Read: Luke 11:1-4
Lord, teach us to pray. (v. 1)
“A poem . . . begins with a lump in the throat,” wrote Robert Frost in a letter to a friend. That line in itself conveys several truths about the way great poetry works. It is focused emotion: it conveys strong feeling in a minimum of words. It stimulates the imagination by use of metaphor and imagery. Its meaning is not always obvious; it forces the reader to think about what the poet is trying to say.
In his poem “Prayer (1)” George Herbert used the sonnet form, a type of poem that follows some of the strictest rules of poetic composition. An English (or Shakespearian) sonnet has three four-line stanzas with a regular rhyming pattern, followed by a rhyming couplet (two-line conclusion).
Each line of Herbert’s sonnet on prayer has one or more images for prayer. As Michael Wilcock leads us through the poem phrase by phrase over the coming days, we have the opportunity to let the poetry work its magic—to deepen our thinking, expand our imagination, engage our emotions—and lead us into praying more often and with greater feeling and understanding.
“Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus’ disciples once asked. George Herbert’s poem, with Michael Wilcock’s devotional reflections, can do just that.
The poem is printed below in its entirety.
BY GEORGE HERBERT
Prayer the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days-world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood.
The land of spices; something understood.
“Lord, teach me to pray.”
Author: Rev. David Bast