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The Agony

Some people would call me aesthetically challenged: I don’t know much about art and music and poetry and literature—but I know what I like. And I’m more a low-brow sort of guy, crime fiction rather than the English classics.

But God our Creator has set us in a world of beauty, where people—at their best—can paint and sing and write great depths of meaning and magnificence. But sometimes their works require a little effort to penetrate and appreciate those depths.

This year, in an effort to do something different with my wife, Karyn, I’ve determined to try and read one poem a week with her. I am using a book I discovered called A Year with George Herbert by Jim Scott Orrick, subtitled A Guide to Fifty-Two of his Best Loved Poems. I wish I’d chosen something easier at times, but there are profound gems in there.

Take this poem I share with you for Good Friday! I needed to consult the dictionary (hence my hints) and re-read it. But wait till you read the last two lines…

THE AGONY

by George Herbert (1593-1633)

    Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains
    But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove1:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

    Who would know Sin, let him repair
2
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man, so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
    His skin, his garments, bloody be.
Sin is that Press and Vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.

    Who knows not Love, let him assay3,
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike4
Did set again abroach; then let him say5
    If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

This Good Friday, I pray you can rejoice in the sweet liquor of Jesus, who loved us and gave himself for us. Though it was won at the cost of his blood, taste it as wine.

  1. to behove = to be needed
  2. to repair = to go, take oneself
  3. to assay = to try, attempt, test
  4. a pike = sharp point, e.g. of a spear
  5. to abroach = to tap/unplug, e.g. a cask

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