George Herbert as a poet

NEERAJ BHATT By NEERAJ BHATT, 26th Oct 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Books>Poetry, Drama & Criticism

George Herbert, 1593-1633 was a metaphysical poet ,.having deep faith in God.In the beginning of his life he knew the truth and decided to establish emotional relationship with God.As he had had the idea of having peace and satisfaction was not to be found in the love of women.

George Herbert as a poet.

The path of life is zig-zag.Difficulties await us at every turn of life.Man grapples with them.Very often he fails to get over them,still he does not give in.He seeks to get help of his friends and relations.But even his friends and relations do no help him through thick and thin.They desert him in the nick of time.A painful sadness clutches at him.At such time man realizes the futility of worldly relations .Finally,worldly help is a mirage .No one has realized it more sincerely than Herbert -who realized that God's help is the real help.It is God and God alone who can enable us to get rid of the fever and fret of the world.God is the wealth of the poor ,strength of the weak. George Herbert has given vent to such feelings in all his poems.
George Herbert was a devotional poet.He had given life to piety and poor,he believed that God's grace is the only rescue in this turbulent world.He says in his poem entitled ''Grace'' that God's grace is as powerful as sun in the sky.The very presence of the sun dispels darkness from the earth.Similarly God's grace is capable of removing the shadow of sorrow and frustration from man's life.That is why he entreated God in his poem entitled "Grace'' (First Stanza)
"O let thy graces without cease ,
Drop from above!"
Besides,the poet felt that worldly things are temporary.Even greatness is not spared .Beauty is not respected here :
"Youth grows pale and spectre -thin and dies.''and "Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes." Death and destruction are playing their naked dance on the earth.In the poet's word :"Death is still working like a mole,
And digs my grave at each remove."(Fourth stanza of the poem entitled "Grace")
This frightened him. For,he knew that one would get punishment after one's death for one's evil deeds .But he knew full well that virtue was immortal in this world.Virtue lies in the worship of God ;So he cried out in his poem "Employment I" :
"Lord place me in thy consort of God,
Give me one strain ,
To my poor reed "Again in the same poem ,in the fourth stanza he says :
"Let me not languish then and spend ,
A life as barren to thy praise ,
As is dust to which that life doth tend,
But with delay."
But the poet was afraid of his numberless sins.He thought that even God's kindness might be exhausted by his numberless sins .So,he might not be blessed with His grace.That is why he murmured :
"Or,if to me thou will not move,
Remove me,where,I need not say."
This shows the mind of Herbert.His mind was torn between doubt and belief about the kindness of God.This is a typical trait of all the Metaphysical poets.All Metaphysical poets were in the he habit of playing with ideas .Just as the Elizabethans were in the habit of playing with words.Still they have been able to express their contradictory ideas in one organic whole .Here lies their success as poet.
Herbert was a great craftsman.His poems are remarkable for clarity and design and precision of expression.He wrote with great economy.But very often Herbert was dismissed as a follower of Donne.It is true that both of them worked under the same tradition.But a careful reading of the poems of Herbert shows that mind ,temperament and technique of Herbert are completely his own.He was strikingly original in his poems.Both Donne and Herbert present more a study of contrast than of comparison.The difference is apparent in the use of language.Donne is passionate,vigorous and violent,whereas Herbert's voice is quiet and controlled.The difference is again apparent in the use of imagery.Donne's images are intellectual,but the images of Herbert are homely and common-place.In "Grace" he has compared himself to a farmer and death to a mole.In "Employment I" he has compared man to "a quick coal of mortal fire" and himself to an orange tree.In fine,he has used simple words and images to express his complex religious feelings.
Besides,Herbert's range of writing poems is narrower than that of Donne.Donne has written poems both on his beloved and on his God.But Herbert has written poems only on God.But like Donne Herbert's tone is argumentative .He appears talking and arguing with God.In "Grace" he says that if a blade of grass is not spared by God,how can he be spared by Him.Again he says that if God cannot show his mercy upon him ,God should lift him above :
"Where I need not say ."
His expression is dramatic .Like a character in a drama he stands face to face with God and starts arguing with God.
Herbert stands very near Hopkins.Both Herbert and Hopkins seek shelter in the kingdom of God.They have expressed their desires in the language of day-to-day speech.That is why,Herbert seems more modern than any modern poets.
Like Donne ,he passes from one mood to another.All the time we hear the voice of cool resignation.So,he is like Donne in the expression of his poems.


Belief, Desert, Devotion, Friends, Life, Neeraj Bhatt, Prayer

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author avatar NEERAJ BHATT
Reading poetry is my passion.

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author avatar Shashi Mehta
1st Nov 2011 (#)

Metaphysics and spirituality have always been my interest. Thanks for sharing this article. Have you read the books by Jiddu Krishnamurti, a spiritual teacher of 20th century ? You must !

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author avatar NEERAJ BHATT
1st Nov 2011 (#)

I will go through the book you have suggested.You may please see my articles on George Herbert's poem "The Pulley"and Andrew Marvell's poem "The Garden".Thanks for sharing.namaste,

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author avatar Greg
3rd Nov 2011 (#)

I'm a huge fan of Herbert! I set his "Holy Baptism" to music:

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author avatar NEERAJ BHATT
19th Nov 2011 (#)

Thank you Greg for your love of George Herbert.happy to hear your composition.

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