'A verse may finde him, who a sermon flies' - Metaphysical poet and lyricist George Herbert celebrated in new festival

George Herbert, the 17th century metaphysical poet, and hymnal lyricist, is to be honoured by a festival celebrating his life and work, in his home parish of Fugglestone-cum-Bemerton.

George Herbert was born in 1593 and died of consumption in 1633 but in between those years, the power of his words ensured a legacy beyond his lifetime.

The Poetry Foundation biography describes him as "a pivotal figure: enormously popular, deeply and broadly influential, and arguably the most skilful and important British devotional lyricist".

Church ministry was not where his life led him at first, and he spent a significant period of time as a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, before becoming the college's Public Orator and later a Member of Parliament.

After the death of King James I, one of Herbert's key supporters, his influence waned and he lost his position. In 1629 he entered the priesthood and was appointed rector of the small rural parish of Fugglestone St Peter with Bemerton, in Wiltshire near Salisbury.

While working in the ministry, Herbert turned his attention to the use of lyrically and artistically assembled words to share the Gospel with those who simple religious teaching may not have the power to reach. On one occasion, he said: "A verse may finde him, who a sermon flies."

He would often write poems in shaped forms, such as his work 'Angel Wings' which, when turned ninety degrees, appears as a pair of angel's wings, and 'The Altar' which works similarly and speaks of the importance of offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to God.

He was one of a group of poets who came to be known as the 'Metaphysical School', so called because of the way their works focused on the nature of religion using what were considered outlandish similes and metaphors. This label was applied by others, and it is doubtful that Herbert ever met others in this group in person, such as John Donne or Abraham Cowley.

Some of their contemporaries viewed the poetry with contempt, as later leading figures like Samuel Johnson believed that thoughts about ideas such as the nature of the soul were too general to be pinned down into such specific sounding descriptions.

Herbert's most famous poetic works are to be found in books such as 'The Temple' and 'The Country Parson' but he is perhaps better known in Church circles for being the author of several popular hymns.

These include 'King of Glory, King of Peace', 'Let All the World in Every Corner Sing', 'Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life', and 'Teach me, my God and King'.

Herbert's legacy has led the Anglican communion to commemorate him every year on 27 February, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America celebrates him in the Calendar of Saints on March 1, the date of his death.

The 18th century English hymn writer William Cowper said of Herbert's poems: "I found in them a strain of piety which I could not but admire."

The programme of festival events runs from 10 to 13 July. It includes an appearance from former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams, who will be speaking at the Salisbury Playhouse on the festival's opening day, exploring the question "Why Herbert Matters".

Sharing his beliefs about Herbert's importance, the now Master Williams of Magdalene College, Cambridge, said: "For the religious believer, [Herbert] is important in showing how the classical language of Christian orthodoxy is a resourceful vehicle for thinking (and feeling) through some of the most difficult areas of human experience.

"Frustration, blankness of emotion, resentment, corrosive self - doubt – without illusions, yet with an almost terrifying intensity of affirmation just around the corner of what is said.

"For any reader, he matters as someone who models honest poetry, who never lets himself be seduced by easy sounds and solutions, and who presents an extraordinarily rich picture of the diverse tangles of human doubt and human dignity"

There will also be international visitors from North America, as well as appearances by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, and Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales.

Musical tribute will be provided by The Farrant Singers, Salisbury's oldest chamber choir. The 'One Harmonie' concert will be held on 12 July.

Tickets for the festival, the first of its kind, went on sale earlier this month. Canon Judy Rees, festival chair, said of the festival's subject: "Herbert's poetry is valued for its clarity, its wit, its honesty and depth, and for his sheer skill as a wordsmith"

"It continues to touch and speak to our lives in the 21st century with remarkable power and relevance."

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