Who is the honest man?
He that doth still and strongly good pursue,
To God, his neighbour, and himself most true:
Whom neither force nor fawning can
Unpin, or wrench from giving all their due.
Whose honesty is not
So loose or easy, that ruffling wind
Can blow away, or glittering look it blind:
Who rides his sure and even trot,
While the world now rides by, now lags behind.
Who, when great trials come,
Nor seeks, nor shuns them; but doth calmly stay,
Till he the thing and the example weigh:
All being brought into a sum,
What place or person calls for, he doth pay.
Whom none can work or woo
To use in anything a trick or sleight;
For above all things he abhores deceit:
His words and works and fashion too
All of a piece, and all are clear and straight.
Who never melts or thaws
At close tentations*: when the day is done,
His goodness sets not, but in dark can run:
The sun to others writeth laws,
And is their virtue; Virtue is his Sun#.
Who, when he is to treat
With sick folks,women, those whom passions sway,
Allows for that, and keeps his constant way:
Whom others faults do not defeat;
But though men fail him, yet his part doth play.
Whom nothing can procure,
When the wide world runs bias~, from his will
To writhe his limbs, and share, not mend the ill,
This is the Mark-man, safe and sure,
Who still is right, and prays to be so still.
#when Herbert uses the word sun he is always hinting at Jesus the son of God
~a metaphor taken from bowls
I was struck by this poem because of its similarities to the famous poem by Rudgard Kipling “If” as it seeks to delineate what true manliness is. The sexism in the poem is made evident in the penultimate verse where women are stereotyped as among those ‘whom passions sway’ which reminds us that although the subtlety and depth of thought and feeling in Herbert can make him feel like a contemporary, he was living in a very different world. This is also evident when we read his treatise “The Country Parson” which describes the role of a rural vicar in what might seem to us as an impossibly idealized and paternalistic manner.
We might also regard this poem in a similar way is it simply ‘a good-natured poem, counseling an unsettled man to settle down and work out his honesty in the routines of everyday life’ or is it an early illustration of an English stiff upper lip which seeks to deny and control emotion?
What do you feel? Is it inspiring or annoying?!