“Woman” by William Herbert

by Ann Neilson

Mr. Herbert was commonly known to the public as the Honourable and Very Reverend William Herbert, as well as being the son of Henry Herbert, the 1st Earl of Carnarvon. He was a botanist, classical scholar, and ornithologist. To us on this blog (i.e. Ann) he is most well-known for being the father of sportswriter Henry William Herbert.

I will expand upon Mr. Herbert’s biography at a later date; however, please accept my brief snippet as an introductory piece, as I will be introducing several of his poems on my blog.

Below, you will find a charming ode to Woman, which, despite having a contradicting tone between the first and last sections of the piece, remains to be a poem of merit in its own right.

Woman
William Herbert

FAIREST and loveliest of created things,
By our great Author in the image form’d
Of his celestial glory, and design’d
To be man’s solace! Undefiled by sin
How much dost thou exceed all earthly shapes
Of beautiful, to charm the wistful eye,
Bland to the touch, or precious in the use!
His treasure of delight, while the fresh prime
Adorns his forehead with the joy of youth,
His comfort in the winter of the soul!
Chaste woman! thou art e’en a brighter gem
To him, who wears thee, than e’er shone display’d
Upon the monarch’s diadem ; a charm
More sweet to lull all sorrow, than the tint
Of spring’s young verdure in the dewy morn,
Or music’s mellow tones, which floating come
Over the water like a fairy dream!
Thou hangest, as a wreath upon his neck,
More fragrant than the rose, in thy pure garb
Of blushing gentleness. Thou art a joy
More sprightly than the lark in vernal suns
Pouring his throat to heaven, or forest call
By blithesome Dryads blown ; a faithful stay
In all the world’s mischances ; a helpmeet
For man in sickness, and decay, and death.
Thou art more precious than an only child
In weary age begotten, a clear spring
Amid the desert, an unhoped-for land
To baffled mariners, or dawn of day
To who has press’d all night a fever’d couch.
Oh, wherefore, best desired and most beloved
Of all heaven’s works, oh, wherefore wert thou made
To be our curse as well as blessing! lured
From thy first shape of innocence to become
A thing abased by guilt, and more deform’d
As thing original glory was more bright!