The Poetry of George Herbert

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 11655

What shape is your poetic talent in? Did you know there is a type of poetry where you write the lines in the shape of the subject of your poem? Get in shape to try it as you study poet George Herbert!


Literary Studies

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Would you give up a secular career to become a priest?

George Herbert

Image, via Wikimedia Commons,is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less.

George Herbert, a seventeenth-century British poet, did give up his political career to become a priest.

Herbert was born the seventh child to Richard and Magdalen Newport Herbert in 1593. His father died only three years after George's birth. Magdalen, who was from a wealthier, more noble family than the Herberts, took her ten children and returned to live with her widowed mother. Magdalen was influential in the literary circles of the early seventeenth century, which undoubtedly influenced young George. In fact, Magdalen was the patron of fellow British poet, John Donne, who delivered the eulogy at Magdalen's funeral in 1627.

George became a scholar at a young age and rose to prominence at Cambridge University. However, he eventually renounced secular professions to become an Anglican priest in his late thirties, and was beloved by his parish until his untimely death at age 40 from tuberculosis.

To learn more about George Herbert's life, read George Herbert (1593-1633)  from the Poetry Foundation. As you read, answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper. When you have finished answering the questions, discuss your responses with your parent or teacher:

  • What type of education did George Herbert receive as a child?
  • To whom were Herbert's first poems addressed?
  • How old was Herbert when he published his first poem?
  • What jobs did Herbert hold before he became a priest in 1630?
  • On what topic did most of Herbert's poems focus?
  • When was Herbert's only poetry anthology published?

Did anything about Herbert's life surprise you? Why or why not?

Even though Herbert wrote poetry for much of his life, he did not consider himself a poet. In fact, his only book of poetry was not published until after his death. Herbert's poems mostly reflected the theme of religion.

While Herbert wrote poems in typical verse style, he is most famous today for his "shape" poems. These shape poems had unusual verse shapes that visually reflected the topic of the poem. For example, if Herbert wanted to write a poem about a star, he would have arranged the words to look like the shape of a star. You can see an example of a shape poem in the image below:

shape poem

Image by tedpal, free download via pixaby

What do you think the topic of the shape poem is in the above image? If you said, "A horse," you are right. Move on to the Got It? section to read two of Herbert's most famous shape poems, "The Altar," and "Easter Wings."

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