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Poems of George Herbert

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George Herbert (1593-1633) is widely recognized as one of the greatest English metaphysical poets. He was a clergyman from Wales and he has got his higher education at Cambridge. His distinct religious poems were notable for its pure and effective choice of words. His style was very clear and direct with quietness of tone on his verses as well as precise use of language and conceits. His works were greatly influenced by the works of John Donne who was a Metaphysical poet like himself. Their poems often relate on their relationship to God using conceits mixed in a moderately simple and natural conversational tone. His texts were meticulously interpreted with annotations rich in historical, literary, canonical information and contemporary critical contexts which elucidate from the poems as you try to absorb the main thoughts of his poems. Some of his poems are interpreted below in layman’s term for other readers to understand the flow of his poems.

Interpretation of “Church Monuments.” (Anatomy)

In the poem called “Church Monuments,” we will be able to see the sermonizing tendency of the poet who is at work again. As he prays as indicated in the phrase “soul repairs to her devotion”, the poet imagines himself as his flesh is placed in the church where he is surrounded by gravestones and memorials. Through all of these, George Herbert learns the lessons of his own mortality as well as the madness of keeping the mortals in separate tombs. The most significant lesson which one can learn from this poem is definitely amplified in the magnificent final stanza in which man’s mortality is not the only thing that will pass away but also the reality that time will also pass away after a while.

The phrase “the dust on the monuments and the dust they cover” implies to the poet`s image of the flesh as a sort of hourglass filled with dust which will determine the span of man’s life. This is the image that suggests the brevity of life. This has to be inculcated in the mind especially during the time when the body is aroused by unruly passions.

At this time, George Herbert tells his “flesh” that it should know that the flesh is only but glass that holds the dust and in turn measures all the time. It will also be crumbled into dust eventually. Such familiar message is depicted in an arresting image along with progressively mounting force as the syntax compels the continuation of the lines. The intonation of the lines will reinforce the measuring of the lives. The interment of the flesh which is seen in the opening lines to be subordinated to the devotions of the soul will turn out to be the starting point for the process of the devotions.

Interpretation of the poem “The Collar.” (Anatomy)

In “The Collar”, you will probably see the best treatment of the subject regarding submission to the Divine will. This is certainly one of the most celebrated lyrics of the poet. For another time, the form of the poem closely reflects the argument. The poem begins with an account of an infuriated outburst of rebellion by the poet which states “I struck the board, and cry’d, No more. I will abroad.”

What follows next is the utterance of spleen such as the assertion of freedom and the complaint of grievances against the life of devotion in which the poet wants to break. This will result in a boastful challenge to the presumed morbid seriousness and the timidity of life which the poet renounces. As the poet speaks incoherently with fierceness and wildness at each word, he hears the voice of God calling him and in an instant he knows his place and acknowledges the authority of God.

The poem has an iambic meter, yet, the lines are of different length and there are no divisions into stanzas. The obvious randomness of the form will serve two purposes. One of which is the exaggeration of the conversational tone and the other is the implication with regards to the indiscipline of the rebellious spirit which can be both the cause and the consequence of the rebellion. On the other hand, the argument is heated and passionate but is unconvincing. As the poem goes on, the reader will have the sense that reasoning was not premeditated and pondered but instead, was impulsive and spoken in heat. It appeared to be a boastful posturing even prior to the conclusion of the poem.

The technical feature which most personifies the self-assertion is the redundant question in which the answer is supposed to be self-evident and supportive of the greater argument in which it will appear. As the poet is aware of where his poem will end, he probably have used the rhetorical question ironically with a sense of ridiculousness most especially when it was used with predictable frequency of about eight times in not more than eight short lines.

Interpretation of the poem “Man.” (Astronomy)

This poem makes use of the traditional perspectives of Christianity when examining the relationship between humankind, the natural world and God who made the first two.

What is humankind? This subject matter is very common to a lot of writers and thinkers. The natural thinking of the poet draws on the Bible. For instance, in Psalms, it asserts that humankind was created to be a little lower than the angels and jurisdiction over the earth was provided. This in turn will reflect the creation account found in the book of Genesis. Some passages from Psalms and Genesis must be read first before you study this poem in depth.

Man is partly a meditation and partly a celebration of human beings. The poet makes use of central conceit in order to demonstrate that every human being may be seen as a microcosm of the wider world along with the same important features.

The second set of four stanzas provides a description of how the world was created for the human beings. This will somehow challenge the modern scientific thinking which sees the forces of nature to act impersonally and independently. George Herbert sees the world as being made to serve humankind. The imagination of the poet appears to be extremely domestic. The final stanza helps the readers to see why the collection of poetry by George Herbert was called “The Temple.”

