No Comment, Quotation — January 4, 2009, 9:00 am

Herbert’s Man

van-dyck-apostle-1617

Man is all symmetrie,
Full of proportions, one limbe to another,
And all to all the world besides:
Each part may call the farthest, brother:
And head with foot hath private amitie,
And both with moons and tides.

Nothing hath got so farre,
But Man hath caught and kept it, as his prey.
His eyes dismount the highest starre:
He is in little all the sphere.
Herbs gladly cure our flesh; because that they
Finde their acquaintance there.

For us the windes do blow,
The earth doth rest, heav’n move, and fountains flow.
Nothing we see, but means our good,
As our delight, or as our treasure:
The whole is, either our cupboard of food,
Or cabinet of pleasure.

The starres have us to bed;
Night draws the curtain, which the sunne withdraws;
Musick and light attend our head.
All things unto our flesh are kinde
In their descent and being; to our minde
In their ascent and cause.

Each thing is full of dutie:
Waters united are our navigation;
Distinguished, our habitation;
Below, our drink; above, our meat;
Both are our cleanlinesse. Hath one such beautie?
Then how are all things neat?

More servants wait on Man,
Then he’l take notice of: in ev’ry path
He treads down that which doth befriend him,
When sicknesse makes him pale and wan.
Oh mightie love! Man is one world, and hath
Another to attend him.

Since then, my God, thou hast
So brave a Palace built; O dwell in it,
That it may dwell with thee at last!
Till then, afford us so much wit;
That, as the world serves us, we may serve thee,
And both thy servants be.

George Herbert, excerpts from Man, first published in The Temple (1633)


Ralph Waldo Emerson’s great essay Nature is in some respects an extended interpretation of Herbert’s poem, which Emerson quotes repeatedly, dwelling especially on the lines “More servants wait on man/Than he’l take notice of.” For Emerson, this points to man’s relationship with nature and its capacity to fill and enrich the human spirit: “Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other’s hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.”

Listen to a modern instrumental arrangement of the madrigal “The Silver Swan” by Herbert’s contemporary Orlando Gibbons:

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2015

Black Hat, White Hat

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beyond the Broken Window

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Search of a Stolen Fiddle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Displaced in the D.R.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quietest Place in the Universe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“Don sucked the last of his drink through his straw and licked his lips. 'The coast, to me, is more interesting than the valley.'”
Photograph by the author
Article
Fred Morton, who died this week in Vienna, at the age of 90, was a longtime contributor to Harper's Magazine and a good friend. "Othello's Son," which was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013, appeared in our September 2013 issue.
Photograph © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS
Article
Beyond the Broken Window·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“By the time Bratton left the department, in 2009, Los Angeles had quietly become the most spied-on city in America.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Displaced in the D.R.·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“How is it possible that my birth certificate is invalid if I was born here?”
Photograph by Pierre Michel Jean
Article
The Quietest Place in the Universe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Gaitskell and his colleagues are approaching the revelation of a new order, a new universe, in which even light will be known differently, and darkness as well.”
Painting by Sebastiaan Bremer

Number of African countries with vaccination rates higher than that of the United States:

16

Iowa urologists reported that only a minor portion of locker-room teasing arises from “the presence of excess foreskin”; most teasing targets small penises.

A farmer in Surrey, England, was ordered by the Reigate and Banstead Borough Council to tear down his cannon-equipped castle, which he had built secretly and then concealed behind hay bales.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today