New literary biography of George Herbert

New literary biography of George Herbert May 29, 2014

There is a new literary biography of the 17th century Christian poet George Herbert.  It’s entitled Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert, by John Drury.  The book pays close attention to Herbert’s Christian faith and to close readings of his poetry.  That Herbert’s stock is going up is evident in the enthusiastic reviews the book is getting.  After the jump, a link to one in the Washington Post and excerpts from others.  (I wrote my dissertation and published my first book on Herbert.)

See Michael Dirda, Book review: ‘Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert,’ by John Drury – The Washington Post.

From the Amazon reviews:

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The greatest religious poet in the English language, George Herbert (1593–1633) was a scion of powerful Anglo-Welsh aristocrats who elected, eventually, to be a country parson. Given the finest of educations at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, he emerged as one of the foremost Latinists of his time and, still under 30, University Orator, a stepping-stone to lofty diplomatic posts. He became disillusioned, however, and resigned, took holy orders, and concluded his days as rector of little Bemerton in south central England. All along, he wrote poetry in Latin as well as English. The year after his death, the English poems were published as The Temple, one of the most successful and influential books of the seventeenth century. To relate Herbert’s life, Drury constantly draws on his poetry in what is as much a work of literary analysis as biography. Fortunately, Herbert’s poems, full of common knowledge, not aristocratic or scholarly sophistication, and whose core terms and references are biblical, yield plenty of intimate, real-life information. Once one knows the Christian matrix of Herbert’s writing, his poems are startlingly, affectingly clear, and one can attend to their great though always humble wit, their limpid and cleanly moving music. Drury gives us that knowledge in this engrossing and restorative book. –Ray Olson


“Readers who are tempted into the book by its focus on the life will finish with something far richer than more conventional biographies offer. . . . It is hard to imagine a better book for anyone, general reader or seventeenth-century aficionado or teacher or student, newly embarking on Herbert.”


“Powerfully absorbing.”

(Financial Times)

“Drury manages wonderfully in bringing text and context profitably together. His book is especially valuable, and enjoyable, in its deft and insightful expositions of Herbert’s formal and stylistic brilliance.”

(Times Higher Education)

“Being an English country minister has inspired many writers, none of them more lapidary, precise, witty and surprising than George Herbert, the frail intellectual who preached to the parish of Bemerton from 1630 to 1633. An account of an Anglican priest and his poetry that will probably never be bettered.”

(Economist Book of the Year)

“A welcome, rich, and illuminating biography.”

(Shelf Awareness)

“Drury’s book is a careful blend of life, poetry, history, and textual analysis. For the first time, Herbert’s poems are embedded in his life. . . . Drury excels at demonstrating that Herbert’s poetry manages to be beguilingly simple and strikingly complex. . . . Drury’s scholarly and immensely readable biography . . . presents the most fully realized Herbert to date.”

(New Criterion)

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