George Herbert shares many qualities with the poets of the metaphysical poetry that started with John Donne. But, he retains his individuality in his poems.
We find the metaphysical conceits in his poems, and the themes of his poetry are undoubtedly akin to those of Donne, Marvell, and others. However, his craftsmanship makes him different from others.
In many of his poems, he followed the conversational method and dramatic starting of John Donne. Yet the form and style of his poems are pretty independent, and how he presents his themes has awarded him a specialty – distinct and alternative stanzaic and metrical experimentation.
Craftsmanship Flourished in Herbert’s Diverse But Unique Stanzas
Herbert has introduced various stanzas in his poems, keeping the theme in mind. His meter is so varied that it strikes the reader sharply. Almost every poem presents a unique combination of lines and rhymes.
It appears to be an uphill job to list the different stanzas Herbert has used. He has used one hundred various stanzaic forms in about fifty poems. His poems are simple and easily understandable.
However, the craftsmanship Herbert has used is one of the most complex patterns of poetry in English.
Themetic Skills of Various Shapes And Textures in Herbert’s Poetry
Herbert explores many ways of rendering the themes in his poems in their shapes and textures. The poem Easter Wings consists of two stanzas in the shape of wings. The lines are arranged in vertical lines so that the poem can resemble the shape of a bird’s wing.
The Collar is written by Herbert ingeniously. The verse of this poem enacts disorder very much in keeping with the theme of rebellious feelings and the final surrender. It has a definite line of arguments divided into four sections. The verse instead seeks freedom from the inner constraint symbolized by the collar.
This is why The Collar avoids set patterns. In the poem Denial, the second and the fifth lines of each stanza remain unrhymed while the poet is describing his separation from God.
My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasures go,
Some to the wars and thunder
Of alarms.George Herbert, The Collar
But when the poet anticipates his reconciliation with God, he mends his rhyme:
They and my mind may chime,
And mend my rhyme.George Herbert, The Collar
Herbert Shows A Genius of Simplicity in His Poetry
Herbert’s poetry is simple and comprehensive. Written in the age of Verbose Writing, his poems are easily intelligible to modern readers.
Long after him, Wordsworth advocated the simplicity of language which Herbert had earned quite satisfactorily. In his dealings with God, his language is easily comprehensible. Few English poets have been able to use the plain words of ordinary speech with a greater effect of simple dignity than Herbert. This simplicity has been called the secret of his power.
Herbert is a disciple of Donne when he uses a conversational tone. This tone establishes intimacy between the poet and the reader. So, when his poems are read aloud, the emphasis falls on the natural order of the speaking idiom. In Discipline, we get the use of his conversational tone. The poet appeals to God:
Throw away thy rod,
Throw away thy wrath:
Oh my God,
Take the gentle path.Discipline, George Herbert
The lines suppose as if God has taken a rod to punish the poet. In Dialogue, The poet and God speak in alternate stanzas. In Redemption, the poet gives us an account of his search for Jesus Christ and the ultimate encounter with him. These elements of his poetry have enriched it with sincerity and directness.
Herbert’s Poetry Comprises Metaphorical And Scholary Elements
All of Herbert’s poems do not necessarily contain simple themes to understand easily. Some of them have metaphysical subtlety and intellectual analysis. Despite having an apparent liking for homely illustrations, analogies, and metaphors, some of his poems contain plenty of learned allusions.
Still, the poet cannot forget carpentry, gardening, and everyday domestic activity. Therefore, some of Herbert’s poems are scholarly, while others are popular. Poems like Vanitie, The Pearl, and Jordan have an upper-class background.
In Herbert’s poems, there are quite a lot of words and phrases that strike us by their appropriateness, novelty, and effectiveness. In The Affliction, the poet recalls how sickness has cleaved his bones, turning his breath to groans. In the same poem, he speaks of its futility in the following manner:
My mirth and edge was lost, a blunted knife
Was of more use than I.The Affliction, George Herbert
In The Pearl, the poet writes,
My stuff is flesh, not brass; my senses live, / And grumble oft….The Pearl, George Herbert
Terseness Prevails in Herbert’s Epigrammatic Poetry
Herbert’s craftsmanship in his poetry has been characterized by terseness and compression. Many of his lines have an epigrammatic quality. In the poem Virtue, the last stanza is pregnant with meaning. This stanza in which he speaks of the permanence of a virtuous soul has an epigrammatic quality.
In Man, we find such meaningful terse lines:
For man is ev’ry thing,
And more: he is a tree, yet bears more fruit;
A beast, yet is, or should be, more;Man, George Herbert
George Herbert’s craftsmanship is unique. It has added additional grace to the ‘dry’ metaphysical poetry, making it neat and subtle. It is fresh, sweet, and clean. It has been the appropriate machinery to clothe his conceits.