A Gift for Our Times
Chapter Three: The Devotee
1. The Servant
The first poem of The Church defines the speaker as a “servant” of God, and, if we take the title into consideration (“The Altar”), we can say even more accurately that he serves at the table of the Lord. This is, of course, the task of God’s minister, but the reader of Herbert’s poetry may also be inclined to supplement this obvious and certainly correct association with some recognition of the wider implications of the role assigned to Herbert’s poetic persona. Feasting has been used since ancient times as an expression of social rank, and it played an important role in the emergence of social hierarchies. The places at the tables of the great were carefully assigned according to the status of the guests, whose requirements were catered for by a host of deferential, discreet and reverent, barely visible serving men. The way in which Herbert fashions his persona may imply then a similar kind of deference, not to say obsequiousness, rooted in feudal and courtly hierarchies. In “The Perrihanterium”, the poet-preacher admonishes the reader: “Think the king sees thee still”. In “Obedience”, the speaker assumes the tone of a courtier craving for royal favour and hoping his well written verse may please the heavenly monarch:
How happy were my part,
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