"Prayer (I)" is a sonnet from Hebert’s The Temple. “Prayer (I)” is a sonnet that can be viewed as a series of phrases describing and elaborating on the concept of Christian prayer. As a sonnet, it places itself in the tradition of love poetry. The love celebrated in this poem is divine, religious love.
In “Prayer (I),” Herbert expands on the definition of prayer in at least twenty-four ways. Prayer is defined through a series of paradoxes and contradictions. For example, it is compared to or defined as something that takes place in church, but also in the individual human heart. Its strength is elaborated through comparisons to “thunder” and the spear that pierced Christ, but it also defined as “softness.” These definitions work together to emphasize the transcendent, difficult-to-define nature of prayer.
This poem has become one of Herbert’s most celebrated sonnets. While it is part of the tradition of “systrophe,” the elaboration of a single idea through a series of expansions, it is also a notably innovative sonnet, lacking a clear verb to attach the definitions it elaborates directly to prayer.