ABSTRACT

In search of a material marker to illustrate the paradoxical presence of his God as both giver and recipient of praise and devotion, George Herbert turns, in "Providence," to the pen he holds in his hand: "[S]hall I write," he asks his divine auditor, "/ And not of thee, through whom my fingers bend / To hold my quill? shall they not do thee right?" (2-4).1 His fingers gripping the writing implement through the power of God himself, Herbert sees that his question turns back on itself: How could he not write for God, since it is through him that he writesthrough him that he does "thee right"—in the first place? The second stanza of "Providence" restates and complicates the question of writing,

and with it the notion of human agency put forth in The Temple. Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations (1633):

Of all the creatures both in sea and land Onely to Man thou hast made known thy wayes, And put the penne alone into his hand, And made him Secretarie of thy praise. (5-8)

As "Secretarie of thy praise," Herbert writes not only for another, but about another at that other's request. The figure of the secretary calls into question how we are to understand the authorship of written texts and, with Herbert's theological concerns in mind, the exercise of human will.