(Poem #391) The Pulley
When God at first made man, Having a glass of blesings standing by; Let us (said he) pour on him all we can: Let the world's riches, which dispersed lie, Contract into a span. So strength first made a way; The beauty flow'd, then wisdom, honour, pleasure: When almost all was out, God made a stay, Perceiving that alone of all his treasure Rest in the bottom lay. For if I should (said he) Bestow this jewel also on my creature, He would adore my gifts instead of me, And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature: So both should losers be. Yet let him keep the rest, But keep them with repining restlessness: Let him be rich and weary, that at least, If goodness lead him not, yet weariness May toss him to my breast.
While I don't much care for metaphysical poetry as a genre, I do enjoy the occasional poem, such as today's. Like most metaphysical poems, it has a strong central image around which the poem is woven, relying primarily on this image to carry the main thrust of the poem. Unlike Donne, though, Herbert depended less heavily on conceits and startling metaphors; the poem's theme is simple and straightforward enough, but nonetheless pleasing - I enjoyed both the basic concept and the neat twist on the Pandora's Box myth.  One of the reasons I tend to dislike metaphysical poetry - if the central image fails to grip me, the rest of the poem seldom has enough to make up for it. Whereas in, say, a Romantic poem, I often disagree with, or am unmoved by what the poet is saying, but nonetheless enjoy the poem itself for the secondary images, the phrases, the use of language etc. (And since I feel compelled to throw in the occasional caveat, note that this is a strictly personal response, and not necessarily indicative of any real or accepted quality of metaphysical poetry) Biography and Assessment: Herbert, George b. April 3, 1593, Montgomery Castle, Wales d. March 1, 1633, Bemerton, Wiltshire, Eng. English religious poet, a major metaphysical poet, notable for the purity and effectiveness of his choice of words. A younger brother of Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury, a notable secular metaphysical poet, George in 1610 sent his mother for New Year's two sonnets on the theme that the love of God is a fitter subject for verse than the love of woman, a foreshadowing of his poetic and vocational bent. Educated at home, at Westminster School, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, he was in 1620 elected orator of the university, a position that he described as "the finest place in the university." His two immediate predecessors in the office had risen to high positions in the state, and Herbert was much involved with the court. During Herbert's academic career, his only published verse was that written for special occasions in Greek and Latin. By 1625 Herbert's sponsors at court were dead or out of favour, and he turned to the church, being ordained deacon. He resigned as orator in 1627 and in 1630 was ordained priest and became rector at Bemerton. He became friends with Nicholas Ferrar, who had founded a religious community at nearby Little Gidding, and devoted himself to his rural parish and the reconstruction of his church. Throughout his life he wrote poems, and from his deathbed he sent a manuscript volume to Ferrar, asking him to decide whether to publish or destroy them. Ferrar published them with the title The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations in 1633. Herbert described his poems as "a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed between God and my soul, before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus, my Master, in whose service I have now found perfect freedom." Herbert shares his conflicts with John Donne, the archetypal metaphysical poet and a family friend. As well as personal poems, The Temple includes doctrinal poems, notably "The Church Porch," the first in the volume, and the last, "The Church Militant." Other poems are concerned with church ritual. The main resemblance of Herbert's poems to Donne's is in the use of common language in the rhythms of speech. Some of his poems, such as "The Altar" and "Easter Wings," are "pattern" poems, the lines forming the shape of the subject, a practice Joseph Addison in the 18th century called "false wit." Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the 19th century wrote of Herbert's diction, "Nothing can be more pure, manly, and unaffected." Herbert was a versatile master of metrical form and all aspects of the craft of verse. Though he shared the critical disapproval given the metaphysical poets until the 20th century, he was still popular with readers. -- EB Links: We've run a couple of Donne's poems in the past: poem #330, poem #384. As usual, if you feel the lack of metaphysical poetry, feel free to send some in :) - martin