Excerpts from Lucus: George Herbert. Sarah Kunjummen, translator.

Translator’s note: These poems are translations from the 17th century poet George Herbert’s Latin poem sequence, Lucus, or Grove. While Herbert, an Anglican priest, is primarily famous for his English works, his Latin epigrams are particularly sharp distillations of his style, marked by strong meter, biblical allusion, and paradox. The last two epigrams in this translation are especially dependent on allusion: “On Stephen Stoned,” refers to the story of the first martyr, Stephen, who sees into heaven just previous to his death by stoning. “Martha: Maria” invokes the story, told in Luke 10, of Jesus’ visit to the home of sisters Martha and Mary. In the gospel narrative, Martha is very concerned about the details of her housekeeping, while Mary ignores those tasks and listens as Jesus teaches.

I. Human, Statue

Man bears God’s image, every child learns it,
Yet surely I’m formed after a rockier model.
My own sin hardens me. A coral
Torn up from its proper depth grows;
Each Adam’s just the same, he is bereft
Of all the gifts that were his former birthright.
Maker of all things, often you have shown
That, under your hands, the stubbornest marble gives:

Let not my heart be harder than a stone.

II. Homeland

As a thin jet of fire presses toward heaven,
And sends up envoy flamelets, while itself
Remains below,

So, with repeated force, sighs bear the mind
Upward, a sharpened spear, and my prayers
Like sparks ascend.

The soul with a spur drives on
The flesh, and, if persistent, to God’s seat
Will yet break through.


III. On Stephen Stone

A marvel now— who strikes flint draws fire,
But Stephen, out of stones, drew forth heaven.

XV. Martha : Maria

“Christ is here: run through the house with your brooms
Shake out the draperies and let the hearth shine with fire
Let everything be scrubbed, I want all the furniture gleaming,
Forget the candles, make the whole house a lamp! What idlers! Look, there’s a grain of dust here!”
“Perhaps in your heart, sister: the rest is clean.”

Translated from the Latin poetic sequence, Lucus.

About the translator: Sarah Kunjummen graduated from the University of Michigan spring 2012, majoring in classical languages and English literature. This fall, she begins her studies in the University of Chicago’s English PhD program.

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