LONG — ‘And brought’st thy sweets along with thee’


One of my favorite segments of poetry is the fourth stanza of “Easter,” by George Herbert, a 17th-century English writer who put profound ideas into the simplest language.

Both Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Bishop, Herbert’s avid devotees, attributed much of their formation and later writing to his influence.

Faith, spirituality, religion — surely these are the most difficult subjects to write about, that is, to enable readers to share the author’s idea, to see the vision.

Perhaps that is one reason icons — stylized, classical forms of Christ — appeal to us so much, for in their rather severe form, they allow us to put our own “face” on Jesus, our own interpretation.

This approach, too, is used by Herbert. In his third-from-last stanza of “Easter,” he says it like this:

I got me flowers to straw thy way

I got me boughs from many a tree

But thou wast up by break of day

And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

Here, we have a picture of joyous throngs preparing for Christ’s coming into his own in triumph to transform the world — a celebration seen through the eyes of one individual, someone who could be any one of us.

Even the first phrase, though, concentrates on what each human being is obtaining for himself through Christ’s soon-to-be sacrifice, “I got me.”

And how much better a word is “straw,” used as a verb, suggesting profusion and abundance, than the more commonplace and usual “strew?”

The next line repeats, “I got me,” showing once again that the pilgrim’s least attempt to make a gift to God automatically rebounds and reverts to the would-be giver.

We can share the pilgrim’s delight at God on earth, as he breaks boughs from the trees to make the path soft and beautiful.

The poet’s emphasis abruptly shifts though from the happy preparation for Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, to the reality of the glory of God.

“But thou,” and we sense that we can never equal Christ’s own preparation, for he is up at sunrise, or “break of day.”

In the last line is the complete, yet quiet, climax “And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.”

These “sweets,” of course, are the crucifixion, Jesus’s love for each one of us, culminating on the cross.

These sweets are the meaning of the world.

Patricia J. “Patty Joe” Long is a member of St. Thomas More Newman Center Parish in Columbia.