“Easter” by George Herbert (1633)

(I can’t figure out how to replicate the poem’s indentations in WordPress.  You can read the poem in its original formatting here.)

“Rise heart; thy Lord is risen.  Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long;
Or since all musick is but three parts vied
And multiplied;
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

I got me flowers to strew thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th’ East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.”

Disturbing as it is, I love the musical imagery in the third stanza:  our heartstrings, the stretched tendons of Jesus on the cross, and the song of the Spirit form a trio of voices, one lovely chord.  This picture reminds me of the line in “Come Thou Fount,” where the speaker petitions God, “Tune my heart to sing Thy grace”—bring my pitch into harmony with You.  In Herbert’s poem, Jesus’ sacrificial death establishes the key in which we are are to play; he is the tonic, the base on which we build our song.

In the last two stanzas, Herbert plays on the homonyms “sun” and “Son”—a common device in medieval and Renaissance poetry.  No sunrise has ever been or will be as glorious, Herbert writes, as the resurrection Sonrise on that first Easter Sunday.

For a musical setting of Herbert’s poem, see songs one and two of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical SongsIf you have Spotify, you can listen to them here.

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