Sunday, 29 January 2012
Heaven in Ordinary
So the theme of ordinariness was in my mind on my walk, and I found the 17th century poet George Herbert's words 'heaven in ordinary' fitting themselves to the rhythm of my steps. The air was full of birdsong: a robin, the 'teacher, teacher' call of great tits, a raucous flock of bright green ring-necked parakeets. A heron sailed over like a fantastic flying machine and settled on the river, matched in stillness by his reflection in the shallow water. Above my head grey squirrels chased each other in the branches and a woodpecker drummed. All ordinary creatures (unwelcome pests, some would say, in the case of the parakeets and squirrels) but their vitality at the early turning of the year felt like a sign of 'the dearest freshness deep down things', as Hopkins called it.
Slow as I am, it was only as I turned for home that I remembered the context of George Herbert's words. 'Heaven in ordinary' comes in his poem Prayer I, which consists simply of a list of symbolic images for what prayer might be. To notice 'heaven in ordinary' is to experience prayer.
Here is George Herbert's poem in full:
Prayer, the Church's banquet, Angel's age.
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heaven and earth;
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six days' world-transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss.
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The Milky Way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
The land of spices, something understood.