Today is Easter Sunday, and that means it’s the perfect day to share one of the most famous of all Easter poems with your students: George Herbert’s “Easter Wings.” It’s a special bonus homeschool poem-of-the-week for this Easter weekend.
Prosaic practitioners of pedestrian typography (like me) usually reproduce “Easter Wings” like this nowadays, to make the reading easy and the printing convenient:
Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.
My tender age in sorrow did beginne
And still with sicknesses and shame.
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Let me combine,
And feel thy victorie:
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
But that’s not how the poem was originally printed, and that modernized layout distorts Herbert’s artistry. Here’s how the “Wings” appeared when they were initially published, in a collection of Herbert’s poems called The Temple, in 1633:
George Herbert (1593–1633) was one of the best-known English poets of the early seventeenth century, a member of the loose group of writers commonly called “the metaphysical poets.” Herbert was a also priest of the Church of England and nearly all of his verses address religious themes. “Easter Wings” in its two stanzas, for example, charts the fall of mankind and of the individual sinner as they become “most poore,” and then celebrates their subsequent rise again through Christ.
“Easter Wings” is famous, of course, not simply because of its text, but because of its arrangement: it’s one of the best known examples of a “pattern poem” in English, where the words are placed on the page in an arrangement that visually reflects the underlying theme. Pattern poems are quite ancient — the Greeks and the Romans wrote them also. For another example from Herbert himself, one with Classical antecedents, see “The Altar.”
What wonderful words and patterned poetical productions are you studying in your homeschool this Leo Term? 😊
❡ This is a printable lesson: Down at the bottom of this post you’ll find a custom “Print” button and icon, along with several social-media share buttons. The Print button will let you create a neat and easy-to-read copy of this little lesson, and it will even let you resize or delete elements that you may not want or need (such as images or footnotes). Give it a try today! 🖨
❡ As larks, harmoniously: If a special line or turn of phrase happens to strike you in one of our weekly poems, just copy it onto your homeschool bulletin board for a few days and invite your students to speak it aloud — that’s all it takes to begin a new poetical friendship and learn a few lovely words that will stay with you for life. 🕊
❡ Literary lives: The website of the Poetry Foundation includes biographical notes and examples of the work of many important poets (including George Herbert) that are suitable for high school students and homeschool teachers. ✒️
❡ Here, said the year: This post is one of our regular homeschool poems-of-the-week. Print your own River Houses Poetry Calendar to follow along with us as we visit fifty of our favorite friends over the course of the year, and add your name to our River Houses mailing list to get posts like these delivered right to your mailbox every week. 🗞
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