Gerorge Herbert: prepping like Joe Wicks, sweeping the floor for good.

calds 30 May
A long view in the Old English Garden at Calderstones 30 May

Continuing from yesterday….On Saturday I’ll be leading a day of Shared Reading at the Ashoka Headquarters on Old Ford Road,  Bethnall Green, London. You can sign up for it here. We’ll be reading parts of Jeanette Winterson’s powerful memoir and meditation on inner life, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, and some poems by a favourite poet of hers, and mine, George Herbert.  I’m interested in seeing how ancient and modern languages for what we call ‘mental health’ or George Herbert called his ‘soul’, can fit together.

Today I’m continuing reading ‘The Elixir’  by George Herbert,

I started from the uncomfortable position of being someone who doesn’t have a religion, faced with trying to understand a message from someone who does.  I have to translate Herbert’s ‘God’ into something I can understand.

Yesterday Loubyjo commented, ‘True wisdom is a loss of misconceptions rather than an accumulation of knowledge do not hoard facts and call your self wise sages realise when they know enough !!’

I agree!

Think you were thinking Lou, give yourself a break ,Jane and don’t over think. But I want to think, or rest, or meditate, on a word. Realise that might make reading what I’m writing slow or dull, and I do feel some compulsion to try to move it along for the sake of readers, but really, I’m writing for myself, to deepen my own reading practice. Sometimes staying still in one word allows me to do exactly what you suggest, Lou, and ‘lose misconceptions’. They are always with me when I start reading, and the slow  thinking helps me  lose them.

I agree that knowledge is not wisdom, facts are not wisdom (see the post about footnotes). But understanding the words, understanding what they mean to me, doesn’t seem like ‘knowledge’ to me. All of which is to say – thanks for comment – no worries, and no need to say ‘sorry’ at all, always glad to hear from you – the frustration was more to do with running out of time yesterday.

But I add your thought into the mix: the discipline to do my hour’s practice and accept without frustration when time us up!

Back to the poem: for readers only joining today, here it is, ‘The Elixir’:

         Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
         To do it as for Thee.
         Not rudely, as a beast,
         To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossest,
         And give it his perfection.
         A man that looks on glass,
         On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
         And then the heav’n espy.
         All may of Thee partake:
         Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture—”for Thy sake”—
         Will not grow bright and clean.
         A servant with this clause
         Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
         Makes that and th’ action fine.
         This is the famous stone
         That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
         Cannot for less be told.

I had got, in my snail -like way, to the word ‘prepossest’ in line 7 and was about to think through the change of pronouns connected to that word. I think that  ‘Thee’  and ‘his’ refer to the same person (God) but am not sure.

       Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossest,
And give it his perfection.

There are three people in those four lines : George Herbert (understood though not named) , the beast and God. Only God could have the perfection, which is why I think ‘his’ refers to God. but if so there is an odd switch from Herbert talking directly to God (Thee) to talking about him (his perfection).

Various thoughts:

  • it’s a mistake, printing error etc and should read ‘Your perfection’
  • there’s something I don’t understand
  • his perfection refers to the beast.

I work through these possibilities and arrive back at the second explanation.  Is it s switch from talking directly to God – to the ideal – to being outside and seeing God/the ideal as something to achieve?

Bear with me – say I watch Dave our Chef at Calderstones cooking rice and I am with him, and talking to him, I’d be saying ‘Thee’ and ‘Chef’… but when I get home by myself and  remember him and the way he does it, and then he is not ‘Thee’ and ‘Chef’ but ‘Him’ and ‘his’… ach, that doesn’t really work because if ‘his’ was  referring to ‘God’, it would have a capital.

I’m going to ask my teacher, Brian Nellist, about this. I’m stumped. Start again.

To be  ‘prepossest’ is to have ownership in advance – particularly of a thought. Think Herbert is saying he aims to give the future shape of his action over to God in advance, to dedicate it, to let God be part of it.

In my own experience that might be thinking ahead about the best way to do something: not going with my immediate emotion in a situation (angry because…) but encouraging the ideal to take possession of my actions before they happen (how do I want, ideally, to behave). Thinking it through, setting my intention, having a strong picture of the ideal.

This could work in any situation:
A man that looks on glass,
         On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
         And then the heav’n espy.

You can see the thing directly in front of you or you can see beyond it and see more. I am angry with a cafe which has produced a very poor cake for Brian Nellists’ birthday day. The cafe people are stupid and their customer service is bad. That’s the surface of the glass. I can have a row there and then, or I can take Brian off  and continue our happy birthday mood, making a joke of the cake and his  poor worn out teeth. That continuation of happy mood was the ‘heav’n’.

To finish today  by  arriving at my favourite lines – many people’s favourites, I’m sure:

Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
         Makes that and th’ action fine.

This is the case whenever an ideal is in play.

I  remember 1974 using the cyclostyler, a more frustrating machine there never was, to reproduce women’s liberation leaflets in the front room of Liverpool Women’s Centre. That was a horrible job, messy, frustrating, hot and  hours long. But for the cause! We were amazons, making those fliers!

Thinking of The Reader’s life at Calderstones, where there will be much sweeping of rooms to be done, and we need to develop a shared spirit about the ways in which we all work.

