Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Thanksgiving to God, for his House - Robert Herrick

Lord, Thou hast given me a cell
     Wherein to dwell,
A little house, whose humble roof
     Is weather-proof:
Under the spars of which I lie
     Both soft and dry;
Where Thou my chamber for to ward
     Hast set a guard
Of harmless thoughts, to watch and keep
     Me, while I sleep.
Low is my porch, as is my fate,
     Both void of state;
And yet the threshold of my door
      Is worn by th' poor,
Who thither come and freely get
     Good words, or meat.
Like as my parlour, so my hall
     And kitchen's small;
A little buttery, and therein
     A little bin,
Which keeps my little loaf of bread
     Unchipp'd, unflead;
Some brittle sticks of thorn or briar
     Make me a fire,
Close by whose living coal I sit,
     And glow like it.
Lord, I confess too, when I dine,
     The pulse is Thine,
And all those others bits, that be
     There plac'd by Thee;
The worts, the purslain, and the mess
     Of water-cress,
Which of Thy kindness Thou hast sent;
     And my content
Makes those, and my beloved beet,
     To be more sweet.
'Tis Thou that crown'st my glittering hearth
     With guiltless mirth;
And giv'st me wassail-bowls to drink,
     Spic'd to the brink.
Lord, 'tis Thy plenty-dropping hand
     That soils my land;
And giv'st me, for my bushel sown,
     Twice ten for one;
Thou mak'st my teeming hen to lay
     Her egg each day;
Besides my healthful ewes to bear
     Me twins each year;
The while the conduits of my kine
     Run cream, for wine.
All these, and better, Thou dost send
     Me, to this end,
That I should render, for my part,
     A thankful heart,
Which, fir'd with incense, I resign,
     As wholly Thine;
But the acceptance, that must be,
     My Christ, by Thee.

This poem of Thanksgiving (though not a Thanksgiving poem, as Robert Herrick is English and died in 1674), while devotional, should be read by all.  It embodies the thankful state of mind we should seek to cultivate on this holiday.  Herrick catalogs the many things he has for which he is thankful, both great and small.  He does not complain that his kitchen is small, or that his house (cell, in the poem, worry not, Herrick wasn't a prisoner) is little.  Rather, he is thankful for the good things his kitchen contains (bread and grains, with no fleas!) and that his house is protection against all weathers.

He praises God for all things, including his ability to be generous.  "the threshold of my door is worn by th' poor, who thither come and freely get good words or meat."  He gives unselfishly, even if he does not have meat to give.  Herrick is thankful for his ability to be charitable.  That's a lesson we all can use at this time of year, particularly, when we are bombarded with consumerism around every corner.

My favorite lines, poetically, are when Herrick thanks God for to the fire he is able to build.  "Some brittle sticks of thorn or briar make me a fire, close by whose living coal I sit, and glow like it."  Herrick glows like the fire, warmed by it, a living coal, praising God for his many blessings.  Even without the religious aspect, what a warm and cozy image!  A living coal, glowing, and by it the one warmed glowing too.  I can almost smell the lovely wood smoke.

While the religious alignment of this poem may seem a turnoff to the secular among us, I don't think it should be.  Whether you think Herrick's thanks are misplaced, it's crucial to recognize the many things in life for which we can be thankful.  I imagine that many of my readers are, like me, extremely fortunate compared to the vast bulk of humanity.  We should be thankful for our ability to be charitable, as Herrick is, and exercise that facility until our own doors, the threshold to our house, as Herrick puts it, is worn by the poor.  In Thanksgiving, let us welcome one another, and share our blessings and kindness freely.  Happy Thanksgiving, friends.