Sunday, 24 September 2017

A Critical Appreciation of George Herbert’s “The Collar”

‘The Collar’ is one of the finest poems written by George Herbert in the history of metaphysical lyrics. It can be said that all the leading metaphysical characteristics like dramatic opening, argumentative approach, colloquial tone or concrete imagery -epitomize in this single poem. 

The title word of the poem "Collar" refers to the white band worn by the clergy, and it is the role of a priest that the poem alludes to. The word ‘collar’ in the title, therefore, symbolizes the priest's role as servant. Ironically written, ‘The Collar’ is, in fact, about the struggle to maintain faith in God, although the thirty-two of its thirty-six lines describe what the poem itself calls the ravings of a person who is rebellious against the restrictive pressures that surround him as a priest. 

The poem shows that the poet is involved in a deep-rooted and desperate struggle with his own soul. He almost seems to doubt whether God exists at all and gives rebellious expression against the disciplines of his vocation of priesthood. In the opening line Herbert writes:

“I struck the board, and cry'd, No more.”

Thus the opening goes abrupt and dramatic, evoking violent action, and is delivered in a personal and colloquial manner. Technically written in iambic meter with varied line lengths, the poem takes the form of arguments, using logic to make the reasoning convincing and persuasive. 

The second stanza takes on more personal notes and the poet questions whether he being a priest does not deserve any reward. Using the image of ‘harvest’, the poet laments that as a clergy, his only harvest has been a thorn that has made him bleed. His "sighs" and "tears" have made him ruin the fruits of his labors.

The lamentation continues in the third stanza as well. This time, the poet compares his won restrained life to the free life of other people who enjoy worldly pleasures. He argues that he also has the right to crown him with the beauty of life and enjoy flowers and garlands. Growing a little more furious, the poet hints at the future and expresses the hope that all is not lost.

In the fourth stanza, the poet becomes almost aggressive and wishes to recover all that has been lost indulging himself in double pleasures. In fact, this is the most paradoxical stanza which offers the core meaning of the poem. 

In stanza fifth, the poet crucially loses hold on his own arguments. Herbert now declares to quit his profession and thus overcome his fears altogether. Ironically he discloses his shortcomings by showing his own inability to shoulder the responsibility of his vocation.

Finally, the last stanza is a resultant anticlimax. This time, the poet is able to come out all of his ‘pettie thoughts’ and hears the voice of God calling- ‘Childe’ and to which he responds-‘My Lord’. Instantly, the distressed note in the poet is silenced and the discontent is passed. God does not need to answer the arguments raised by the poet. His mere presence exposes their hollowness. Therefore, hearing the voice of God, the poet recognizes his place and position and immediately surrenders himself to the authority of God. Thus, the final stanza very beautifully leads to a graceful conclusion making the readers realize the affectionate relationship between the Creator and the Creation.

Consider Herbert as a Religious or Metaphysical Poet

George Herbert is known as the metaphysical poet and by virtue of his faith in God and religion. His poetry is a record of strivings, failures and victories in the practice of the Christian life. He gave up life of worldly pleasures and worldly ambition in order to become a country priest and to devote himself to the service of God, both in the capacity as a poet and as a priest in practical life.

Herbert is a poet clergy who feels the supreme existence of the Creator in all living beings, who realizes the endless outpouring of love and care of the Almighty God towards His creatures. In his spiritual apprehension of the Divine Being through contemplation he is second to none.

(Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of existence, truth and knowledge and this philosophy inspired Herbert   to meditate upon the Divine Authority and discover the hidden truth lying in our lives.) Herbert’s poetry is a sequence of religious poems, conceived and cast in the pattern of a morality play. The chief subjects of his poetry are the Incarnation, the Passion and the Redemption. He talks of man’s relation to God, of body to the soul, and of life here to the hereafter. In this relationship he often shows rebellion, reconciliation and the final submission. He argues with himself, with God and with other supposed audience to arrive at some mystical reality of life.

