the hand, and built a braver palace than before. This world starts as a stately house. It ends as a palace. Better than, braver than, more glorious than before. Whatever else I might think of the theology thick in Reverend Herbert’s imagery, this is the great Christian hope: that love and grace will win out and God will gloriously built something better out of the ashes of sin’s ruin.