The writer of some of the most famous devotional poems in the English language, 'Love bade me welcome . . .' and 'Teach me my God and King . . .', Herbert's influence on British culture is profound and enduring, from A-level set text to the work of contemporary writers such as Vikram Seth, who now lives in the Old Rectory where Herbert spent the final three years of his short life, as a country pastor in rural Wiltshire.
All events are being held locally to reflect the importance of Herbert's time as the Rector of the Parish of Fugglestone-cum-Bemerton between 1630 and 1633 as well as his family connections to Wilton House, owned by the Pembroke family since 1541. The first Earl of Pembroke, William Herbert, was George's distant cousin. The poet was a frequent visitor to Wilton House and is said to have acted as chaplain to Philip Herbert (the 4th Earl) and his wife Lady Anne Clifford.
"Herbert’s poetry is valued for its clarity, its wit, its honesty and depth, and for his sheer skill as a wordsmith," said Canon Judy Rees, festival chair. "It continues to touch and speak to our lives in the 21st century with remarkable power and relevance."
The former archbishop of Canterbury's Dr Rowan Williams will feature in the festival. His contributions include giving a talk, Why Herbert Matters, at the Salisbury Playhouse (£7) on Thursday July 10th, leading a poetry discussion group (free) as well as an event for Year 12 students, funded by the festival.
“George Herbert’s poetry is a resourceful vehicle for thinking (and feeling) through some of the most difficult areas of human experience – frustration, blankness of emotion, resentment, corrosive self-doubt," said Dr Williams, master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. "He presents an extraordinarily rich picture of the diverse tangles of human doubt and human dignity.”
The George Herbert in Bemerton Group has led the festival planning along with representatives from lay and church organisations in and around Salisbury.
The 'One Harmonie' concert on Saturday July 12th will be held in the sumptuous Double Cube room, which houses Pembroke family portraits, some painted by Van Dyck. Performed by The Farrant Singers, Salisbury's oldest chamber choir, the concert of words and music will illustrate how Herbert has been the source of inspiration for composers and writers.
There is a steady stream of international visitors to Bemerton, and this festival will attract devotees of Herbert from all over the world. Contributors from North America will join local distinguished speakers such as Sir Andrew Motion, former UK Poet Laureate and Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales.
The programme is varied and includes presentations, talks, poetry readings, discussion groups, musical events, and local walks, all designed to enrich understanding and enjoyment of Herbert's life and works.
To make the festival as accessible as possible, many events are free and some are aimed especially at young people. In addition to the senior school event with Dr Williams, there will be a junior school competition based on Herbert's poem, 'The Flower.'