English Literature » Notes » Herbert’s Use of Imagery
George Herbert

Herbert’s Use of Imagery

George Herbert was a distinguished metaphysical poet. One of the most remarkable aspects of his poetry is the use of brilliant imagery. we get image after image in his poems.

Herbert has drawn subject matters from religion but his ideas are developed by the use of concrete imagery. As for example, we can mention the poem Easter Wings. The theme of the poem is resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the poet demonstrates his own desire to rise upwards in the sky. On the Easter Sunday, he wants to fly with Jesus Christ like a lark to feel the victory of Jesus Christ over death. Actually, the poet wants spiritual rejuvenation with the mercy of Jesus Christ as he has become spiritually barren. This abstract idea has been conveyed by the pictures of flight of the skylark. With a sad tone the poet says—

O let me rise
As larks harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories.
Then shall the fall further the fight in me.

Herbert’s imagery is not only taken from Biblical world but some images are taken from the real world also. We can mention the poem The Collar. In the poem, the poet has ventilated his rebellious feelings slavery. The poet thinks that he has wasted away his golden time by being in the cage of religious. Now he wants to lead a free life. Herbert was a priest. He thinks that he has been devoid of earthly pleasures so far. now he strikes the life, the communion table and wants to be free from the suffocating life. He wants to be as free as the roads and as free as the wind. He wants to enjoy double pleasures from the storehouse of life. HE wants to make compensation of the sigh-blown time. Let us observe how he raves —

What? shall I even sigh and pine
My lines and life are free; free as the road,
looses as the wind, as large as store.

The presentation of his imagery has become sometimes too much emotional and too much intellectual. In the poem The Collar, the poet thinks that his life is tortured with the thorns of religion. The very title of the poem gives a glaring image. A collar means a band around the neck. Again, a collar is put round the neck of a dog or other lower animals to indicate that the animal belongs to somebody. Finally, the collar indicates the collar worn by a priest. The poet being a priest has to wear the collar. Now he feels that he has been chained by the collar. He ponders that his life is without flower, without garland without fruits. Eventually, he takes a determination that he will cast away the cold logic of heaven and hell. He will throw away the fear of death. He becomes desperate enough to be a hedonistic. All these images are the consequence of Herbert’s spontaneous poetic skill.

Herbert has used hieroglyphic imagery in some of his poems. It is evident in the poem Easter wings. In this poem the poet actually remembers Jesus Christ’s Resurrection. Jesus Christ was crucified. After three days of his crucifixion, Jesus Christ came to life and resurrected from the grave and talked to some of his disciple and went up to heaven. Thus, Jesus Christ overcomes death. The poet also wants to fly side by side with structure of the poem, we can see two wings there. The poet wants to fly like a lark in the sky by the side of Jesus Christ. So, the poet reflects his desire in the very structure of the poem. We can just say that Herbert has shown his unparalleled poetic skill by sketching the image of wings in this poem.

In the light of above discussion, we can say that George Herbert has used brilliant imagery in his poems. It will not be an exaggeration to say that Herbert’s poem has become appealing to readers because of his multi-dimensional use of imagery. Herbert’s use of imagery is distinct and praiseworthy indeed.

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