Praying's the end of preaching. O be dressed;
Stay not for th' other pin: why thou hast lost
A joy for it worth worlds. Thus hell doth jest
Away thy blessings, and extremely flout thee,
Thy clothes being fast, but thy soul loose about thee.
Sometimes, when I read the religious writings of a great poet like Herbert, I imagine that he was an amazingly spiritual man, someone to be admired and imitated. This may be the case. But literariness is not next to godliness, and good theology doesn't naturally result in good living.
An example of this can be seen in the wonderful Biblical poem of Isaiah 38, written by Hezekiah, king of Judah, after his miraculous recovery to health. The poem is honest-- more honest about his personal sins than the prayer which led to his recovery--and seems theologically sound. He even creates a clever chain of literary conceits: life as fabric-- plucked away by wind, woven in the loom, rolled up and cut off for storage. Hezekiah's poem is a beautiful expression of contrition and praise. But poems are not people, for poems do not change. While writing, Hezekiah may have been sincere about the miracle of his recovery and the blessing of God's forgiveness. But when emissaries from Babylon come to congratulate him on his recovery, he shows them the family jewels rather than shares his faith in God.
Personal writing sometimes comes from a desire to preserve a lingering moment or emotion. In such cases, this contrast between our malleable life and the indellible pen is what draws us to the written word. Herbert mentions this frustration in the first stanza of The Temper:
Gladly engrave thy love in steel,
If what my soul doth feel sometimes,
My soul might ever feel!
Somehow, despite the way the variability of life can drive us to write and speak, we can think that a person's writings describe them. It's also possible, like Hezekiah, to think this of ourselves-- to think that writing brings closure, that a poem of thanks is an adequate substitute for thankfulness. Good writing and public speaking are the highest virtues if reputation is the essence of morality, but if human life or divine approval are the measure, our ideas are no more important than our everyday actions.
Thus, writing is dangerous for those who believe themselves too much, who also fail to heed their own advice.