Like all metaphysical, Herbert suffers from self-division, but he is sure of his ultimate success in reaching the spiritual heaven. His poems, most of which are argumentative, depict a conflict between the worldly and the unworldly pleasures but at the end of each, he asserts his faith in the divine life of a Christian.

Herbert’s poetry is metaphysical by virtue of its subject matter. His poem, ‘Easter Wings’, is a reflection on the Resurrection of Christ. It conveys the philosophy of the realization of man’s sinfulness, the miseries misfortunes, sorrows, sickness and disappointments which are the very basis of his regeneration and resurrection.

There is also a fusion of thought and feeling in Herbert’s poetry. For example, ‘The Collar’ provides a blend of passion and thought. The poet here feels impatient of the restraints which have been imposed upon his freedom by his priestly vocation, and he gives expression to his impatience and the feeling of rebellion which has arisen in him against his servitude to the church and God. However, in the course of a long debate within, the poet hears a gentle rebuke from God, and all his anger subsides and he immediately becomes humble and submissive towards his Maker.

In conclusion, we can say that Herbert is a great metaphysical poet both in matter and method. In emotion and thought, he is a poet of the inner spirit. In style he is intellectual, in diction he is homely and graceful and in the construction of his poems his is logical. In belief and faith, he is a perfect Christian.

Comment on Milton’s Use of Similes in Paradise Lost Book-1

The most striking feature of Milton’s style in Paradise Lost is his use of the epic or expanded simile. An ordinary simile consists in a comparison between two things of different kinds, expressed by the use of the word ‘like’ or ‘as’. An epic or expanded simile is a complex type of simile in which the point of likeness is elaborated to such an extent that it gives birth to a short descriptive poem in itself.  It serves the purpose of illustration and decoration. Miltonic similes are marked by their grand style, their terrible and vivid images and their impact on the imagination of the reader.

Milton’s similes are two-fold. Some of similes are small, while others are grand and have been described as Homeric similes. Let us consider the extended description of Satan with the help of a simile which indicates his gigantic size:

‘Thus Satan talking to his nearest mate

With head up-lift above the wave, and eyes

That sparkling blazed; his other parts besides

Prone on the flood, extended long and large


So stretcht out huge in length the arch-fiend lay

Chained on the burning lake.’

On going through this simile we learn that Satan is compared first to the legendary Titans, then at much more length to the Levia-than which God ‘of all His works created hugest.’ Milton develops old mariners’ fish stories of a sea creature larger even than the whale, which had been often mistaken by pilots for an island against which they tried to moor their boats. Only after eight lines of such details, we return to Satan who is being compared with these things-‘So similes stretcht out, huge in length the arch-fiend lay.’
In our second example, let us take the famous simile in which the mass of fallen angels are seen.  

‘Thick as Autumnal leaves that strow the brooks

In Vallombrosa.’

Milton here suddenly reduces the size and significance of the host and at the same time brings a breath of fresh air into the poem. The perspective, as well as the atmosphere, shifts again when Milton goes on to compare them to Pharaoh’s horsemen drowned in the Red Sea. Milton, here begins by comparing the fallen angels to the scattered sedge afloat on the Red Sea, and then with a characteristic use of clauses (when..whose..while) he reminds us that the Red Sea was the scene of the overthrow of Pharaoh’s host, and this defeated host is in a similar state.

To sum up, by using similes, the poet gives rest to his imagination exhausted by the sublimity of heaven and hell. He harmonizes between the sublime pictures of heaven or hell and the familiar scenes on the earth.

What Qualities of Epic Do You Find in Paradise Lost Book-1?

An epic is a long narrative poem in a lofty style, set in a remote time and place, and dealing with heroic characters and deeds important in the legends and history of a nation or race. Paradise Lost is an epic of art, an immortal creation of Milton’s imagination and genius. It has the following characteristics. (1) Sublimity of subject matter and style, (2) universality of theme, (3) unity of action (4) beginning, middle and an end (5) invocation to God (6) council of war and speeches of elaborate length, (7) extensive use of epic similes, metaphors, and classical allusions, (8) grand style, (9) human interest, and (10) a moral tone.

