George Herbert: Poems

George Herbert: Poems Essay Questions

  1. 1

    in the poem "The Priesthood," why does the speaker claim that priests have an immense amount of power? What are the limits to that power?

    In "The Priesthood," the speaker analyzes the type of power priests have over the life of everyday people and how priests can influence the decisions a person makes. The speaker goes as far as to say that priests determined what would happen with a person’s soul: in the beginning of the poem, he states that priests have the power to send the soul of a person either to hell or heaven. A priest’s ability to inspire faith and right action in his congregants could set them on a path towards heaven; however, his failure will set them on a path towards hell. The limits to priests’ power, however, is their connection to God. Men are not by their nature holy; rather, God makes them so: “Their hands convey him, who conveys their hands.” They are only able to convey God’s messages through God’s grace. Throughout, the speaker notes that he feels unworthy and unable to serve as a vessel for God’s word. Therefore, he endeavors to serve in humility until God makes him a worthy vessel.

  2. 2

    Explain the meaning of the title of the poem "The Pulley."

    “The Pulley” is Herbert's attempt to understand the perspective of the creator, God, when creating the heavens and earth. It includes a long, imagined quote from God. In this quote, God at first decides he will give humanity a plethora of gifts, making life easy and pleasant as a result. Then, God contemplates whether to give humanity the gift of rest—the capacity to relax and live without a care in the world. In the end, He decides to give them the complete opposite, namely restlessness. God states that the reason He decides to give humanity this gift is to help mankind reach heaven. He believes that, with all the gifts he gave them, there will be nothing left to make humans feel the need to search for God. The restlessness is the "pulley": something to bring the people closer to God and alert them to their need for salvation. Only when they understand this need will they be able to reach heaven, a true paradise.

  3. 3

    Explain the imagery in the poem "The Flower."

    In “The Flower,” the speaker uses the imagery of spring to describe the ways in which a person can feel invigorated by their faith. The speaker begins by discussing a fallow period in his life and his faith, during which he was like a withered flower, almost dead. However, the imagery of springtime reflects his renewed faith, especially because the imagery of springtime relates to the season of Easter and Christ’s resurrection, a potent reminder of the Garden of Eden and the life to come in heaven. Upon finding his faith in God once again, he felt like a flower coming back to life during spring, becoming greener and greener. The state of green and freshness transmits the idea that the speaker's outlook on life changed when he rediscovered his faith: he became a more positive person, experiencing the joy of faith once again.