Apples on a Bough, Study Before Picking. Andrew Wyeth.
Apples on a Bough, Study Before Picking. Andrew Wyeth.



George Herbert


I bless thee Lord, because I GROW

Among thy trees which in a ROW

To thee both fruit and order OW.


What open force, or hidden CHARM

Can blast my fruit or bring me HARM,

While the inclosure is thine ARM?


Inclose me still for fear I START.

But to me rather sharp and TART,

Then let me want thy hand & ART.


When thou dost great judgements SPARE,

And with thy knife but prune and PARE,

Ev’n fruitful trees more fruitful ARE.


Such sharpness shows the sweetest FREND:

Such cuttings rather heal than REND:

And such beginnings touch their END.

The Invitation

Parable of the Wedding Feast. Russian icon.
Parable of the Wedding Feast. Russian icon.


The Invitation

George Herbert


Come ye hither All, whose taste

Is you waste;

Save your cost, and mend your fare.

Gd is here prepar’d and drest,

And the feast,

God, in whom all dainties are.


Come ye hither All, whom wine

Doth define,

Naming you not to your own good:

Weep what you have drunk amiss,

And drink this,

Which before ye drink is blood.


Come ye hither All, whom pain

Doth arraign,

Bringing all your sins to sight:

Taste and fear not: God is here

In this cheer,

And on sin doth cast the fright.


Come ye hither All, whom joy

Doth destroy,

While ye graze without your bounds:

Here is joy that drowneth quite

Your delight,

As a flood the lower grounds.


Come ye hither All, whose love

Is your dove,

And exalts you to the sky:

Here is love, which having breath

Ev’n in death,

After death can never die.


Lord, I have invited all

And I shall

Still invite, still call to thee:

For it seems but just and right

In my sight,

Where is All, there All should be.


The Russian icon portrays the parable of the great banquet told by Jesus in Luke 14:15-24, and alluded to in George Herbert’s poem.


Giverny in Springtime. Claude Monet, 1900.
Giverny in Springtime. Claude Monet, 1900.



George Herbert


Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,

The bridal of the earth and sky,

The dew shall weep thy fall tonight;

For thou must die.


Sweet rose, whose hue angry and brave

Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye:

Thy root is ever in the grave,

And thou must die.


Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses,

A box where sweets compacted lie;

My music shows ye have your closes,

And all must die.

Only a sweet and virtuous soul,

Like season’d timber, never gives;

But though the whole world turn to coal,

Then chiefly lives.



Seascape with Pines and Overhanging Clouds. Robert Julian Onderdonk. 1901.
Seascape with Pines and Overhanging Clouds. Robert Julian Onderdonk. 1901.



George Herbert


I cannot ope mine eyes,

But thou art ready there to catch

My morning-soul and sacrifice:

Then we must needs for that day make a match.


My God, what is a heart?

Silver, or gold, or precious stone,

Or star, or rainbow, or a part

Of all these things, or all of them in one?


My God, what is a heart,

That thou shouldst it so eye, and woo,

Pouring upon it all thy art,

As if thou hadst nothing else to do?


Indeed man’s whole estate

Amounts (and richly) to serve thee:

He did not heav’n and earth create,

Yet studies them, not him by whom they be.


Teach me thy love to know;

That this new light, which now I see,

May both the work and workman show:

Then by a sunbeam I will climb to thee.

H. Baptisme [II]

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Fra Angelico. 1433.
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Fra Angelico. 1433.

 H. Baptisme [II]

George Herbert


Since, Lord to thee

A narrow way and a little gate

Is all the passage, on my infancy

Thou didst lay hold, and antedate

My faith in me.

O let me still

With thee great God, and me a child:

Let me soft and supple to thy will,

Small to myself, to others mild,

Behither ill.

Although by stealth

My flesh gets on, yet let her sister

My soul bid nothing, but preserve her wealth:

The growth of flesh is but a blister;

Childhood is health.

Hildegard of Bingen

Barbara Sukowa as Hildegard von Bingen in VISION. A film by Margarethe von Trotta.


I sat outside in the cool of the morning, amid the twittering of birds in the hedges, the susurrus of palms, the hum of a distant law mower. Above all soared the clear and luminous voices of women singing a responsorium to the Holy Spirit: ‘O vis aeternitatis que omnia ordinasti in corde tuo, per Verbum tuum omnia creata sunt sicut voluisti, et ipsum Verbum tuum induit carnem in formatione illa que educta es de Adam.’—‘O power of eternity, who have ordered all things in your heart: by your word all things are created as you have willed, and your word itself, puts on flesh in the form that is drawn from Adam.’

