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Today's quote of the week comes from contemporary Southern writer Margaret Renkl, with an assist from Welsh-born writer George Herbert, who's been dead nearly four centuries.

George Herbert was born in 1593 in Wales, one of 10 children in an influential Montgomeryshire family. His grandfather, a powerful politician and local chieftain, died within a month of his birth -- and his father, a county sheriff and member of Parliament, passed away before he was 4. Although the boy would have male role models (including his oldest brother, Edward, and his godfather, John Donne), the strongest influence was his mother, Magdalen. She was an exceedingly capable matriarch who moved her family from Wales to her ancestral home in Shropshire, then to Oxford, and ultimately to a house at Charing Cross in London.

Like many modern parents, she gravitated to where her children could get a first-class education. George entered Westminster school around 1604 and Trinity College in Cambridge in 1609. Although his intention was to become a priest, his skill at public speaking and the pull of his father's legacy sidetracked him for a time. He served briefly in Parliament before finding a sinecure as a rector in a rural church where he was much beloved. Herbert died before he turned 40.

So how does an American newspaper opinion writer "who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South" know about him? The answer, in general, is the same way any person of letters does: George Herbert left behind volumes of poetry described as "passionate, searching, and elegant." The more specific answer is that when Margaret Renkl turned 60, a friend emailed her a passage from a George Herbert poem.

I'll pick up the thread in her recent New York Times column in her own words: "The joking birthday cards that start coming at 40 were funny 20 years ago because they were so far from reality. Now they're funny because they're so true."

One of them, she related, featured a photograph of plump women in swimsuits with the caption: "At your age, swimming can be dangerous. Lifeguards don't try as hard."

She said she laughed so hard her belly jiggled, "a feature of being 60 that troubles me only a little." Then she related something personal and poignant. "This is just who I am now, a person who looks exactly like her late mother, despite far more exercise and a far healthier diet. Besides, I loved my mother, and I love seeing her again in every store window I pass."

The friend who sent the George Herbert poem will also turn 60 this year, Renkl told her readers. The poem is titled "The Flower," and the passage was this one:

Grief melts awayLike snow in May,As if there were no such cold thing.Who would have thought my shriveled heartCould have recovered greenness?

"Who would have thought, indeed?" Renkl wrote. "But given enough time, we do go on, somehow. Like the stems and branches of springtime, our shriveled hearts can recover greenness, too. ‘And now in age I bud again,' Herbert wrote, and so it is with us."

And that's our quote of the week.

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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