 Paradise Lost has sublimity both in its subject matter and style. It has a unity of action and design. It says of the disobedience (fall) of Man and its consequences, followed by his redemption. Thus it has a beginning, middle and an end. At the same time like other epics it begins in the middle of the action. Paradise Lost opens with the usual epic invocation ‘Sing Heavenly Muse’. This invocation is a kind of Christian prayer to the Holy Spirit read by the Christians into the second verse of Genesis. The poet calls upon the Holy Spirit to raise and support him in his noble venture of writing an epic, higher than classical epics and help him ‘justify the ways of God to men’.

Milton has introduced supernatural machinery in Paradise Lost in his own way. We find the loyal angels under the command of God and Satan with other fallen angels in Hell. Adam, who represents the human race, is a true hero, although we do not much of his activities in Book-1. In Book-1, Satan by virtue of his leadership qualities stands very prominent. Apart from Adam and Satan, God himself is a character in Paradise Lost. He is present in the poem from the beginning to the end. The supremacy of God’s power is admitted even by Satan.

Again Paradise Lost contains plenty of epic similes, metaphors, and classical allusions. It also displays catalogues, speeches and council of war. The setting of the epic is very vast, i.e. cosmic. It includes Heaven, Earth and Hell.

To sum up, Milton deserves appreciation for creating an epic which excels classical epics in its sublimity of the theme and style, in universality, in human interest, in its enduring appeal, in its moral tone and what not. Milton triumphs over all the poets both modern and ancient in the technique of writing epic.

Discuss Andrew Marvell as a Metaphysical poet

Metaphysical poetry is a revolt against the Elizabethan poetry of conventional form and theme. By metaphysical poetry we mean that type of new school of poetry which implies some salient characteristics (of abrupt and striking beginning, complexity, dramatic quality, blending of passion and intellectuality, argument and wit, conceits and images, philosophic and reflective tone, the use of colloquial language etc.) To justify Marvell as a true metaphysical poet, we should discuss the various aspects that we find in his representative poems especially in ‘To His Coy Mistress’ and ‘The Definition of Love’.

The abrupt and striking beginning is a common aspect of metaphysical poetry that we find in Marvell’s poetry. Such kind of abrupt beginning must arrest the attention of the readers instantly to go into the depth of the theme. Let us quote the beginning two lines from ‘To His Coy Mistress’:

Had we but world enough and Time,/This coyness Lady were no crime.’

Another aspect of metaphysical poetry is the use of colloquial language in a dramatic tone and Marvell’s poetry is no exception. He uses the familiar and simple conversational style of language very effectively.

Another important aspect of Marvell’s metaphysical poetry is the argumentative presentation. To express their spiritual love which has separated two lovers, Marvel has shown some argument in the following lines of ‘The Definition of love’:

‘As lines so loves oblique may well/Themselves in every Angle greet: But ours so truly parallel,/Through infinite can never meet’.

The fusion between passion and intellect is a fundamental aspect of metaphysical poetry and Marvell’s poetry must bear this testimony. In ‘The Definition of Love’, the emotion is expressed in an intellectual manner. The following lines are very much apt to this context:

Therefore the love which us doth bind/But Fate so enviously debars

Is the conjunction of the mind,/And opposition of the Stars’.

This blending of emotion and thought is vividly revealed in the poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’. In this poem the poet becomes deeply passionate in his expression of physical love in praising his beloved’s beauty and convincing her to enjoy sexual ecstasy with him but the whole poem is based upon logically developed lines of reasoning and argument.

Metaphysical conceits and wits are the most striking aspect of metaphysical poetry. Marvell has shown his marvelous skill in the use of far-fetched images, wits and conceits. The poem ‘The Definition of Love’ abounds in wits and conceits. For example:

‘It was begotten by Despair/Upon Impossibility’.

One of the finest conceits of Marvell is found in ‘To His Coy Mistress’ where he compares his love thus: 
               ‘My vegetable love should grow/Vaster than            Empire, and more slow’

According to the above discussion there is no denying the fact that Marvell is a metaphysical poet.