Searching for peace


Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell? I humbly crave,

                                           Let me once know.

             I sought thee in a secret cave,

             And ask’d, if Peace were there.

A hollow wind did seem to answer, No:

                                           Go seek elsewhere.


I did; and going did a rainbow note:

                                           Surely, thought I,

             This is the lace of Peace’s coat:

             I will search out the matter.

But while I looked, the clouds immediately

                                           Did break and scatter.


Then went I to a garden, and did spy

                                           A gallant flower,

             The Crown Imperiall: sure, said I,

             Peace at the root must dwell.

But when I digg’d, I saw a worm devour

                                           What show’d so well.


At length I met a rev’rend good old man,

                                           Whom when of Peace

             I did demand, he thus began:

             There was a Prince of old

At Salem dwelt, who liv’d with good increase

                                           Of flock and fold*.


He sweetly liv’d; yet sweetness did not save

                                          His life from foes.

       But after death out of his grave

             There sprang twelve stalks of wheat^:

Which many wondring at, got some of those

                                           To plant and set.


It prosper’d strangely, and did soon disperse

                                           Through all the earth:

       For they that taste it do rehearse,

             That virtue lies therein,

A secret virtue bringing peace and mirth

                                          By flight of sin.


Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,

                                           And grows for you;

       Make bread of it: and that repose

             And peace, which ev’ry where

With so much earnestness you do pursue,

                                           Is only there.


*This is a reference to Melchizedek (a priest who Abraham encountered) who has often been seen as a symbol of Christ

^ Reference to 12 apostles

This is another of Herbert’s allegorical poems where the poet is searching for peace. In the first three verses he searches for peace in the natural world – a cave, a rainbow, a flower but these all disappoint. Only through Christ, here pictured in the type of Melchizedek, is true peace to be found. Yet in this Herbert returns to the natural world as peace is symbolised in grains of wheat growing in the garden.

It is interesting to note that in this allegory work needs to be done in order to achieve peace, even though it is received from Christ. The grains need to be planted in the garden and then harvested and then ground and then made into bread. It is a suggestive illustration of the demands of the spiritual life

  • What do you find brings you peace?
  • What is the balance between receiving peace as a gift and working on it so as to make it a nourishing reality in our own lives?



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