Different Levels of Meaning in George Herbert’s Poem, Love

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Different Levels of Meaning in George Herbert’s Poem, Love

This unique love poem by George Herbert seems both simple and complex at the same time. There are many levels which display the depth of Herbert’s writing. He gives a three stanza poem, six lines each with the rhyme scheme of: A, B, A, B, C, C, and the lines alternating ten and six syllables. This simple and gentle form, that never deviates, gives the reader a tranquil and soothing feeling, adding an extra dimension to the overall poem. The malleable words and enjoyable rhymes gives the look and feel of a candle-light dinner with soft music playing in the background. Love is a love poem with three distinct levels of meaning: the literal, allegorical, and the religious.

The literal level, done so simply, is what makes the other levels so easy to see and understand. There are two entities in the poem: Love and the poet. At this level Love is but a human lover or a friend. In the first stanza Love welcomes the poet in his/her house to eat an intimate dinner party for two. The poet hesitates, feeling unclean. Love senses this and proceeds slowly with the courtship, asking if he needs anything. The middle stanza Love tries to reassure the poet that he is worthy to be a guest in his/her house. The poet calls himself “ ‘unkind, ungrateful,’ ” (9), almost trying to prove his unworthiness. The last stanza is the turning point when Love overrides the poets augments. Love stresses to the poet that regardless of his faults he is always welcome at his/her table. The dinner invitation is extended once again and the poet accepts.

This intimate dinner party becomes so much more when looked at with deeper meanings. The most obvious is the allegorical, in which Love is love personified, a concept more then a person. The more provocative level is that of the religious, where Herbert’s true genius shows through in his complex metaphor: Love is God.

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