I’ve been engaged in other kinds of writing, alas; but I couldn’t pass up this guest post (if you will). In betwixt all the headlines about Scalia’s death, I was reading Martz’s The Poetry of Meditation, and stumbled on this poem which somehow I missed when reading Herbert’s complete works last spring. It’s a timely Lenten reminder, like Scalia’s own death, of the Ars Moriendi—and a lovely illustration of how Herbert’s flavor of metaphysical conceit suited his religious impulses.
Death, thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing,
Nothing but bones,
The sad effect of sadder groans:
Thy mouth was open, but thou couldst not sing.
For we considered thee as at some six
Or ten years hence,
After the loss of life and sense,
Flesh being turned to dust, and bones to sticks.
We looked on this side of thee, shooting short;
Where we did find
The shells of fledge souls left behind,
Dry dust, which sheds no tears, but may extort.
But since our Savior’s death did put some blood
Into thy face,
Thou art grown fair and full of grace,
Much in request, much sought for as a good.
For we do now behold thee gay and glad,
As at Doomsday;
When souls shall wear their new array,
And all thy bones with beauty shall be clad.
Therefore we can go die as sleep, and trust
Half that we have
Unto an honest faithful grave;
Making our pillows either down, or dust.
No, that’s not George Herbert—I couldn’t
find a death mask for him. But kudos if you
can recognize his near-contemporary.