Campbell, Hilbert H. James Thomson. Boston: Twayne, 1979.
Griffin, Dustin. Regaining Paradise: Milton and the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Scott, Mary Jane W. James Thomson, Anglo-Scot. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988.
"TIME" George Herbert (1633) As he does in "Death," George Herbert demystifies man's mortality by converting death's threat into a promise. In this case he shows that man's loss of time as he ages will actually work to his benefit, as his heavenly reward will become available only after his time on earth. Therefore man need not fear his mortality but should instead embrace aging as not only a necessary, but a welcome, transformation.
Herbert begins with an apostrophe, using the figurative language of personification to convert Time into a being, whom his speaker addresses. The speaker labels Time a "slack thing," telling Time, "Thy scythe is dull; whet it for shame." Herbert adopts the image of death as the grim reaper bearing a scythe, helping readers make the connection between death and time. He also sets up an extended metaphor of man as a cultivated crop, which Time will gather as lives end. Time explains to the speaker that he is not ashamed of his dull scythe, because "where one man would have me grind it, / Twenty for one too sharp do find it." In other words rarely do men want to speed time's movement toward their death; they prefer the scythe remain dull and unable to reap human lives. The speaker in the second stanza explains that perhaps that used to be man's view of time when he loved life more than anything else. Then the scythe seemed "a hatchet," but now it has become a mere "pruning-knife," made to disconnect man from his earthly life in order to speed him toward his meeting with Christ. He explains, "Christ's coming hath made man thy debtor, / Since by thy cutting he grows better." Herbert emphasizes that
Christ's death on the cross redeemed man, who can look forward to eternal life. once time cuts him free of earthly existence, he can at last enjoy his reward.
In line 13, which begins the third stanza, the speaker adds that now Time is also blessed, benefiting from Christ's blessing of men. Before Christ Time served as "An executioner at best," but now he is "a gard'ner" as well as "An usher to convey our souls / Beyond the utmost stars and poles." Christ's death and subsequent redemption of man have also transformed Time, affording him new roles. Herbert reflects on the idea of time in line 19 writing, "And this is that makes life so long, / While it detains us from our God." He offers readers a new perspective on time, something they used to fear as leading to the terrifying prospect of death and loss of life. In his view it is life itself that is the problem, delaying the reunion with God. Waiting for that reunion can make man feel "already half of hell." The final stanza begins, "of what strange length must that needs be, / Which ev'n eternity excludes!" He again suggests that readers adjust their concept of time. Herbert cleverly concludes his drama with the character of Time "chafing" as he waits for a man who obviously "deludes." His delusion is summarized in paradox, as Death questions, "What do I here before his door? / He doth not crave less time, but more." The speaker does not chase Time away in order to see less of him; rather he wants to enjoy more of Time, but as a reaper of souls, not as an extension of his earthly existence.
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