Break, Blow, Burn: Day Four

George Herbert: Church-monuments

This poem reminds me of the punk-rock band The Pixies. I was never a fan of theirs, but I was a huge fan of many bands that were huge fans of The Pixies. I listened to them, but never really got too into them. When they recently reunited, I went with some friends who were about to have a religious experience, seeing them perform these amazing songs live. I enjoyed it, but to me they sounded derivative.

As you might expect, the ardent Pixies fans were quick to point out that I had it backward. I was a fan of bands who had stolen from The Pixies, so I liked the derivative bands, the Pixies originated this stuff. I don't disagree with that statement, but I still think that whatever you hear later is going to seem derivative to what you heard earlier. So, to me, The Pixies will always sound like they're trying to be Nirvana, even though I've read quotes where Kurt said Nirvana was trying to sound like The Pixies.

So, how does George Herbert fit into all of this?

I guess that, despite this being written in the 1600s, I just find it hard to get past so much of the message seeming played out. That we all die. That the tombstone we erect to mark where our body lies will also eventually crumble. That all of our troubles on earth are silly in the grand scheme of things.

So far, this is the poem in the series I've liked the least. It's not horrible, but I just never caught on to the "charmingly amusing form" that captured Paglia's fancy.

George Herbert: The Quip

This one is a much more delightful entry from Herbert, as far as its ability to be easily understood and appreciated. Of course, there's not much going on under the hood here; just a character who is able to resist temptations because of his commitment to God. Each stanza is a different temptation, and each line ends with the same divine acknowledgment.

Paglia mentions that the repeating line is italicized "because the line is silent and hovers in another dimension." This made me pause to question whether I considered it silent or not, in the sense that the whole poem is seemingly a story being told to no one in particular by a single narrator. But, after thinking about it, I can see what she means. That his description of the temptations is something he is recounting, yet the refrain is almost his private communication with God. Upon reflection, I do think I read it that way, I just hadn't stepped out of the poem enough to note the distinction in voice/audience there.

That this brand of "moral allegory," as Paglia describes it, has gone out of fashion is not surprising, however.

George Herbert: Love

I suppose with communion and transubstantiation, Christians brought homoerotic subtext on themselves. But we'll get to that later.

This poem is another easy read, a playful dialogue between man and God. Paglia says the poem's three stanzas refer to the Holy Trinity, and that Jesus, aka Love, is the person with whom the narrator is engaged in conversation.

I guess I will never understand how the church has convinced its followers that they are wired wrong, that they are inherently sinners trying to better themselves rather than them coming from a divine source and faltering. The whole 'I'll never be worthy' thing never ceases to amuse me, since even in poems that seem to be abundantly steeped in that mindset, they still put Jesus in a position to correct them of that wrongful thinking. The narrator in this poem agrees with his own savior, yet quickly adds a "but" to explain why they refuse to agree. Hilarious. I'll never understand that mindset.

But, yeah, the final two lines of the poem:

You must sit downe, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

Hard to not go homoerotic there. In fact, it reminds me of a whole routine the late Penecostal preacher turned stand-up comic Sam Kinison used to go about the last supper, where a more reluctant Jesus was not at all having it with the pending crucifixion, standing up, grabbing his crotch and telling them, "Eat me! This is your last supper." And then imagining how the disciples fancied up the language to make it sound more palatable.

Paglia calls the "eat me" reference in the poem "a carnal come-on with a spiritual zinger."


StateOfTheOnion's picture

You consider The Pixies to

You consider The Pixies to be punk-rock?

"Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it just to reach you..." John Lennon

jeff's picture


Punk and rock, hence the hyphen.


"Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there." -- Josh Billings.

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