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Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert [Hardcover]

John Drury
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Sep 2013

For the first time, John Drury convincingly integrates the life and poetry of George Herbert, giving us in Music at Midnight the definitive biography of the man behind some of the most famous poems in the English Language.

'Love bade me welcome . . .'

'Teach me my God and King . . .'

George Herbert wrote, but never published, some of the very greatest English poetry, recording in an astonishing variety of forms his inner experiences of grief, recovery, hope, despair, anger, fulfilment and - above all else - love.

He was born in 1593 and died at the age of 39 in 1633, before the clouds of civil war gathered, his family aristocratic and his upbringing privileged. He showed worldly ambition and seemed sure of high public office and a career at court, but then for a time 'lost himself in a humble way', devoting himself to the restoration of the church at Leighton Bromswold in Buckinghamshire and then to his parish of Bemerton, three miles from Salisbury, whose cathedral music he called 'my heaven on earth'. When in the year of his death his friend Nicholas Ferrar, leader of the quasi-monastic community at Little Gidding, published Herbert's poems under the title The Temple, his fame was quickly established.

Because he published no English poems during his lifetime, and dating most of them exactly is impossible, writing Herbert's biography is an unusual challenge. In this book John Drury sets the poetry in the whole context of the poet's life and times, so that the reader can understand the frame of mind and kind of society which produced it, and depth can be added to the narrative of Herbert's life. (T.S. Eliot: 'What we can confidently believe is that every poem in the book [The Temple] is in tune to the poet's experience.') His Herbert is not the saintly figure who has come down to us from John Aubrey, but a man torn for much of his life between worldly ambition and the spiritual life shown to us so clearly through his writings. The result is the most satisfying biography of this exceptional English poet yet written.

JOHN DRURY is Chaplain and Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He began as a biblical scholar, and while Dean of King's College, Cambridge, worked with Frank Kermode on the Gospels for The Literary Guide to the Bible, which sharpened his sense of the role of imagination in the formation of the Gospel stories. He took this interest further, and into the realm of Christian paintings and their meaning, in Painting the Word, written while he was Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. Music at Midnight is the culmination of a lifetime's interest in Herbert, whose Complete Poetry he is now editing for Penguin Classics.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (5 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846142482
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846142482
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 10,950 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Incomparable. Drury triumphantly delivers the goods ... artfully weaving the poetry through the life (Diarmaid MacCulloch Daily Telegraph)

Excellent, captivating, full of moving detail. A terrific book about a remarkable poet (Sally Vickers Independent)

Dazzling (David Grylls Sunday Times) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

John Drury is Chaplain and Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He began as a biblical scholar, and while Dean of King's College, Cambridge, worked with Frank Kermode on the Gospels for The Literary Guide to the Bible, which sharpened his sense of the role of imagination in the formation of the Gospel stories. He took this interest further, and into the realm of Christian paintings and their meaning, in Painting the Word, written while he was Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. Music at Midnight is the culmination of a lifetime's interest in Herbert, whose Complete Poetry he is now editing for Penguin Classics.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So I did sit and read 4 Oct 2013
By Sabina
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
John Drury tells us that Simone Weil considered Herbert's poem 'Love III' (Love bade me welcome...) to be the most beautiful poem in the world. It is the work of a man, he says, "who valued common experience, common sense and courtesy so highly as to collect 1,184 proverbs - at the same time a mystic for whom the actuality of immediate religious experience mattered intensely, and more than orthodox doctrine".
In this inspiring biography Drury balances and integrates the known details of George Herbert's life, with a welcome commentary on his poems. Herbert's English poems were not published till after his death at age 39. And what a collection. He handed the poems over saying that "the picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed betwixt God and my soul..." could be considered for publication if they "may turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul," (and burnt, if not).
Herbert came from a distinguished family. His mother Magdalen, left widowed with numerous children, married a man 20 years her junior and created 'a salon of witty conversation' at their house in Charing Cross. She was lauded by many talented people, including John Donne. Young George's love of music was enhanced by guests such as William Byrd and John Bull.

