Reading the Bible, Writing the Self: George Herbert's The Temple
George Herbert's unified poetic text, The Temple, may be read as Herbert's attempt to gain wholeness through reading the Bible and the signs of God in the natural universe. For Herbert, holy insight is based on comparing the one with the many. In "Prayer (1)," for instance, Herbert provides a long list of prayer's functions. Yet the poem's final phrase, "something understood," suggests that Herbert has absorbed the learning represented by this list, has simplified and replaced prayer's multifarious utility. The relation of part (or function) to whole (or purpose) in people's lives, and in human history, is repeated in the mysteries of divine history, which Herbert studies in the two sonnets entitled "The Holy Scriptures." In the second of these poems, Herbert notes that "This verse marks that, and both do make a motion/ Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie." In reading the Bible, Herbert is writing his own version of Holy Scriptures. The pun on "lie" suggests his poetic feigning. Herbert's study of the relationship of reading to writing presents a complex and paradoxical evaluation of the ways of learning.
Gottlieb, Stephen. "Reading the Bible, Writing the Self: George Herbert's The Temple." Issues in Integrative Studies 5 (1987): 91-103.
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