Love II

A culmination

This is the poem which Herbert placed last in the 'church' section of his collection of poems. There are several possible reasons for this. In 1 Corinthians 13, the famous chapter in the New Testament on love, love is said to outlast everything else (1 Corinthians 13:8). So it is literally the ‘last thing'. Secondly, the poem speaks of the soul entering heaven and is the last in a small sequence of poems which runs Death-Doomsday-Judgment-Heaven-Love. In Christian belief, this is a natural sequence of events. Also the title gestures towards the triune Christian God - the trinity - and thus this, his most perfect poem, is the suitable place to end.

Love's invitation

Marriage FeastHerbert uses the metaphor of a feast, at which he is a guest, being served a meal. This is based on a number of parables of wedding feasts told by Jesus in the Gospels, for example Luke 14:15-24, and the picture of ‘the wedding supper of the Lamb' in heaven in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 19:9). Love [God himself] is personified as the host, inviting a reluctant guest in. A dialogue is set up with Love [who is in fact God himself]. This is unusual in Herbert's poetry, where usually we only hear one side of any conversation with God - or at least God's voice is only heard in the final stanza (see The Collar, Redemption, A True Hymn).

Excuses overruled

Various excuses are made by the guest (the poet's soul), mainly that he is unworthy, ungrateful or unkind. Love dismisses these excuses. In the final stanza, love is addressed as ‘Lord', and we realise that Love is actually Christ himself. It is Christ who can ask, ‘Who bore the blame?' The soul reluctantly sheds its guilty stance and sits and eats. Another New Testament verse, Luke 12:37, specifically suggests we shall be served by Christ at the heavenly feast. The ‘meat' (which meant ‘food' in general in the seventeenth century) also refers to the bread and wine of the Lord's Supperor sacrament of communion.

Investigating Love II
  • Read Herbert's Love II
    • Does the poet's reluctance surprise you in the light of other poems?
    • How does Herbert achieve both a sense of tension, and yet a resolution to his poem?

Resources: The poem has been set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams in Five Mystical Songs

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