The Family

What doth this noise of thoughts within my heart,
          As if they had a part?
What do these loud complaints and puling fears,
     As if there were no rule or ears?

But, Lord, the house and family are thine,
          Though some of them repine.
Turn out these wranglers, which defile thy seat:
     For where thou dwellest all is neat.

First Peace and Silence all disputes control,
          Then Order plays the soul;
And giving all things their set forms and hours,
     Makes of wild woods sweet walks and bowers.

Humble Obedience near the door doth stand,
          Expecting a command:
Than whom in waiting nothing seems more slow,
     Nothing more quick when she doth go.

Joys oft are there, and griefs as oft as joys:
          But griefs without a noise:
Yet speak they louder than distemper’d fears.
     What is so shrill as silent tears?

This is thy house, with these it doth abound:
          And where these are not found,
Perhaps thou com’st sometimes, and for a day;
     But not to make a constant stay.

George Herbert. 1633.

Here, Herbert fascinatingly describes his inner life, contrasting sound (bad) and silence (good), of his inhabitants. Shades of hesychasm! Order and stillness permit the divine presence, while disorder and motion drive it away. It really is a striking connection. I suspect the influence of the 14th century Middle English work, The Cloud of Unknowing (“Goostly freende in God….”), which is certainly in the Dionysian orbit. I’ll need to look more into this. I find it unlikely that a direct connection between Herbert and Cloud… occurred, as it apparently wasn’t published until the late nineteenth century. Even more difficult to believe, however, that after the religious troubles of the mid- to late-sixteenth century in England, any sort of popular living tradition of hesychasm/mysticism had managed to survive. It’s puzzling, but of interest.

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