I’ve shared the poem below before, but I thought I would circulate it again as we near the Thanksgiving holiday. I first came across it this summer when reading a book recommended to the Wheaton faculty: Christine Pohl’s Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us, by Christine Pohl. The first practice that Pohl highlights is the expression of gratitude, and much of what she had to say hit me right between the eyes.
The poem that Pohl alerted me to is “Gratefulness,” by the seventeenth-century English poet George Herbert. I have previously written about Herbert with regard to his marvelous poem “Joseph’s Coat,” which is probably my favorite poem by any author. “Gratefulness” also impresses me deeply. I love the plea with which Herbert opens and concludes his poem: the plea for a grateful heart that sees God’s grace and mercy in all things.
But first, a reminder about who George Herbert was. George Herbert was born at the end of the 16th century into a powerful English family. His father held the aristocratic title “Lord of Cherbury” and sat in Parliament. The son, who was educated at Cambridge and became a favorite of England’s King James I, seemed destined to a life of wealth, prestige, and political prominence before he decided to take orders as an Anglican priest in his mid-thirties. For three years he labored as a country parson in a tiny parish southwest of London, before succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of thirty-nine. “Gratefulness” is part of a collection of poems by Herbert that was published shortly after his death. I hope it speaks to you as it has to me.
Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart.
See how thy beggar works on thee
He makes thy gifts occasion more,
And says, If he in this be crossed,
All thou hast given him heretofore
But thou didst reckon, when at first
Thy word our hearts and hands did crave,
What it would come to at the worst
Perpetual knockings at thy door,
Tears sullying thy transparent rooms,
Gift upon gift, much would have more,
This notwithstanding, thou wenst on,
And didst allow us all our noise:
Nay thou hast made a sigh and groan
Not that thou hast not still above
Much better tunes, than groans can make;
But that these country-airs thy love
Wherefore I cry, and cry again;
And in no quiet canst thou be,
Till I a thankful heart obtain
Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be