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Herbert's Metaphysical Poems Essay

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Herbert's Metaphysical Poems


In the first portion of The Temple, specifically Perirrhanterium, Herbert prescribes the didactics necessary for the instruction of the catechumen in a simple, straightforward manner. As the reader moves into the main section of The Church, the author’s poetic wit becomes more complex in both its style and depth of topic. Although the starkness of the messages in Herbert’s metaphysical poems is not as palpable as those of the Church Porch, their ability to teach both abstractly and visually affords them a didactic nature much like the parables of Christ.

In basic parabolic structure, the speaker conveys a heavenly message through the simpler and more easily digestible use of an earthly comparison, such as the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, which compares the productivity of seeds to the growth of Christians. Christ presents a divine truth in the basic analogy of a parable, as the OED describes it: “A fictitious narrative (usually of something that might naturally occur), by which moral or spiritual relations are typically set forth, as the parables of the New Testament.” Herbert utilizes a similar strategy in his poetic comparisons, often taking the process a step further by including visual cues to aid the reader in his understanding of the message; as Bloch points out, “his larger purpose…was to teach like the prophets in a nondiscursive way, to present symbols that the reader could experience in all their constrictions and expansions” (206). Three examples of Herbert’s use of the parabolic structure in his metaphysical poems include “Easter Wings,” “Paradise,” and “Heaven.”

The author’s mastery of the metaphysical conceit is evident in each work as he leads the re...


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...s. ed. John Tobin. London: Penguin Group, 2004. 38.

---. "Heaven." George Herbert: The Complete English Poems. ed. John Tobin. London: Penguin Group, 2004. 177.

---. "Paradise." George Herbert: The Complete English Poems. ed. John Tobin. London: Penguin Group, 2004. 124.

King James Bible, 1611. New York: Oxford U.P., 1996.

Rickey, Mary. Utmost Art. Kentucky: U. of Kentucky P., 1966. 35-181.

Singleton, Marion. God's Courtier. Cambridge: Cambridge U. P., 1987. 100-02.

Stein, Arnold. George Herbert's Lyrics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins P., 1968. 248-51

Stewart, Stanley. George Herbert. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986. 104-6

Toliver, Harold. George Herbert's Christian Narrative. University Park: Pennsylvania State U., 1993. 61-239.

Vendler, Helen. The Poetry of George Herbert. Cambridge: Harvard U.P., 1975. 222-28.


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