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Poets of the Four Last Things: Herbert and Judgement

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Poets of the Four Last Things: Herbert and Judgement

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Location: Heythrop College

With Professor Robert Fraser

It has been traditional during the four weeks of Advent to concentrate on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. This habit may appear paradoxical at best, since we are supposed to be preparing for a birth: the beginning of life rather than the end of mortal existence. None of the four poets we will be looking at in this series, however, would have found the tradition in the least inappropriate or odd. The official explanation is that we are anticipating both the first and the second coming. Since, in the northern hemisphere at least, we celebrate the nativity shortly after the winter solstice, the darkest moment of the year, there is also a recurrent, metaphorical logic to all of this. By looking at the work of four religiously inspired poets – two from the seventeenth and one each from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – we will attend to the ways in which this custom, and the insights stemming from it, have fertilized literature and art.

George Herbert and Judgement

George Herbert was one of the most accomplished intellectuals of his age: Public Orator to the University of Cambridge and a subtly musical poet in English, Greek and Latin. A few years before his early death in 1633, he was ordained into the ministry of the Church of England and withdrew to the quiet Hampshire parish of Bemerton near Salisbury. Nearing his end, he dispatched to his friend Nicholas Ferrar in Little Gidding the manuscript of a poetry sequence entitled ‘The Temple’ evoking the principal occasions and celebrations of the Christian life. It ends with a cluster of poems about Death, Judgement and Redemption. In other poems, it seems to have been Herbert’s opinion that we judge ourselves, and occasionally one another. At times his teaching is devoutly traditional; at other times it may seem to us to be arrestingly modern. He was the supreme advocate of Hope, and of a decent tolerance and charity. Five centuries later, can he still enlarge our sympathies and our minds?


Other talks in this series with Professor Robert Fraser include:

Contact Name: Dr Francesca Knox
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