Biography of George Herbert

George Herbert was born into a wealthy family in Wales. His father died when he was young, so his mother raised him and his siblings. She was a devout woman and was determined to raise them in the Church of England. Herbert's mother was so respected by the famous poet John Donne that he dedicated poems to her. Herbert received the best possible education, attending Trinity College, Cambridge in 1609. He was then hired as a high-profile representative of Cambridge. During this time he caught the attention of King James I. He even worked in the Parliament of England for a short period. After King James died, Herbert gave up on this public career. He took holy orders and was ordained as an Anglican priest, becoming the rector of a small church near Salisbury, Bemerton. He spent the last years of his life writing poetry and serving this small church community before dying of consumption at the age of 39.

Herbert is known as a poet of devotional verse. His poems focus on religious experience. Some of his most well-known poems are "The Altar" and "Easter Wings"—both pattern poems that are laid out on the page to resemble what they describe. He is best known for the short lyric poems from his single book of poetry The Temple. However, this book also has long poems with plenty of satirical and witty passages. Because of the strange and unexpected images he used, he is sometimes known as a "metaphysical poet" alongside Donne and Andrew Marvell. In addition to writing in English, Herbert also wrote poems in Latin, a language in which he was highly proficient.


Study Guides on Works by George Herbert

“Affliction I” is one of 17th-century English poet George Herbert’s most memorable and loved poems. Herbert was a Welsh poet and priest. His single collection of poems, known as The Temple, was published in 1633 after his early death at the age of...

“The Altar” is a pattern poem, also known as a “hieroglyphic” poem. These are poems shaped like the thing they describe: in this case, an altar. The first known pattern poems were written in Ancient Greek between 325 BCE and 200 CE. While other...

“Easter Wings” is perhaps 17th-century English poet George Herbert’s most beloved poem. It is famous for its shape: the words on the page are arranged like a pair of wings. Besides “Easter Wings,” Herbert is also well-known for a second...