Love (III)

Love (III) October 1, 2015

John Drury begins his book on George Herbert, Music At Midnight, with Herbert’s “Love (III)”:

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back, 

Guilty of dust and sin. 

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack 

From my first entrance in, 

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning 

If I lacked anything. 

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”: 

Love said, “You shall be he.” 

“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, 

I cannot look on thee.” 

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, 

“Who made the eyes but I?” 

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame 

Go where it doth deserve.” 

“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”

“My dear, then I will serve.” 

“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.” 

So I did sit and eat.

As Drury notes, this contains “Christianity’s whole grand biblical narrative of humanity”: “The guest is ‘guilty of dust and sin.’ He is descended from Adam, the primal man who sinned against his Creator’s command not to eat the fruit of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ in the middle of paradise and was punished for it by mortality: ‘dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.’ The divine creation of man is held in the host’s punning riposte ‘Who made the eyes but I?’ Love likes jokes. Then the redemption in Christ, his divine taking upon himself of man’s sin and punishment, is as deftly and lightly put in the host’s next parry: ‘And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?’ Finally, the prophetic promise that at the end of history redemption would be sealed and celebrated with a banquet . . . is settled into that last, monosyllabic line ‘So I did sit and eat’” (3). There are echoes of Psalm 23, of the Song of Songs, of Luke 12, and of the Eucharistic banquet.

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