reflects metonymy as the speaker asks another question, "Shall I still be in suit?" Here his clothing represents his lifestyle, the suit indicating his religious garb. He feels bitter that his life reaps "no harvest but a thorn / To let me blood." Rather than "cordial fruit" and "wine," he holds only a thorn from a vine. The thorn image allows Herbert to reflect on the crown of thorns worn by Christ at his crucifixion, thus associating his speaker and himself with the religious faith with which he so closely identifies.
The speaker next notes wine did exist before his "sighs did dry it," indicating sighs of mortification. He also acknowledges by line 12 that corn did exist, but that it drowned in his own tears. Extending the metaphor of crops and the round of seasons that produces them, Herbert references through the speaker the loss of a year, his speaker wondering, "Have I no bays to crown it?" Because bay was shaped into a wreath of victory for youth in the ancient Olympic Games, he suggests that as a young man, he should be scoring victories of his own in life, perhaps in romance and business. His rhetorical questions continue, as he asks about his lost year,
Have I no bays to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? All blasted? All wasted? (14-16)
By line 18 the speaker begins to recover from his mournful state, as an internal voice tells his heart, "there is fruit, / And thou hast hands." The fruit to which he refers represents the bounties of the holy life, and the speaker is urged to use his hands to pluck them. He can recover his "sigh-blown age" to enjoy "double pleasures." The voice then commands the speaker, "leave thy cold dispute / of what is fit, and not." as he begins to focus on the rewards of a life dedicated to Christ, despite its difficulties. The voice continues with edicts, including
Thy rope of sands,
Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw. (21-24)
Clearly the speaker has constructed his own prison, binding himself by thoughts unworthy. In a tone that has shifted from frustration to hope, the voice notes that the speaker must assume all blame for his depressed state, for it was while he "didst wink and wouldst not see." that matters seemed bleak. Herbert urges readers not to refuse to open their eyes to God's glory and the eternity promised to one to whom God extends grace.
In a last struggle of protest, the speaker repeats, "I will abroad" and adds,
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load. (30-32)
But contrition strikes the speaker as he "raved and grew more fierce and wild." That contrition is invoked by a call the speaker hears "At every word," a call of a single term, which appears italicized for effect: "Child." Immediately responsive to the overwhelmingly convincing cry of a father for his son, the speaker replies without hesitation, closing the poem, "My Lord." Herbert makes clear that even in one's sin and protest, an acceptance of God as Lord will open one's life to receive God's grace.
No doubt Herbert did experience just such feelings of rebellion against his lifestyle. Although he seems outwardly to have chosen his own fate, he makes repeatedly clear in his various poems that man does not have such control. Any thoughts of directing one's future prove ultimately futile. For Herbert, his future was based on a simple response to God. His poem emphasizes that God will care for all who heed his call, as a parent cares for a child.
COLLINS, WILLIAM (1721-1759) William
Collins was born on Christmas Day, the son of Chich-ester hat maker and twice mayor, William, and his wife, Elizabeth. The younger William Collins grew up with sisters, Elizabeth and Anne, losing his father when he was 12 years old. A few months later Collins enrolled in Winchester College, where he began to write poetry. He published the poems "To Miss Aurelia C-r" and "Sonnet" in the Gentleman's Magazine in
Was this article helpful?