The poet makes use of the more secular metaphor of Palace which is associated with the stately habitation found in the first stanza of the poem. The right attitude would be to invite God back into what he has made. Since God is already dwelling within the human beings, they have to live with Him in heaven after death. However for now, both the natural world and human beings should serve each other and also Him.

Interpretation of the poem “Prayer.” (Astronomy)

This poem is an exceptional celebratory sonnet consisting of a series of images for prayer which makes use of a technique that will not be out of date in the modernist poetry. Every image may be pondered as a point of meditation for Christianity. However equally, the complete variety and the energy released by the imagery will be enjoyed for its own sake.

Of course, prayer is a common activity for all kinds of religions. In some, this is prescribed for set time or days and there is also some sort of regular pattern in some church liturgy as well. Nevertheless, there is another type of personal and more spontaneous prayer which is encouraged in Christian devotion. The spontaneity effect of the poem will suggest that anyone will get used to the second prayer as much as to the first one.

By its very nature, prayers will transcend all relationships and so the poet makes use of a series of metaphors with one on top of the other in an effort to invoke something which is believed to be beyond human understanding. Several of the meanings of the specific images may have to be guessed at like “the milky way or the exotic land of spices and birds of Paradise”. What makes them actually work would be their suggestive quality but not their exact content. Whatever it is, it would be associated with spaces or the Milky Way will be applied to prayers. It will be up to the reader to make the association.

However, there are other images which have more precise connotation. For instance the phrase “God’s breath” in line two of the poem refers to the verse in Genesis wherein God breathes life into Adam. Such breath today comes back to God as a form of prayer. Another would be the phrase “Christ-side-piercing spear” refers to the spear that is plunged into the side of Christ during his crucifixion.

There are also several images which need some time to be worked out such as the reversed thunder. This indicates that thunder literally descends from the heaven to earth. If you reverse this, prayers will ascend powerfully as zapping heaven. It is important for the reader to believe that prayer works just like the poet. On the other hand, manna was used as sustenance being sent from heaven and now this goes back to the heaven. This kind of reverse process is the main idea to the cosmic imagination of George Herbert.

Analysis of “Easter Wings.” (Biology)

The poem “Easter Wings” was written in a style of poetry pattern known to be the Carmen figuration. This is also known as shaped verses in which both words and lines are arranged on a page in order to create a visual image or illustration of the subject of the poem. Even if the visual image which design illustrated by the creativity of the author is significant, still it is the metrical form utilized by the poet that will create the supporting foundation for the poem.

Through the use of shaped verse, the poet was able to create a visual image of wings. These wings which can either be of angels or of birds provide a thematic view of the human state. In addition, as the poet progresses from the first stanza to the second, the nature of man will progress from God’s creation as well as the gifts responsible for the fall of man and the needed acceptance of Christ. As closing, the poet referred wings and the repair as the assistance of God so that he will be able to fly again in order to progress spiritually from his purposeful suffering.

With regards to the rhyme scheme, George Herbert uses ababacdcdc in the two stanzas to give the poem a sense of order in the structure. With every stanza representing a different relational aspect between God and man, in terms of the fall of man and redemption of man through Christ, the rhyme scheme advocates that even with man’s failure, God is still able to keep balance and order within the universe.

While writing his form of verse in the poem, Herbert compels nearly every line to stand by its own with the use of hard punctuation placement at the end of practically every line. Furthermore, he pushes the aspect that every line is vital by capitalizing the first letter of every line. But the line design for the longer lines both at the start and the end of every stanza when compared to the middle lines will do more than simply make a visual image. The middle four lines of every stanza are minimized to four syllables on lines four and seven. There are only two syllables on line five and six when compared to ten syllables in every line which will form the cap and base of every stanza. Furthermore, in every stanza, it is essential to note that every line is reduced to two syllables until there will only be two syllable remaining in lines five and six. At that time every line is expanded by two syllables in order to provide a syllabic patter for every line of 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 for every stanza.

Due to the development of a meter in the poem, the poet was able to adjust not just the number of accentual placements in every line, but the number of feet as well to give the poem the flow which feels to make the work contracting and expanding. This will be identical to the opening and closing of wings being represented in the visual image generated by the layout of lines. This will also indicate the possible contracting and expanding of a man’s heart in which God lives.

The poet makes use of alliteration in order to observe the location of man in the process of redemption in closing every stanza. This is particularly existent in stanza one as the poet emphasized the word “fall” and mentioned indirectly that “fall” is important to “further the flight in me”. Also, in stanza two the poet inferred that by repairing the wings and grafting those to God’s will allow man to have closer communion with the Lord.

Interpretation of the poem “Virtue.” (Biology)

Support for the poem may be found in the connotation of the word “die” which would be often mentioned indirectly to a sexual climax or an orgasm in the figurative language. The metaphor of the poem captures the animalistic tendencies which happen to be inherent among human beings. Furthermore, it also captures the raw passion which will usually accompany an orgasm which is believed to an unnecessary supplement to the reproductive act of sexual intercourse. If a person gives in to these animalistic tendencies, this will only insinuate impurity and scandal to the virtue of the person.

