Enclosed in the Ebony Box: George Herbert’s “Even-song”

Through Lent with George Herbert
Friday after the Second Sunday of Lent

Anglo Indian Intricately Carved Solid Ebony Glove Box, Ceylon, Circa 1850.

An elaborate & intricately carved solid ebony Anglo-Indian glove box with relief carving of scrolling foliate patterns, rectangular floral & patterned decoration on underside of the hinged, ebonized lid, sandal wood interior, working lock and key; Ceylon circa 1850; made for English market. height: 4 in. 10 cm., width: 14.5 in. 37 cm., depth: 5 in. 13 cm. Yours for $2500.

Even-song

Blest be the God of love,
Who gave me eyes, and light, and power this day,
Both to be busy, and to play.
But much more blest be God above,
Who gave me sight alone,
Which to himself he did deny:
For when he sees my ways, I die:
But I have got his son, and he hath none.

What have I brought thee home
For this thy love? have I discharg’d the debt,
Which this day’s favour did beget?
I ran; but all I brought, was foam.
Thy diet, care and cost
Do end in bubbles, balls of wind;
Of wind to thee whom I have crossed,
But balls of wild-fire to my troubled mind.

Yet still thou goest on,
And now with darkness closest weary eyes,
Saying to man, ‘It doth suffice:
Henceforth repose; your work is done.’
Thus in thy Ebony box
Thou dost enclose us, till the day
Put our amendment in our way,
And give new wheels to our disorder’d clocks.

I muse, which shows more love,
The day or night: that is the gale, this th’ harbour;
That is the walk, and this the arbour;
Or that is the garden, this the grove.
My God, thou art all love.
Not one poor minute scapes thy breast,
But brings a favour from above;
And in this love, more than in bed, I rest.

As one might have guessed, if Herbert did a poem entitled Mattins he was going to do one called Evensong. As the first dealt with waking and the light, this deals with weariness at the end of a day, and the reflections that come with the darkness. The four stanzas seem to vary from 6.11.8.6.8.8.10 in the first, 6.10.8.8.6.8.8.10  in the second,  6.10.8.8.6.8.8.9 in the third, and 6.11.9.9.6.8.10 in the fourth; it may be that the key property is not the syllables but the stresses, and I am not that good at those. The rhymes are ABBACDDA in the first and third stanzas, and ABBACDCD in the third and fourth (actually, ABBAACAC in the fourth).

He blesses God for love, the gift of eyes, light, and power, and especially for choosing to overlook the poet’s ways; God’s witness of him would kill him, just as one cannot see God and live. The poet has the Creator’s son, but the Creator has none, because he has surrendered him to humanity and sin and death, so much that the son cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The poet than asks himself what he has brought home at the end of the day, in response to God’s love. He describes himself as having run, but only to no obvious purpose other than to be like wind, or a bubble, or foam. But God says it is enough, and gives us rest to overcome the weariness. At the end of the day we are like broken clocks that cannot tell the time, but God repairs us. The poet muses which shows more love, God greeting us in the new day or taking us as we are at the end of it, and this is not resolved. Instead, the poet recognises that the whole day is filled with God’s love, and with that he falls asleep in his bed.

Although I post these reflections in the morning, I usually write most of this in the evning of the day before. When they show up at 7:00 am or 8:00 am in Greece it is 9:00 PM or 10:00 PM on the west coast of Canada, where I used to live. It is now a quarter to midnight here in London (I’m here on a trip), and I should go to sleep. Whenever you are, may you be able to let go of the day’s affairs, and rest in the ebony box that encloses us.

About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Canadian. Husband. Father. Christian. Recovering Settler. A priest of the Church of England, Diocese in Europe, on the island of Crete in Greece.
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