Love (III)

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.
Source: George Herbert and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Poets  (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1978)

Writing Ideas

  1. “Love (III)” personifies love in unusual ways—“quick-eyed” and “sweetly smiling,” “Love” is a fully-fledged character that speaks and acts, sometimes surprisingly. Write a poem that personifies an abstract idea or feeling such as “Peace,” or “Hate”—how do such states of being or emotions look, speak, and behave?

  2. This poem is a dialogue between a host and his guest. Think about other situations in which two people talk to one another. Make a list of such situations, choose one, and write a poem based around what your two characters might say to each other. Or, go to a coffee shop and listen in on some of the conversations going on around you. Use parts of overheard speech and dialogue to compose your own poem.

  3. George Herbert is famous for his “shape poems” (see “Easter Wings” and “The Altar”). Though not technically in a “shape,” “Love (III)” does use spacing on the page to gain effect. Write a poem that similarly takes advantage of white space, shapes, and spacing.

  4. The poem ends with the guest (the “I” in the poem) sitting down to eat. Write a follow-up poem that traces the events, and conversation, once dinner has begun.

Discussion Questions

  1. How is “Love” characterized in this poem? Which adjectives does Herbert use to describe Love and how do they contribute to your overall sense of his character? Now compare the language used to describe Love to that used to describe the poem’s speaker: what do you notice? How do the descriptions differ, and what is the effect of those differences?

  2. In what ways is “Love (III)” obviously a religious poem, and in what ways is it not? Circle all the vocabulary (or lines) that marks this poem as religious, and underline the places that seem more secular. What is the effect of mixing different levels and styles of diction?

  3. “Love (III)” is the final poem in a triptych (three-part series) on the subject. Read the earlier “Love” poems here and here and think about how they connect, or don’t connect, with one another. Is “Love” a character in all of them? What arguments does Herbert seem to be making in each poem? Across the series? 

Teaching Tips

  1. “Love (III),” like many of Herbert’s poems in The Temple, is based on a biblical verse. Have students read Luke 12:37: “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he commeth, shall find watching…”. How did Herbert use the Biblical passage, perhaps both for inspiration and in terms of the language in “Love (III)” itself? What did he change or not use in the Biblical passage, and why? Have students find a quotation that is meaningful to them and write a poem based on it. Encourage them to use, as Herbert did, actual language from the quote in their own poem.

  2. The accompanying poem guide notes that there has been critical discussion over the tone of “Love (III)”—either grateful acceptance on the part of the guest, or exhausted acquiescence. Have students read the guide and “debate” Herbert’s intention: where does the poem seem most certain and most equivocal? How do language and punctuation inform each side’s argument?

  3. Break students into pairs and have them “stage” the poem, using props such as tables and chairs (and costumes), if possible. Ask them to study their characters and prepare for their roles as real actors do: what are the motivations of “Love” and the guest? How might they physically interact? What is their body language like? How do they sound? Have students practice their scenes and perform for the class. This activity could follow on the heels of the class debate: ask students to consider how they think the guest’s attitude toward the host (and vice versa) will affect their performance.
More Poems by George Herbert