Jordan [I]

The Church of Greville. Jean-François Millet.


Jordan [I]

George Herbert


Who says that fictions only and false hair

Become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty?

Is all good structure in a winding stair?

May no lines pass, except they do their duty

Not to a true, but painted chair?


Is it not verse, except enchanted groves

And sudden arbors shadow coarse-spun lines?

Must purling streams refresh a lover’s loves?

Must all be veil’d, while he that reads divines,

Catching the sense at two removes?


Shepherds are honest people; let them sing:

Riddle who list, for me, and pull for Prime:

I envy no man’s nightingale or spring;

Nor let them punish me with loss of rhyme,

Who plainly say, My God, My King.


Metaphysical poet George Herbert questions the idea that poetry must be a beautiful fiction—as C.S. Lewis phrased it, “breathing lies through silver.” The stanzas Herbert writes in honor of his God find their poetic beauty in truth and directness. Compare and contrast this poem with the Emily Dickinson poem that begins “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant,” featured yesterday on Wrestle with the Angel.