Love (III) is part of The Church, the central section of George Herbert’s The Temple. The Church collects devotional lyrics that portray religious experiences and the attempt of achieving a faithful life. Moreover, Love is a central problem in The Church, as George Herbert analyses and dramatizes different forms of it.
Love (III) is part of a sequence of three poems, which meditate on the nature of love. Love (I) and Love (II) focus on earthly love and how it tends to attract more attention than holy love. Particularly, Love (I) looks into the relationship between mortal and immortal love, and Love (II) explores the connection between divine love and human lust. However, Love (III) concentrates on sacred love by personifying love in a dialogue between a worshiper and God. Here, God is seen as an inviting lover that explains the worthiness of Love.
The poem has three stanzas with six lines each, arranged in longer and shorter lines. It has an ABABCC rhyme scheme with a religious tone and a guilty mood. Furthermore, love, religion, and the relationship between these two are central themes in Love (III).
Love (III) Poem Analysis
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.
The first stanza describes how the lyrical voice is called by Love. The lyrical voice describes how he/she is welcomed by love (“Love bade me welcome”). Love is being personified, as it can speak and interact with the lyrical voice in a human way, and works, at the same time, as a metaphor of God. Nevertheless, the lyrical voice feels guilty and wants to refuse Love’s invitation (“Yet my soul drew back/Guilty of dust and sin”). Love observes the lyrical voice’s guilt and draws near him/her (“But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack/ From my first entrance in,/Drew nearer to me”). Instead of blaming or criticizing the lyrical voice, Love asks him/her whether he/she need something (“sweetly questioning,/If I lacked any thing”). The lyrical voice has a guilty and nervous tone, as he/she feels ashamed of his/her own sins. The action narrated throughout the poem seems to have already taken place due to the tense of the verbs. However, the narration is powerful and vivid, as the poem is structured in a dialogue form, which is furthered in the following two stanzas.
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?
The second stanza of Love (III) presents a debate. The lyrical voice tells Love that he/she lacks the worthiness to be in front of him (“A guest, I answered, worthy to be here”). Love replies that he/she should be there (“Love said, You shall be he”). The lyrical voice will insist on his/her ungratefulness and his/her unworthiness (I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,/I cannot look on thee”). Love will reassure the lyrical voice and tell him/her once again that he/she is worthy of his presence (“Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,/Who made the eyes but I?”). In this stanza, the conversation between the lyrical voice and Love is more dynamic as they debate on whether the lyrical voice is worthy of Love’s presence. The tone shifts, it is more mild and gentle, as the lyrical voice accepts Love’s words. God, in the form of Love, is presented as a forgiving, as he tells the lyrical voice: “Who made the eyes but I?”. The dialogic form of the stanza, and of the entire poem, has a regular pace, constructed by this question and answer form. This interaction between the lyrical voice and Love, God, has a ceremonial feel that is brought down to earth by the lexical simplicity in the words used.
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.
The third stanza presents the last part and the end of the dialogue between Love and the lyrical voice. The lyrical voice feels ashamed because he/she “have marred” his/her eyes (“Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame/ Go where it doth deserve”). Once again, the lyrical voice feels guilty, sinful, and not worthy of Love’s presence and words. Love will insist that he “bore the blame” (there is alliteration in this phrase). The lyrical voice emphasizes his duty to Love, and God, and says that he/she “will serve”. Finally, Love says that the lyrical voice must “taste” his meat, and the lyrical voice finishes the stanza by saying that he/she did (“So I did sit and eat”). Notice how the tone changes and, in these last lines, the lyrical voice overcomes his/her feelings of guilt and his/her nerves and accepts the gentle words of Love. In Love (III), this holy love, the love of God, compensates for human weaknesses.
About George Herbert
George Herbert was born in 1593 and died in 1633. He was a Welsh poet, an orator, and a priest. George Herbert is associated with the metaphysical poets. He received a good education, attended Cambridge, became a public orator, served in Parliament, and devoted himself to the Church of England. He spent the last years of his life as a rector in a little parish of the St. Andrews Church in Lower Bemerton, Salisbury. Although he was a very religious man, Herbert didn’t possess healthy habits, and he died of consumption at age 39. In Westminster Abbey there is a stained-glass window that commemorates his importance within the Church.
George Herbert wrote religious verse throughout his life. His poetry is technically versatile and full of powerful and ingenious images. Most of his poetry portrays the relationship between men and God as passionate and spiritual (as it can be read on The Collar). Some of his texts are known nowadays as popular hymns. Moreover, Herbert’s most notable works include The Temple, The Country Parson, and Jacula Prudentum.