Poet's Pick April 1
George Herbert: "The Flower"
Selected by Lloyd Schwartz
National Poetry Month 2013

Letter from the Editors

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Lloyd Schwartz's Poetry Month Pick, April 1, 2013

"The Flower"
by George Herbert (1593–1633)

           How Fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
           To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
                                Grief melts away
                                Like snow in May,
           As if there were no such cold thing.

           Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone
           Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
                                Where they together
                                All the hard weather,
           Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

           These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickning, bringing down to hell
           And up to heaven in an houre;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell,
                                We say amisse,
                                This or that is:
           Thy word is all, if we could spell.

           O that I once past changing were;
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!
           Many a spring I shoot up fair,
Offring at heav’n, growing and groning thither:
                                Nor doth my flower
                                Want a spring-showre,
           My sinnes and I joining together;

           But while I grow to a straight line;
Still upwards bent, as if heav’n were mine own,
           Thy anger comes, and I decline:
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone,
                                Where all things burn,
                                When thou dost turn,
           And the least frown of thine is shown?

           And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
           I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my onely light,
                                It cannot be
                                That I am he
           On whom thy tempests fell all night.

           These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
           Which when we once can finde and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
                                Who would be more,
                                Swelling through store,
           Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.


* Lloyd Schwartz Comments:
What poet—of whatever religious (or non-religious) persuasion—hasn’t emerged from a long dry period and thought “Thank God!”? In George Herbert’s “delicious poem” (Coleridge’s words), with infinite and poignant tenderness, he compares us all to flowers (“we are but flowers that glide”), all of us possessing the possibility of springing back to life after our cold dark metaphorical winters underground. For Herbert, the particular blessing (“Who would have thought?”) is to have “recover’d greennesse” through writing poems—to be once again alive to the world and loving to write. “And now in age I bud again, / After so many deaths I live and write; / I once more smell the dew and rain, / And relish versing.” Relish versing. Isn’t this what every poet prays for? Isn’t Herbert’s “The Flower”—among so many other things—the best poem ever written about overcoming writer’s block?

About Lloyd Schwartz:
Lloyd Schwartz teaches in the MFA program at UMass Boston. His music reviews appear in The Boston Phoenix (winning him the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism) and on NPR's Fresh Air. He’s the author of three books of poetry, including Cairo Traffic (University of Chicago Press, 2000), and his poems have been included in The Pushcart Prize and The Best American Poetry anthologies. He is co-editor of the Library of America Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose and Letters (2008) and editor of the centennial edition of Bishop’s Prose  (2011). His latest book is Music In—and On—the Air, a collection of his Fresh Air reviews (Arrowsmith, 2013).

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