If this is seen in this perspective, the sweet and virtuous soul who never gives will primarily live. This will not only reflect a command from a compassionate speaker but will also indicate the result of not being able to experience sexual climax. Along with the mention of the bridal of the earth and sky in the first stanza, the mention of the bride during her last night of chastity will prepare the reader for this kind of interpretation. In the fourth stanza, the word soul is compared to season’s timber which literally means “dried up wood” even if it becomes better with age. This is at the very least an unappealing way to describe a virtuous soul. In addition, this will give support to the theory that the virtuous soul had never had an experience with physical pleasures. The speaker reminds of the subject of the vices in the world that he hopes to protect her. He also wants to preserve the purity and innocence of the subject which is obviously a paternal feature. Nonetheless, any one will not escape mortality and despite the fact that his/her hope is quite optimistic, an individual will eventually succumb to death regardless of whether it is figurative or literal.

Interpretation of the poem “The Flower.” (Chemistry)

This poem is recognized by a lot of critics to be the finest lyric of George Herbert. This is a joyful and high-spirited life that is expanded with naturalness and elegance which appears to be unforced. The clarity of the poem could be impressive in the work of a modern writer particularly when it comes to the historical context.

In “The Flower” George Herbert celebrates the delight which accompanies the spiritual renewal which follows the times of trials. Even if he has experienced this a lot of times, every time this takes place, such joy is as boundless as ever. In the second line of the poem, he compares this to the regeneration of flowers in spring and subsequently, regards himself as if he was one of these flowers. The modern horticulture views the subject of the poem as a flowering plant which is of the hardy perennial kind. Clearly, this simile makes the reader understand that everything that is written regarding the flower will be understood as the picture of the life of man in relation to God.

However, we can also enjoy the idea of the flower expressing its feelings with regard to killing frosts and the “sweet…clean…returns”. This indicates that the flower loves the return of spring but it is yet fearful of the late frost and it is sure that winter will come again after a while and longs for spring in which no flower will wither. The selfishness and sinfulness of the flower are watered and tried to seize heaven with its own growth. Such kind of arrogance is usually punished by the anger of God which could be severe than any frost. Nonetheless, the severity of God is only remedial and not malicious. Once the lesson is learned, the flower is permitted to put out new growth. By nature, this is its proper function in God’s eyes and delight. The joy of man can be found in doing the proper and appointed duty regardless of how high or humble he has received from God.

In the conclusion of the poem, it was presented that the purpose of God is to show us that every one of us are flowers that glide and we should therefore acknowledge our limitations and inconsequentiality. Ironically, if we are able to see this, the reward will be great. It is actually those who want more than this who will forfeit their paradise by their arrogance or eminence.

Interpretation of the poem “Life.” (Chemistry)

You can read this poem “Virtue” which is also another poem written by George Herbert. Both are based on the same theme of transience and make use of nature imagery. In the attitude to dying, this poem can also be compared to his death.

But unlike “Virtue” the poet makes the title obvious at once. The posy appears to be an emblem of his life. Flowers and the day are images of humanity and of shortness of life. This happens to be a conventional image which goes back to the Old Testament period. The prophet Isaiah talks about the grass withering and the flower falling, which is a verse that is quoted extensively in some areas of the Bible.

Nonetheless, a posy is a particular sort of bunch of flowers which are usually chosen for their smell. During a period where hygiene is not important, bathing was rare and the smell of disease was usual, posies were valued for their medicinal aroma or sweet savor. This is another term used for biblical image. Likewise, sugaring is a similar term of disguise which is applied to taste.

The application of emblem to the life of the poet is obvious all through the three stanzas of the poem. In stanza one, there is brevity, in stanza two as a guard against the taste and smell of death and in stanza three, the concept that even after death, there is still usefulness. Flowers can be dried and be utilized for medicinal purposes. What do you think this emblem would mean to the poet? Well, perhaps the memory of a good life or possibly even his poems. These two smart guesses can be true in retrospect. In reality, the poet can also be a sweet savor to himself as well as to others.

This series of thoughts will be a consolation to the poet and this is exactly the kind of poem – a consolation in the face of death. It will lead a person to just simply accept the shortness of life. Paradoxically, the poem itself is short but very effective and this is the precise point of George Herbert.

Interpretation of the poem “The Altar.” (New Machines)

This kind of poem falls under the category of shape poems as its shape will echo the meaning of the verse. In “The Altar” it appears to be an internal visible structure which will complement the implied meaning found externally. If we isolate the capitalized words from the poem, we will be able to see poetic them in an outline form such as this:

It is believed that the poems of George Herbert are actually records of his private life in devotion. Hence, the altar metaphor must provide an insight to his personal relationship with God. Perhaps, the most basic biblical definition of an altar is a structure for offering a sacrifice to worship and serve God. To nurture a structure would be to raise it up on end and this is far more difficult when it is actually broken. Brokenness appears to be an expression of the heart that is felt with a sense of inadequacy.

