Monday, May 31, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 18 (George Herbert)

Herbert, George
The Complete English Poems


Purchased at the late lamented discount bookstore at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall. Price: $4.50

I am trying to remember about George Herbert, but I mostly remember vague facts, like places where I may or may not have encountered his work. I am not sure I can place myself in most of those places, and when I do, I am not sure I can recall any details.
For instance, I may have studied George Herbert in my undergraduate seminar in 17th Century British Poetry. But this book does not date from that period and I seem to have kept all the rest of the books from that class, which would suggest we did not study him.

For instance, I have a memory of encountering George Herbert in the poetry collection at SUNY Buffalo. I was going to say it had something to do with Susan Howe, but I now think I have a clearer picture. My first year in Buffalo, during which I spent a great deal of time in the poetry collection, a textual scholar named Randall McLeod (Random Cloud) gave a demonstration of a textual editing device he had invented to compare copies of a given text. I think he may have discussed George Herbert. I am almost sure. The association of George Herbert with the poetry collection is very strong.

For instance, just this past year a local painter, the daughter, I think, or granddaughter, of Charles Burchfield, Katherine something, I think, exhibited some of her paintings at the Western New York Book Arts Center, the building in which I work, each of which was based on a painting by George Herbert. Each painting was framed and hung on the wall above a pice of 8.5 x 11 paper on which was printed the text of the Hebert poem on which the painting was based. I remember bright colors and flowers.

For instance, I can see the poem The Altar, whose text is presented in the shape of an altar, and I can picture myself looking at it in some situation with other people, like a seminar, but I can't remember the seminar or the people.

And then there's that shape, an altar, the kind of thing I spent many a Sunday morning facing during my childhood, wondering when I could get the hell out of there and go home, change my clothes and go outside to play, the kind of thing I spent part of my childhood standing on, dressed in a loose-fitting white gown tied with a white cord around the waist, balancing a napkin on my wrist while holding a bowl of water or a chalice full of wine in my hands as the priest made his ablutions before he took the towel and wiped his hands, raised the cup aloft and said, Take this all you and drink it, this is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which has been shed for you and for all men, that their sins may be forgiven...etc.

from The Complete English Poems

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