Since finishing Gombrich’s excellent Story of Art, I had begun a long-planned and anticipated survey of the great composers and their music. I was thus introduced to Hildegard von Bingen, a German Benedictine nun who is the earliest documented composer of the Western tradition. Listening to the Sequentia recording Canticles of Ecstasy, I was surprised, pleasantly, by Hildegard’s virtuosic composition. I had expected more ‘plain’ in the ‘plainsong’ and more groaning too. But instead there was such gladness and clarity in her poetic Latin and in her frequent use of decorative neumes and melisame (though I confess to laughing at one particularly long stretch in ‘O tu suavissima virga’).

I had already begun studying the Latin language with one of my brothers, that summer—navigating with him the complexities of conjugation and declension. Reading Hildegard’s Latin text (with the help of a parallel translation) greatly enhanced my appreciation for her spiritual vision and poetic expression; it also augmented my Latin vocabulary, and strengthened by love for the Latin and English languages generally. I now consider it an essential experience, and plan to do it again and with other vocal pieces (Haydn’s Creation, perhaps, when I get there!).

I particularly loved Hildegard’s description of the Holy Spirit from a sequence to the Holy Spirit, O ignis Spiritus Paracliti‘O iter fortissimum, quod penetravit omnia in altissimis et en terrenis et in omnibus abyssis, tu omnes componis et colligis.’ ‘O boldest path, penetrating into all places, on high and on earth, and in every abyss, you fit and gather all together.’

Canticles of Ecstasy has one instrumental piece—a delicate, shimmering thing that beautifully complemented the soft rain that was falling when I first heard it. It was followed by a song of prayer, and the same magnificent moment in which clear voices of women filled my ear, a shaft of golden light pierced the wavering veil. Hildegard would have liked that, I think. Music was for her the supreme expression of the harmonies found in the interrelation of body and spirit, earth and heaven, man and God.


Hildegard von Bingen: Sibyl of the Rhine

“A human being is a vessel that God has built for himself and filled with his inspiration so that his works are perfected in it.” —Hildegard von Bingen, in a letter to Elisabeth of Schönau, c. 1152

As the tenth child of her parents, young Hildegard was considered a tithe to the church of God and was committed to the care of nuns at a very young age. Although she was a sickly child, after receiving the wise and loving tutelage of an anchoress named Jutta, Hildegarde rose to become abbess in an abbey of her own founding.

Hildegard was truly a Renaissance woman, a polymath whose accomplishments included not only some of the most beautiful early music, but also advancements in science and medicine. Andrea Hopkins, in her book Six Medieval Women, described Hildegarde’s “inclination to create work with a large scope and holistic viewpoint.”

Hildegard came to recognized internationally in her own time, for her extraordinary output of music, medical literature and particularly for her extensive records of visions she claimed to have received from God.

Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard in Hesse, Germany was founded in 1165 by Hildegard von Bingen.


Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard in Hesse, Germany was founded in 1165 by Hildegard von Bingen.


Detail of the basilica. Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard in Hesse, Germany was founded in 1165 by Hildegard von Bingen.


Barbara Sukowa as Hildegard von Bingen in VISION. A film by Margarethe von Trotta.


frontispiece for Physicas Hildegardis, a book written by Hildegard von Bingen on the healing herbs


Musical Style

“Underneath all the texts, all the sacred psalms and canticles, these watery varieties of sounds and silences, terrifying, mysterious, whirling and sometimes gestating and gentle must somehow be felt in the pulse, ebb and flow of the music that sings in me. My new song must float like a feather on the breath of God.” —Hildegard von Bingen

Hildegarde’s virtuosic compositions are readily recognizable. Her music has a highly decorative effect due to frequent use of such musical variations as neumes, in which a word is sung to a series of ascending or descending notes; and melismae, in which a single syllable is stretched over a sequence of many notes.

The music of Hildegard’s time was mild by comparison, trodding sedately within a limited range. Listen to this example of the Gregorian chant that was the mainstream musical style of the time.

By contrast, Hildegarde’s songs are jubilant.

