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"PULLEY, THE" George Herbert (1633) In
"The Pulley" George Herbert explains why God could not make life on earth a perfect existence for man. He presents a minidrama, allowing readers to picture the man's beginnings, with God described as "Having a glass of blessings standing by." Herbert will extend the FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE (FIGURE OF SPEECH) of metaphor in comparing the anointing of man with fortune by God to the pouring of liquid from a container. God declares that he will "pour on him all we can," gathering all of the world's riches, which he will "Contract into a span." Herbert concludes the first of his four five-line stanzas with God depicted as a generous benefactor. In the second stanza he catalogues the blessings that God poured onto man. They include strength, beauty, "wisdom, honour, pleasure." Then God hesitates, saving a bit, as he perceives that "alone of all his treasure / Rest in the bottom lay." Herbert reflects on God's edict in Genesis that man shall not enjoy rest but instead must work for his sustenance, as a result of original sin committed in the Garden of Eden. The speaker explains God's logic at holding back rest, supposedly in God's own words:
For if I should (said he) Bestow this jewel also on my creature, He would adore my gifts instead of me, And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature: So both should losers be.
Herbert executes a play on words with the concept of rest, noting that man would take his rest and relaxation in the material natural world, were rest given to him. God's edict is that man seek spiritual relief in him, "the God of Nature." Herbert emphasizes the value of rest by first terming it a treasure and then reemphasizing the fact that it is a jewel.
The final verse begins extending play on the word rest. Herbert employs it in the opening line 16 to mean "Yet let him keep the rest," then incorporates it into the term restlessness in line 17: "But keep them with repining restlessness." Herbert manages to depict the lack of rest as good, as God notes that man may "be rich and weary," so that "If goodness lead him not, yet weariness / May toss him to my breast." Herbert skillfully makes his point that man need not—actually cannot— be good enough to deserve God's grace. Rather the recognition of his weakness and the lack of satisfaction offered by an earthly existence shall successfully bind him to his Lord. Thus God's withholding of rest from man acts as a natural "pulley," an irresistible force in moving him closer to his creator.
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