Saturday, December 09, 2006

Though even St. Anne can err...

Robert White, George Herbert (1674)
(Image from Wikipedia)

In yesterday's post about Anne Lamott, I quoted at length from her gritty but compelling essay describing her unusual conversion to Christianity.

After recounting the steps by which Jesus came to her in the guise of a small cat -- reminding me, perhaps only incidentally, of the kitten in Robert Musil's "The Lady from Portugal" -- she adds, "So this was my beautiful moment of conversion," and quotes George Herbert:
And here in dust and dirt, O here,
The lilies of his love appear.
Nice lines -- and apt, considering Lamott's circumstances when she found herself touched by grace. These lines that came to mind found echoes everywhere:
I started to find these lines of George Herbert's everywhere I turned -- in Simone Weil, Malcolm Muggeridge, books of English poetry.
There's just one problem here. The lines are not from George Herbert; they're from Henry Vaughan:

The Revival

Unfold! unfold! Take in His light,
Who makes thy cares more short than night.
The joys which with His day-star rise
He deals to all but drowsy eyes;
And, what the men of this world miss
Some drops and dews of future bliss.

Hark! how His winds have chang'd their note!
And with warm whispers call thee out;
The frosts are past, the storms are gone,
And backward life at last comes on.
The lofty groves in express joys
Reply unto the turtle's voice;
And here in dust and dirt, O here
The lilies of His love appear!
Lamott isn't alone in her misattribution of these lines to Herbert, for I've often seen this among people citing them. Since Herbert is generally far better known than Vaughan -- with his vague family name -- I suppose that this is an instance of St. Matthew's dictum:
"For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." (Matthew 25:29)
Poor vaguely remembered Vaughan, for the many -- who have also allowed Mitchell to eclipse Dowson -- have "put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind."

Even St. Anne.


At 9:08 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

Because Vaughan was influenced by Herbert considerably, the two do get confused. Sadly, a certain amount of prejudice has influenced Vaughan's reputation: as a Welsh poet, he has not fared well against the English Herbert (according to Wikipedia, which is incorrect). In fact, Herbert was a Welsh poet too, but he has been accepted into the English canon because he did not spend his life in Wales, like Vaughan. English critics are happier picking English lilies of the academic field.The Vaughan family was actually better known than Herbert since Henry Vaughan's brother was a leading alchemist and philosopher during the Civil War.

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I didn't know about Vaughan's brother, but that's interesting to hear.

Also the bit about why Vaughan has been neglected.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:41 PM, Blogger A.H. said...

It is a pity that Vaughan has been neglected. He is one of the finest Christian poets. Not of Milton's persuasion, rather the Royalist enemy.TS Eliot vanquished Vaughan as Pound battered Milton. Eliot saw Vaughan's belief in childhood innocence as a fascination with a "corpse" best buried or dug up occasionally. But time brings strange turn arounds: Eliot went on to his High Anglican conversion, having buried Vaughan and became a poet of innocence himself: bits of Four Quartets are as nostalgic as Vaughan. Probably, post 1927, after Eliot had attacked The Silurist from Wales, he stumbled across the rather obvious fact that Christ tended to value children and infancy. Some modernists practised the hypocrisy they saw in others. I have much affection for Vaughan.

At 3:44 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Eshuneutics, for the additional information. I'm ever impressed by your literary knowledge.

One of the best things about blogging is that it brings me into contact with erudite people from all over the world, and I learn a great deal.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whew! I have read almost all of Herbert's English poetry, and couldn't help thinking that I had never come across those lines.

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good thing that I posted this entry, then, or you'd have gone mad!

Jeffery Hodges

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