“As with Hildegard’s other writings, the general tone of these songs is, unusually for the time, optimistic. She gives thanks, she remarks on the wonder of the incarnation, the wonderfulness of divine love, the deeply nurturing loving care of the Holy Spirit for sinful souls. She makes repeated use of several characteristic images—the dawn and sunrise, life-giving light, pure waters flowing, vivifying dew, greenness and blossoming flowers, crystals and jewels shining, sweet smells, flying up on the wings of God. They give the impression of a confident and joyful affirmation that virtue is strong and will triumph over evil…”

—Andrea Hopkins, Six Medieval Women

Hildegarde’s lyrics are  skillfully  poetic themselves, but gain a new sublimity when sung to her music. “When the words come,” Hildegarde said, “they are merely empty shells without the music. They live as there are sung, for the words are the body and the music the spirit.”

It must be remembered that music was for Hildegarde one of the most intimate connections to be had with God and his creation. “There is Music in Heaven in all things,” she said, “and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing.” It was this Music of Heaven that—with her characteristically holistic view—she sought to hear in Nature and imitate in her own compositions; she echoes Plato when she says, “Every element has a sound, an original sound from the order of God; all those sounds unite like the harmony from harps and zithers.”

The following is a performance of beautifully presented excerpts from Hildegard’s liturgical drama Ordo virtutum (“Order of the Virtues”). Read more about this composition HERE.

The following is a lively instrumental dance from Ordo virtutum.


Basic Timeline

1096: German Crusade

1098: Hidegard von Bingen was born in Bermersheim (in what is now Germany) to Hildebert and Mechthild Burggraf von Bermersheim. She was their tenth and last child, and sickly from the time of birth.

1099: Henry V is elected Holy Roman Emperor. He is crowned in 1111 and holds imperial power until 1125.

1106: At the age of eight, Hildegard is sent to live in a retreat adjacent to a friary in Disibodenberg. It is here that Jutta von Sponheim prepares her for convent life.

1113: Hildegard takes monastic vows and becomes a Benedictine nun.

1125: Lothair III is elected Holy Roman Emperor. He is crowned in 1133 and holds imperial power until 1137.

1136: Von Sponheim dies and Hildegard is elected Head of her sister community by her fellow nuns.

1141: Hildegard, who claimed to have visions from a very young age, receives a prophetic call from God demanding her to record her vsiions. She starts writing them down with the help of Brother Volmar and Sister Richardis von Stade.

1148: Pope Eugene III hears of Hildegard von Bingen and creates a commission to determine whether her visions are divinely inspired. The commission visits her and reports the visions to be true. The Pope recognizes Hildegard as a seer and visionary.

1150: Hildegard founds the all-female Convent Rupertsberg, near Bingen.

1151-58: Hildegard finishes her volume Liber scivias domini (Know the Paths of the Lord). She also writes books on natural sciences, including Physica (The Healing Power of Nature) and Causae et curae (Holistic Healing).

1152: Frederick I (Frederick Barbarossa) is elected Holy Roman Emperor. He is crowned in 1155 and holds imperial power until 1190.

1158-63: Hildegard makes several teaching and missionary tours through the Rhineland and France.

1163: Hildegard writes Liber vitae meritorum (Book of Life’s Merits) and begins work on Liber divinorum operum (Book of Divine Works), the last of her texts on her visions.

1165-1170: Hildegard founds the all-female Convent Elbingen, near Rudesheim, and embarks on additional teaching and missionary tours throughout Europe.

1178: Hildegard runs into conflicts with the Church for refusing to have the body of an excommunicated man who had been buried in consecrated ground dug up. The Church rules that she is not allowed to take the Eucharist.

1179: The Church reverses the ruling against her that spring; on September 17, Hildegard von Bingen dies at the age of 81.


Selected Glossary

Antiphon: (n.) in traditional Western Christian liturgy, a short sentence sung or recited before or after a psalm or canticle

Canticle: (n.) a hymn or chant, typically with a biblical text, forming a regular part of a church service

Melisma: (n.) a series of many notes sung to a single syllable of text

Neume: (n.) in plainsong, a series of ascending or descending notes sung to a single syllable of text

Responsory: (n.) a psalm, canticle or other sacred musical sung responsorially, with a cantor or small group singing verses while the whole choir or congregation responds with a refrain

Roulade: (n.) a florid passage of runs in classical music for a virtuoso singer, especially one sung to a single syllable of text

Semitone: (n.) the smallest interval used in classical Western music, equal to a twelfth of an octave or half a tone; half a step

Sequence: (n.) a chant or hymn sung or recited during the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist, before the proclamation of the Gospel

In Memoriam XXVII

Gone But Not Forgotten. John William Waterhouse. 1873.
Gone But Not Forgotten. John William Waterhouse. 1873.


