But, with my hand on the lock, I shrink from opening the door. Here comes
a poet indeed! and how am I to show him due honour? With his book humbly,
doubtfully offered, with the ashes of the poems of his youth fluttering
in the wind of his priestly garments, he crosses the threshold. Or
rather, for I had forgotten the symbol of my book, let us all go from our
chapel to the choir, and humbly ask him to sing that he may make us
worthy of his song.
In George Herbert there is poetry enough and to spare: it is the
household bread of his being. If I begin with that which first in the
nature of things ought to be demanded of a poet, namely, Truth,
Revelation--George Herbert offers us measure pressed down and running
over. But let me speak first of that which first in time or order of
appearance we demand of a poet, namely music. For inasmuch as verse is
for the ear, not for the eye, we demand a good hearing first. Let no one
undervalue it. The heart of poetry is indeed truth, but its garments are
music, and the garments come first in the process of revelation. The
music of a poem is its meaning in sound as distinguished from word--its
meaning in solution, as it were, uncrystallized by articulation. The
music goes before the fuller revelation, preparing its way. The sound of
a verse is the harbinger of the truth contained therein. If it be a right
poem, this will be true. Herein Herbert excels. It will be found
impossible to separate the music of his words from the music of the
thought which takes shape in their sound.
- got me flowers to strow thy way,
I got me boughs off many a tree;
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought'st thy sweets along with thee.
And the gift it enwraps at once and reveals is, I have said, truth of the
deepest. Hear this song of divine service. In every song he sings a
spiritual fact will be found its fundamental life, although I may quote
this or that merely to illustrate some peculiarity of mode.
The Elixir was an imagined liquid sought by the old physical
investigators, in order that by its means they might turn every common
metal into gold, a pursuit not quite so absurd as it has since appeared.
They called this something, when regarded as a solid, the Philosopher's
Stone. In the poem it is also called a tincture.