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My interpretation of Easter - by George Herbert 1633

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Easter by George Herbert (1633)


George Herbert became priest and wrote the poem “Easter” shortly before his death in 1633.  The poem had six verses and was later set to music by Vaughan Williams who started doing so when he was 34 and finished them five years later.

The six verses were split into two separate stanzas or parts, and only the first three verses are included in the composition “Easter” by Vaughan Williams.  Vaughan Williams titles the second part as “I got me flowers” and this is not being sung by us on Sunday.  However, I have included the words of the second parts here.

 I remember my dad singing this music and when I first came to sing it, I explored the text looking for a meaning that I would want to sing about, and I found that I could and wanted to.  I also enjoy how the music has been composed for the text.

I visited the small church where George was a priest near Salisbury whilst singing at the cathedral on choir week. I gave a rendition of the “5 mystical songs” as they are known, in what was a charming old English church, with a fantastic acoustic in a very moving setting and surroundings.



Rise heart; thy Lord is risen.

Rise: To become apparent; appear

Heart:   The centre of the total personality (the centre of intuition, emotion , feeling)

                the core, most important, essential or vital part

                the inner most or most central part of a thing

thy Lord:  your own master and ruler,

risen:     restored from death

Harvey:  I believe that I have become aware of guidance and insight through prayer and meditation, from God (who is at the heart of me and everything).  This guidance has at times past not been consciously accessible to me, but I feel that it has now been restored from death.  I hope this guidance will remain accessible to me, affect how I live my life, how I behave and what I choose to do.

Sing his praise without delays,

Praise:  Express approval or admiration

Harvey: I am beginning, tentatively at times, to allow my beliefs to be known to others and to share my opinions.

Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise with him mayst rise:

Harvey:  We are guided by God who leads us, and I hope that like Jesus, God will become more consciously apparent to us all so that we might live our lives in accordance with his will.

That, as his death calcined thee to dust,

Death: extinction; destruction

Calcined: reduce, dry up

Harvey: When your spiritual connection to God dies you are reduced to being no more worthwhile that dust.   I take His” to be referring to your own spiritual connection to god’s guidance.

his life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Life:       a corresponding state, existence, or principle of existence conceived of as belonging to the soul: eternal life

Just:       guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness

done or made according to principle; equitable; proper. 

based on right; rightful; lawful

                in keeping with truth or fact;

Harvey: A living connection to God makes you worthwhile and valuable, fairer and a more objective person.


Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part with all thy art.

Struggle: a determined effort under difficulties

Art:     a skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice:

Harvey: Here I believe he refers to the lute both as being a musical instrument but also as a metaphor for his own physical expression.  He recognises that life is a struggle and to establish the part you should be playing takes practise and time.

The cross taught all wood to resound his name, who bore the same.

Jesus’s act of self sacrifice on the cross has meant Christians regard wooden crosses as a symbol of Gods greatness. The cross did in fact bear Jesus who was God’s son and part of him (ie the same).

His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key is best to celebrate this most high day.

Sinews:   strength, power, resilience    (eg a man of great sinew)

                   A tendon    ( George makes a play on words)

Harvey:  I’m not sure what to make of this line.  It is not a sad thing to see someone who has their strength, power, and resilience stretched, but without it breaking.  It is something to admire and respect.  It is not a negative thing to behold but admirable and of great significance that someone is prepared to put that much effort into a task.  Effort is to be celebrated.  A Major key!  We should be thankful and celebrate.






Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song pleasant and long:

Consort: to agree or harmonise

                   to associate; to keep company

Twist:       to entwine (one thing) with another; interlace (something) with something else; interweave

Heart and Lute: (as above) The innermost core and the external expressions we make.

Harvey:   the text seems imply a wish for God, the heart and guider, to continue to negotiate with us to entwine ourselves with him to produce something worthwhile of substance that is lasting.

Or, since all music is but three parts vied and multiplied,

Three Parts: the basis of all music is a three note chord

Vied:     to strive in competition or rivalry with one another

                To entertain or invite

Multiplied: to make many or manifold; increase the number or quantity

Harvey: the text recognises that we are all separate, and often in competition with each other, even when harmonising as best we can such as when we make music together.

O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part, and make up our defects with his sweet art.

Bear:        carry, support, endure

Defect:    shortcoming, imperfection, or lack

Sweet:     pleasant and kind or thoughtful; pleasing in general; delightful;

Harvey:   the writer welcomes God’s connection to us, hoping that through a connection to God that we are able to be closer together perform our activities in such a way that our shortcomings and imperfections are less than they would otherwise be.


Easter Part2

I got me flowers to straw thy way;

I got me boughs off many a tree:

But thou wast up by break of day,

And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.



The Sunne arising in the East,

Though he give light, & th’ East perfume;

If they should offer to contest

With thy arising, they presume.

 Harvey: The most significant physical thing in the world, the giver of all life, that is the Sun, which was given to us by God (he), they are nothing in comparison to the rising of the spirit, and the sense that it brings to the world.


Can there be any day but this,

Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?

We count three hundred, but we misse:

There is but one, and that one ever.