In line two of the poem, readers will learn that the metaphorical altar is the heart of the poet. Oftentimes, the servant is called upon to render service to his Lord regardless of his personal pain so that he can attend to the task with tears. However, there is a reason to believe that the servant will recognize the need to bind together his brokenness with the use of tears as the binding cement. Typically, the tears are the binding elements when it comes to personal relationships. For instance, a funeral is the time to mourn the loss of someone special, yet it is also the time to strengthen the lives of people who care enough to weep with the family members of the dead.

The heart is something that is created by God and is furnished with desires, passions and natural inclinations. It is only the hand of God which can frame a man. In contrast to the idea of the heart is the word “workman” in which this mixed with the idea of man’s work. The altar of the poet has not been structured by the work of man’s tools. Several of the ideas of George Herbert regarding the nature of the altar appear to be a reference to as well as interpretation of some Old Testament ideas. Among the first incidents which are associated with an altar was the killing of Abel by his brother Cain. One of the direct descendants of Cain was named Tubal-Cain who made counterfeited tools from bronze and iron. The stigma that is associated with the faithless offering of Cain was passed on to his descendants who metaphorically continued righteous work for himself through their tools. Thus, when God later on gave a commandment about the making of altars, he required to make it obvious that true worship was purely based on faith and not the works of man.

The stone which was described by the poet in his poem was a homely metaphor which is familiar to everyone during his time. A stone can be large or small, light or heavy and hot or cold. Whatever it is, it is still considered to be dead. This knowledge can also be true for the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. According to the biblical point of view, following The Fall, the spiritual heart of man became dead just like the stone. Originally, the heart was conceived to be alive to God’s Will but because of Adam’s sin, it died. There seems to be a paradox that through the broken and dead stone which the poet had sought to create an altar intended for worship. Moreover, it is with the heart that God will require true worship. Hence, the heart that is desired by God will not be natural to man but the one which is cut by the hand of God. This irony was resolved by God as stated in the scriptures.

In the lines 9 through 16 of the poem, a change of tone can be felt and this is referred to as trusting hope. This change is because of his confidence that God will be able to change his heart. The poet came to the realization that the parts of his once hard heart may still be the same, but are already directed to a new end. In other words, the natural parts of the heart have finally met his unified frame to the praise God’s name. Probably, the frame metaphor must be understood as a description of his personal makeup.

George Herbert extended his stone metaphor to the location where he has fulfilled the symbolic words of Christ about the stones. It will be safe to say that we may have the reference to the words of Christ during his triumphant entry to Jerusalem. Through his devotion, the poet faithfully expects that God will sanctify the altar of his heart. Furthermore, God will also set apart a life in submission to Him as if it was His own. Indeed, the altar metaphor provided an insight to the personal relationship of George Herbert to God.

Interpretation of the poem “Virtue.” (New Geographical Locations)

The possession of virtue will not determine the mortality of a person. While it may be a quality which a lot of people respect and try to uphold, virtue will not be able to grant promises of life. However, if death is seen figuratively, virtue may outlive the world of coal, sweet days and roses, and spring in which all of them will die.

The four quatrains which form this lyrical poem will divide the thoughts of the speaker regarding mortality with the fourth tetra-syllabic iambic dimeter line in every stanza to determine the verdict of the stanza’s subject. Every stanza starts with a stressed syllable and continues with an iambic tetrameter pattern that is predominant. The rhyme schemes derived from the first three stanzas will remain consistent with the patter abab, cbcb and dbdb. But there is a marked variation in the fourth stanza in which the rhyme scheme will deviate to the efef pattern. It is the b rhyme which echoes the word die and is considered to be a sonically strong symbol all throughout the poem. This provides unity to the first three stanzas. On the other hand, the f rhyme in the fourth stanza provides the introduction to the words gives and lives which will break away from that rhythm.

The pivotal changing point in the poem occurs in the last stanza with the concept of living. While the speaker affirms that day, rose and spring that will encompass the sweet days and roses will all eventually die, the soul with virtue will improve with age and must live even in a blackened world just like a piece of coal.

 Repetition is also apparent in the poem. This will provide the reader with the room to question the monologue of the speaker. The word sweet is mentioned six times in the poem and requires further assessment. The repetition can set a tone of determination and insistence on the part of the speaker as he tries to convince the subject to maintain her sweetness if she wishes to live. It can be concluded from the title of the poem that the virtue of the subject needs to be maintained by remaining chaste, pure and innocent and by all means, give into the devious distractions which the world has to offer.

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