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Music at Midnight

The Life and Poetry of George Herbert

Though he never published any of his English poems during his lifetime, George Herbert (1593–1633) is recognized as possibly the greatest religious poet in the language. Few English poets of his age still inspire such intense devotion today. In this richly perceptive biography, John Drury for the first time integrates Herbert’s poems fully into his life, enriching our understanding of both the poet’s mind and his work.
As Drury writes in his preface, Herbert lived “a quiet life with a crisis in the middle of it.” Drury follows Herbert from his academic success as a young man, seemingly destined for a career at court, through his abandonment of those hopes, his devotion to the restoration of a church in Huntingdonshire, and his final years as a country parson. Because Herbert’s work was only published posthumously, it has always been difficult to know when or in what context Herbert wrote his poems. But Drury skillfully places readings of the poems into his narrative at biographically credible moments, allowing us to appreciate not only Herbert’s frame of mind while writing, but also the society that produced it. A sensitive critic of Herbert’s poems as well as a theologian, Drury does full justice to the spiritual dimension of Herbert’s work. In addition, he reveals the occasions of sorrow, happiness, regret, and hope that Herbert captured in his poetry and that led T. S. Eliot to write, “What we can confidently believe is that every poem . . . is true to the poet’s experience.”
Painting a picture of a man torn between worldly ambition and spiritual life, Music at Midnight is an eloquent biography that breathes new life into some of the greatest English poems ever written.

416 pages | 24 color plates, 28 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Biography and Letters

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature

Religion: Christianity


“Readers who are tempted into the book by its focus on the life will finish with something far richer than more conventional biographies offer. . . . It is hard to imagine a better book for anyone, general reader or seventeenth-century aficionado or teacher or student, newly embarking on Herbert.”


“Powerfully absorbing.”

Financial Times

“Drury manages wonderfully in bringing text and context profitably together. His book is especially valuable, and enjoyable, in its deft and insightful expositions of Herbert’s formal and stylistic brilliance.”

Times Higher Education

“Being an English country minister has inspired many writers, none of them more lapidary, precise, witty and surprising than George Herbert, the frail intellectual who preached to the parish of Bemerton from 1630 to 1633. An account of an Anglican priest and his poetry that will probably never be bettered.”

Economist Book of the Year

"A welcome, rich, and illuminating biography."

Shelf Awareness

"Drury’s book is a careful blend of life, poetry, history, and textual analysis. For the first time, Herbert’s poems are embedded in his life. . . . Drury excels at demonstrating that Herbert’s poetry manages to be beguilingly simple and strikingly complex. . . . Drury’s scholarly and immensely readable biography . . . presents the most fully realized Herbert to date."

New Criterion

"Every Christian should be familiar with the poems of George Herbert. . . .The book’s strength lies in Drury’s ability to explain Herbert’s theology and draw out the Christian meaning in the poems. . . . The book is academic enough for scholars, but easily accessible to the lay reader with a bit of patience."


“Offers a deeply sympathetic, sensitive introduction to Herbert.”

Studies in English Literature 1500–1900

“Drury is a scholar of the old-fashioned kind, making extensive use of original sources. He is also masterful in recreating historical context.... He brilliantly analyses dozens of Herbert poems, without boring the novice with too much technical jargon, and yet with enough finesse to keep the diligent student interested.”

Gregory E. Reynolds | Ordained Servant Online

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Preface and Acknowledgements

Introduction: Herbert’s World

Part One

1.      Childhood

2.      Westminster

3.      A Young Man at Cambridge

4.      1618

5.      Deputy to Orator

6.      Francis Bacon

Interlude: The Williams Manuscript

Part Two

7.      Lost in a Humble Way

8.      Bemerton: Being a Country Person

9.      Herbert’s Days and Years

Part Three

10.  Heirs and Imitators

11.  Herbert’s Readers

12.  The Bread of Faithful Speech

13.  Music at the Close


Select Bibliography

Index of Works

General Index

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