Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Keeping a true Lent

The other day, I came across a poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1674), who lived during a time of enormous religious strife and bloodshed, and was no stranger to the Taliban of his own time. Herrick survived the English Civil War, a multi-layered conflict that pitted Puritan Protestants against royalist Anglicans.

At the time, Herrick was the vicar in Devonshire. He was ejected from his vicarage for refusing to sign an oath supporting the imposition of Puritan government and religion into England and ejecting anything resembling "papism."

The English Civil War had one amazing silver lining. It brought forth a generation of poets and prose writers the likes of which have seldom been matched in English letters. Here is Herrick's poem about the deeper meaning and practice of Lent and I highly commend it to you:

by Robert Herrick

IS this a fast, to keep
The larder lean?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish ?

Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d to go,
Or show
A downcast look and sour ?

No; ‘tis a fast to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat,
And meat,
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,
From old debate
And hate;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent;
To starve thy sin,
Not bin;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

+ + + 
Herrick, Robert. Works of Robert Herrick. vol II.
Alfred Pollard, ed.
London, Lawrence & Bullen, 1891. 240.

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