Thinking more generally about trying to be good, and the foresight needed, the fore-thinking.  If you follow the instructions of Bodycoach Joe Wicks, you’ll know it is important to ‘prep like a boss’. To think ahead about what you are going to eat, and get it ready, so that when 11.00 am hunger strikes, you’ve got some carrot sticks and  don’t need to go and buy a doughnut.

Herbert’s poem gives me the chance to imagine putting that amount of care into all the actions of my life, helps me realise it’s what you do everyday, not on the grand occasion, that counts.  Everything is an opportunity for practising the ideal.

This is the famous stone
         That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
         Cannot for less be told.

7 thoughts on “Gerorge Herbert: prepping like Joe Wicks, sweeping the floor for good.

  1. A C.M.H.P., H.V., V.H.A. June 2, 2017 / 9:29 am

    Hi Jane & Loubyjo,

    Re, knot overthinking.

    ” Ergo sum Cogito”

    Voltaire may disagree.

    Logically if you’re knot thinking you’re not existing, as a sentient being.

    Great blog btw.

  2. Thor June 2, 2017 / 10:01 am

    Thanks for opening up this poem in such an engaging way, Jane. I read somewhere that in a later edition, one of the “his” – “his tincture” was emended to “this tincture”, which makes more sense. But it still leaves us with the puzzling “his perfection”. Quite ironic in a way, as it seems to be an imperfection in the poem. (makes me think of the sufi practice of including a small imperfection in the woven pattern as only God is Perfect). He is comparing beast and man, and in the following stanza talks about man and his eye – it is almost as if Herbert is “rushing into an action”: he already has the “man” in his mind, and so introduces “his”. And curiously, this is the only stanza where the rhymes are not perfect. The Whole stanza is enigmatic – “but still to make Thee prepossest”, what does that mean? Without this stanza the poem would be entirely transparent. It would be very comforting, and an Expression of a sentiment familiar enough to christians. In one sense, it would be more comfortable if this stanza was not there. It does not allow us to see the poem as a transparent message.

    Another thing I don’t understand: He is asking for guidance, instruction from the very Source that we must learn to see. A very strange and paradoxical request: teach me to see you.

    • Thor June 7, 2017 / 8:54 am

      Ps. In the Norton Anthology of Poetry 3rd ed., there is a comment on the “his” of “his perfection”, saying that it means “its”. This makes great sense, because according to the etymological dictionary:

      Old English his (genitive of he), from Proto-Germanic *hisa (source also of Gothic is, Old Saxon is, German es). Originally also the neuter possessive pronoun, but in English it was replaced in that sense c. 1600 by its.

      Thus we have: And give it its perfection.

  3. loubyjo June 2, 2017 / 11:52 am

    HA HA made me sit and ponder !!!! honestly I do not find your writing reading boring , the more it makes me think the more i like it could just say i am lazy jones (groan) and think arrh Jane will find out what that means !!!!! the saying something like let them without sin cast the first stone as my head is full of info which is prob of no use to anyone else (loads of people got their tv ready for the queens coronation in 1952 today ) see !!! your info is helps me understand things better !!! both of us adore to know things but perhaps differently prob envious of your patience i am more like no time to sit and ponder must find everything out that their is !!!!!! WHICH IS FRANkly not possible


  4. A C.M.H.P., H.V., V.H.A. June 2, 2017 / 12:39 pm

    Hi Jane,

    P.S. Re Calderstones I agree.

    Also as one of my teachers Frank expounded.

    ” Information is not knowledge,
    knowledge is not wisdom,
    wisdom is the domain of the Wiz…”

    Good blog
    Carry on

  5. A C.M.H.P., H.V., V.H.A. June 2, 2017 / 12:43 pm

    Hi Jane & Loubyjo,

    P. S. Loubyjo I also enjoy your comments,
    Makes one think.

  6. loubyjo June 2, 2017 / 4:45 pm

    thanks the most important thing about knowledge is TO be yourself AS KNOWLEDGE GIVES U THE confidence to offer an opinion , pet hate is someone asking me directly ” what do you think LOU ” puts me in panic mode I help run a play reading grp mainly Shakespeare i dont know all the fine details and go in to panic mode (again) when someone new comes as i am very laid back and they be expecting something different as what i enjoy is all coming
    together and sharing what we know !!! THAT IS WHAT I LIKE about janes blog you can take if from it what u like . That is reading as a whole reminds me abit of swimming sometimes as kid went to deep and the panic when i could not touch the bottom but at the same time their was their was a wonderful feel of excitement just go abit further each week
    THE thing i always like about reading a blog like this or reading together you get different view points and may make you think differntly ( not often in my case )
    I have been kinda involved in the reader for years not quite a decade but one of the many things i have learnt is everyone has something to offer however trivial and is fun ploughing through the differences together !!! and trying to make sense of what you are reading . The discussion comes to abrupt end when we all agree !! any how leaving it here as going to a political hustings really doubt they will do what we do in a shared reading grp and stop and listen and be grateful for having alternative views !!!

    oh yer Jane dont be so hard on the cake makers for BRIANS CAKE I AM SURE HE WILL LOVE IT THE PLEASURE IS IN THE EATING

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