Tim Keller on George Herbert's "Love (III)"

Seventeenth-century Christian poet George Herbert wrote three poems about love, but the most famous was the last, entitled, simply, “Love (III).”
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.“
A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

Love welcomes him in, but because of the poet’s sense of guilt and sin, he “grows slack” and shrinks back just inside the doorway. Love notices everything, however. He sees the hesitation and approaches with sweet words, like an innkeeper of old asking, “What d’ye lack?” The guest answers that he does indeed lack something important—the very worthiness to be loved. His host replies, with realism but confidence, that he the very worthiness to be loved. His host replies, with realism but confidence, that he intends to bring that worthiness about. He doesn’t love the guest because he is lovely but to make him lovely.

Unconvinced, the guest answers back that he can’t even look upon Love.

The mysterious figure reveals then who he is. “I’m the One who made your eyes, you know, and I made them to look upon me.” The guest now knows who Love is, because he calls him Lord, but he is still without hope.

“Just let this wretch depart in shame.”

“But don’t you know, I bore your blame?”

For this, even the guest’s deepest fears and doubts have no answer. And so the Lord lovingly but firmly tells him to sit down. And now the Lord of the universe, who humbly washed his disciples’ feet, serves the loved, unworthy man at the table.

“You must taste my meat.”

“So I did sit—and eat.”

Keller, Tim & Kathy. The Meaning of Marriage. NY: Dulton, 2011. 159-60
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