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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on 4 October 2013
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. The maps which John Drury provides enhance our ability to place Herbert in Westminster, Cambridge , Montgomery, Wiltshire - where he settled with his bride at the rectory of Bemerton Church. There are rich descriptions of the life around Herbert, without those endless speculative ifs, maybes and woulds, which some biographies are filled with. Many poets were inspired by Herbert's work in the generations which followed. There is a chapter on 'Heirs and Imitators', and one about "Herbert's Readers." There were varying views. Anyone reading this enlightening biography will have the opportunity to read, or re-read many of the poems, and make up their own mind. Highly recommended.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2013
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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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2013
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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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 6 October 2013
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 1 June 2014
Biography did I say? Well George Herbert lived a very uneventful life and died at forty. John Drury's solution is to concentrate on the poems, and this is as much a biography of the poetry as the man. But it works well. Drury is an academic who clearly loves the poems and can write well. The book is certainly not an academic tome and the poems are extremely sympathetically discussed. If you like poetry, whether you know much about Herbert or not, this is a very recommendable book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 April 2014
I'm with the preceding 5-star reviews. Drury wears his scholarship lightly, but he combines the (largely, admittedly) second-hand historical setting and biography with a fascinating, detailed, unashamedly old-fashioned, account of how Herbert's poetry works.

And Herbert is not air-brushed. Drury does not fudge his ambition and ambivalence; and that unflinching account lets the poetry come alive (frankly a quick sample of Herbert could portray a spiritual whinger).

It was great to have so many of the poems reproduced completely (although "Redemption" was only excerpted--and that really needs a full exegesis).

Drury also handles very well the variability of readers' background knowledge, particularly in respect of biblical and liturgical references; his explanations are never patronising, and his explicit scene-setting of the cultural and religious background is very useful.

I did lose track of some of the branches of Herberts, though.

I bought it from a physical bookshop, intending to read it over a week's holiday. I finished it in three days, and I haven't started my break yet.

Perhaps I'll just read the poems, instead.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 18 May 2014
George Herbert began as a materially ambitious civil servant with all the intellectual skills at his fingertips. But in the end he rejected the Faustian contact with the devil of pride and became an unselfish poet whose words have comforted down the ages in his hymns and psalms; he found peace at last and offers it to us.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 5 October 2013
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 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2013
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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on 7 September 2014
It is perhaps unlikely that anyone who does not know Herbert's poetry would read this, but the combination of biography and analysis of the poetry makes this both an introduction to the poet's work and a comprehensive look at his life and times. It is readable, well illustrated and sets Herbert within his social and religious context engagingly. There is also much about Donne and other contemporaries for those interested in or studying the Metaphysicals.
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