Bibliography On The Use Of Figurative Language In Poetry

Survey of British Poetry: Cavalier to Restoration. Vol. 2. Edited by Editorial Board, Roth Publishing. Great Neck, N.Y.: Poetry Anthology Press, 1989. Ward, Thomas Humphry. The English Poets: Selections with Critical Introductions by Various Writers and a General Introduction by Matthew Arnold. Vol. 2. New York: Mac-millan, 1912.

"FLOWER, THE" George Herbert (1633)

George Herbert used the figurative language of extended metaphor when he wrote "The Flower," in which a flower represents the spiritual effect of God's grace. Herbert declared early on that he intended to use approaches traditional to writing about erotic love in his writing of religious love. The flower had long symbolized women in sexual terms and appeared often in work by the Cavalier poets, as well as other lyric poetry. Herbert used that same symbol throughout his collection, The Temple, to represent instead spiritual or, occasionally, professional growth and development.

A member of a literary coterie that included his extended family, Herbert wrote at times in reaction to the poetry of others in his group, one example of which is "Jordan" written as an "answer poem" to Sir Philip Sidney. Sidney's sister, Mary Sidney Herbert (Countess of Pembroke), served as a patron to poets, as did her son, William. Critics feel that Lady Mary Wroth, niece to the countess, may have influenced "The Flower" with her poems "Forbear Dark Night" and "The Spring Now Come at Last." Still, the work most reflects Herbert's oft-expressed belief that man cannot earn God's grace.

Herbert structures his poem in seven seven-line stanzas with a rhyme scheme of ababccb with varied meter and line length. His opening stanza compares the effect of the Lord's "sweet and clean" return to that of the annual return of the flower, which upon its arrival in spring causes grief to melt "Like snow in May, / As if there were no such cold thing." With return, Herbert references the act of God's reentering a human life after an absence of spirituality. The speaker reveals in the second stanza that his "shriveled heart" had for a time suffered separation from God, comparing his heart to the flowers that go "Quite underground" for a time,

To see their mother-root, when they have blown; Where they together All the hard weather, Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

But with the return of God, his shriveled heart, as the flower in spring, recovers its "greenness."

The third stanza notes example of the Lord's "wonders," including "Killing and quik'ning, bringing down to hell / And up to heaven in an hour," where quik'ning refers to giving life. Herbert perhaps references the belief by some groups that Christ descended into hell after his crucifixion before ascending to heaven. His point is that God remains changeable and powerful enough to reverse the course of natural processes, such as death. In the fifth stanza Herbert uses a theme he had employed many times, that of man's foolishness in believing he can make himself worthy of God. The speaker says,

But while I grow in a straight line, Still upwards bent, as if heavn'n were mine own, Thy anger comes, and I decline . . .

God's force is such that a killing frost cannot compare; even a "pole," meaning a location frozen by ice, becomes a place "Where all things burn . . ." if God wills it so.

However, in the sixth stanza, the speaker adds that "in age I bud again, / After so many deaths I live and write," once more enjoying the scents of "dew and rain." Herbert's reference to writing emphasizes a rebirth of creativity and acts as an autobiographical reference. The speaker can hardly believe he is the same individual "On whom thy tempests fell all night."

The final stanza expresses Herbert's awe over God's wonders, one of which is "To make us see we are but flowers that glide," and to understand that God "hast a garden for us." However, that garden exists only for those "Who would be more." Individuals who felt the false self-confidence that the speaker had previously known "Forfeit their Paradise by their pride."

While Herbert seemed to share beliefs from both Arminianism and Calvinism, he leaned more heavily toward the idea of Calvinistic predestination. That man could earn grace, through good works, for instance, he adamantly denied.

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