I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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I made a posy, while the day ran by

Florence Impens
Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert by John Drury, Allen Lane, 396 pp, £25.00, ISBN: 978-1846142482 “Even when timeless in quality, poetry owes a good deal of that quality to its particular time and place,” writes John Drury in this new book. Poetry, in other words, cannot be abstracted from the context of composition. On the contrary, it needs to be replaced in a historical perspective to be fully understood. In this rather short and inconspicuous sentence, meant as a fleeting transition in the introduction, Drury casually takes position in a long-running critical debate, one side of which went as far as to proclaim the death of the author at the end of the 1960s. There is no such challenge to the traditional reading of a poet’s work in Music at Midnight: the Poetry and Life of George Herbert, and as is evident in the title, Drury focuses on both Herbert the man and the poet together. Over nearly four hundred pages, he tells us the story of the seventeenth century English poet, from birth up to death, and does so in great detail. All the while, the life of George Herbert is used as a backdrop to read his poetry, and to gain better understanding of the relationship between the texts – with which many readers will be familiar – and the circumstances in which they were written. In many respects a conventional book in its methods and approaches, Music at Midnight is an enlightening example of the ways in which literary history can enrich our reading of canonical writers, and Drury certainly succeeds in bringing a poet back to life for the twenty-first century reader. The story begins in 1593, with Herbert’s birth to an aristocratic family in Montgomery, on the border between England and Wales. The setting quickly changes, however, to Charing Cross in London, where the family settled after the death of his father. There the young George grew up surrounded by intellectuals and artists who would have a profound influence on his work, not least John Donne, a regular visitor to his mother’s salon, and a lifelong friend of hers. At Westminster School, he would also briefly meet Lancelot Andrewes, the famous linguist and one of the translators of the King James Bible. In 1609, elected to Trinity College at the age of sixteen, Herbert moved to Cambridge, where he would remain for the next…

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