Since our last poem in this space turned out to be surprisingly popular, here’s another of my favorites about those times when following one’s calling seems difficult. This poem has been interpreted as Herbert’s wrestling with his own calling of being a priest, and much of the imagery speaks to that. But it has something to say to all of us, I think.
I struck the board, and cried, “No more;I will abroad!What? shall I ever sigh and pine?My lines and life are free, free as the road,Loose as the wind, as large as store.Shall I be still in suit?Have I no harvest but a thornTo let me blood, and not restoreWhat I have lost with cordial fruit?Sure there was wineBefore my sighs did dry it; there was cornBefore my tears did drown it.Is the year only lost to me?Have I no bays to crown it,No flowers, no garlands gay? All blasted?All wasted?Not so, my heart; but there is fruit,And thou hast hands.Recover all thy sigh-blown ageOn double pleasures: leave thy cold disputeOf what is fit and not. Forsake thy cage,Thy rope of sands,Which petty thoughts have made, and made to theeGood cable, to enforce and draw,And be thy law,While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.Away! take heed;I will abroad.Call in thy death’s-head there; tie up thy fears;He that forbearsTo suit and serve his needDeserves his load.”But as I raved and grew more fierce and wildAt every word,Methought I heard one calling, Child!And I replied My Lord.