In Memoriam XXVII

Alfred Lord Tennyson


I envy not in any moods

The captive void of noble rage,

The linnet born within the cage,

That never knew the summer woods:


I envy not the beast that takes

His license in the field of time,

Unfetter’d by the sense of crime,

To whom a conscience never wakes;


Nor, what may count itself as blest,

The heart that never plighted troth

But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;

Nor any want-begotten rest.


I hold it true, whate’er befall;

I fell it, when I sorrow most;

‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.

The Coin

Woman with a Balance. Johannes Vermeer. 1665.
Woman with a Balance. Johannes Vermeer. 1665.

The Coin

Sara Teasdale, 1920


Into my heart’s treasury

I slipped a coin

That time cannot take

Nor a thief purloin,—

Oh, better than the minting

Of a gold-crowned king

Is the safe-kept memory

Of a lovely thing.


What value can be placed on beauty? Teasdale suggests that the memory of lovely things is more precious than material wealth.

from Beowulf

Beowulf the King. Lynn Ward. 1939.
Beowulf the King. Lynn Ward. 1939.


from Beowulf

translated by Frederick Rebsamen


 Mark carefully

this lesson of anguish—old in winters

I warn you by this.          It is wondrous to see

how almighty God          in his endless wisdom

grants unto man          a mind to rule with

kingdom and meadhall          to keep until death.

At times the Measurer          maker of us all

brings moments of pleasure          to those proud man-thoughts

gives to that war king          worldly power-goods

hall and homeland          to hold for his own

renders him ruler          of regions of the earth

a broad kingdom—he cannot forsee

in his own unwisdom          an end to such wealth.

He dwells in happiness          no hindrance bothers him

no illness or age          or evil reckoning

darkens his mind          no deep serpent thoughts

edge-hate in his heart—but all thisloan-world

bends to his will          welcomes him with gold

till high thron-ethoughts          throng into his mind

gather in his head.          Then the guardian sleeps

the soul’s warden—it slumbers too long

while a silent slayer          slips close to him

shoots from his bow          baleful arrows.

Deep into his heart          hard under shield-guard

strikes the arrowhead—no armor withstands

that quiet marksman          cold mind-killer.

What he long has held          too little contents him

greed grapples him          he gives no longer

gold-patterened rings          reckons no ending

of borrowed treasure-years          bright earth-fortune

granted by God          the great Measurer.

The last of splendor          slips into darkness

the loaned king-body          cracks upon the pyre

swirls away in smoke—soon another one

steps to the gift-throne          shares his goldhoard

turns that treachery          to trust and reward.

Guard against life-bale          beloved Beowulf

best of warriors          win for your soul

eternal counsel—care not for pride

great shield-champion!          The glory of your strength

lasts for a while          but not long after

sickness or spear-point          will sever you from life

or the fire’s embrace          or the flood’s welling

or the file-hard sword          or the flight of a spear

or bane-bearing age—the brightness of your eye

will dim and darken.          Destiny is waiting

and death will take you          down into the earth.


This is one of my favorite passages of Beowulf, in which the Danish king Hrothgar joyfully meets Beowulf after Beowulf’s victory over the troll-wife. But rather than delivering the effusive praise one might expect, Hrothgar warns Beowulf with ‘bountiful words’ against the entrapment of pride. I highly recommend Rebsamen’s vigorous translation of this anonymous Anglo-Saxon poem. ‘Each one among us shall mark the end of this worldly life. Let him who may earn deeds of glory before death takes him—after life-days honor-fame is best.’

Quiet, Please

"One More Step, Mr. Hands..." N.C. Wyeth.
“One More Step, Mr. Hands…” N.C. Wyeth.


Quiet, Please

Samantha Little


“Quiet, please!” says the librarian.

I nod and pass with a softened tread

Through the quiet ranks of books, and then

Choose one that I have not yet read.


“Quiet, please!” said the librarian,

But pirates leap on the shining deck,

Clamber over briny ropes, and then

Sing raucous ballads about a wreck.


“Quiet, please!” said the librarian,

But the jungles crash beneath the stamp

Of the rajah’s elephant, and then

Follows a procession with stately tramp.


“Quiet, please!” said the librarian,

But the horse’s hooves sound loud and clear,

The scaly dragon roars flames, and then

Knight George has freed the folk from fear.


“Well, well,” says the librarian,

“You have been nice and quiet today.”

I nod and smile politely, then

Claim, “It’s not as quiet as they say.”