George became the public orator at Cambridge, and placated King James with his rhetoric. He wrestled with his own attraction towards academic success and a vocation as a priest, an unusual choice then for a man of his noble background. His health was not good. Poems such as 'Affliction' express his bitter-sweet ambivalence towards the achievements and circumstances of life, his rebellion and bafflement with God, and his love. He enjoyed 3 happy years of married life.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful life of a very great poet 21 Sep 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An outstandingly well written and sympathetic life of one of our greatest poets, showing how his life and his faith and his poetry form one complex unity. Drury writes with the same subtle simplicity as does Herbert himself. A must.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth taking a chance 8 Nov 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For general reader or academic this is an excellent introduction to George Herbert. It sets the poems in the context, so far as possible, of his life and discusses his writings in detail. Academics might sometimes find the glosses on technical terms irritating but the general reader may be grateful for the enlightenment. Drury's discussion of the poems is illuminating and enriches our experience and understanding. Even those who normally are turned off by poetry in general or religious poetry in particular will enjoy this insight into Jacobean life and literature
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great book 8 Oct 2013
By William
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Herbert is a model for poetry and priesthood, the book dips slightly after his death, a chapter on poets not as good as him is not really necessary
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Treasure at Midnight! 6 Oct 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This exceptional work is detailed, interesting and explained in such a way that both the scholar and the general reader can take benefit of the author's deep knowledge. Not only is the content of the best, but so is the style. It has been a great pleasure to read.
Having bought it at the pre-publication price and thinking I had a bargain, I found that I would happily have paid over the price, for I now have a treasure.

Richard.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great gift 27 Dec 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this as a gift for my partner who loves poetry. This was well received I've had a quick look through it and it looks to be very interesting.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A wonderful exposition of Herbert's life and times. Great insights into the poems with lots of quotations and technical analysis.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough 17 April 2014
By teacher
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
V interesting and illuminating. Excellent cricitism of the poems and sympathetic portrait of the man. Also overview of the period good. I have loved the poems for a long time and this biograpical approach has added to my appreciation.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much poetry, too little Herbert
I have been looking for a biography of Herbert for a long time. As someone about to enter the sacred ministry and as someone who has loved Herbert's Love III for a long time and... Read more
Published 20 hours ago by J Whitgift
5.0 out of 5 stars Music at Midnight
This was a present for my wife. I don't think she has read it yet.
One two three four five
Published 1 month ago by Parker54
3.0 out of 5 stars Long line of Herberts
A bit dense in parts. The sort of book that will take months to get through. Best for Herbert afficianadoes.
Published 2 months ago by Martyn Neale
5.0 out of 5 stars the great George Herbert
This is the best biography of Herbert I have read, and the best explanation of why he is one of the truly great English poets. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Reggie Oliver
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!
This is one of the best books I have ever read, it is beautifully written and gives a deep insight into George Hebert, his life and his poetry. It is an absolute joy to read.
Published 2 months ago by Polly Gray
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant exposition of an extraordinary man
This book is written with a passion for the historical context within which we can understand the poet, the priest and the social conflicts that existed to make his life an... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Helen David
5.0 out of 5 stars Music at Midnight
Wonderfully readable. I do like the way Herbert's poetry is incorporated and explained within the narrative of what was a very interesting life. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Orlandogibbons
4.0 out of 5 stars A must for scholars
I found it a bit long winded but comment on his poetry, theology and the influence of Latin verse in particular are perceptive and thorough. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Elizabeth Neild
5.0 out of 5 stars Maybe a modern rockstar will read this book
In truth George Herbert was a seventeenth century star. An eye opener indeed.Well chronicled here.The various ditties since have no comparison.
Published 3 months ago by Mike Brooks
5.0 out of 5 stars A great gift
I bought this book for a friend, and he was most impressed by it. The way the poetry and Herbert's life were put into context particularly attracted him. First class.
Published 3 months ago by T. Holder
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