"EASTER" George Herbert (1633) In his poem "Easter" George Herbert celebrates a Christian tradition of redemption through the use of familiar references. His purpose is not to surprise, but to engage in pleasant instruction, as he constructs a song of praise and celebration of Christ's resurrection. Herbert often employed music as a theme in his poetry, and it perfectly suits the occasion of this lyric.
"Easter" contains 30 lines divided into two sections by format. Lines 1-18 are arranged in three groups of six lines. Each group contains a first and third line with the rhythm of iambic pentameter, and a second and fourth two-beat line; the rhyme scheme is aabb. That four-line grouping is followed by an additional rhyming iambic pentameter couplet. Thus, the first verse, in which Herbert emphasizes Christ's act of rising from the grave by bidding the Christian heart to "rise" with emotion, reads:
Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise With him mayst rise;
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.
His focus in the third stanza shifts to that of song, as he writes, "Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song / Pleasant and long," noting that "all music is but three parts vied / And multiplied," that description suggesting the three members of the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The sentiment of each verse remains equally clear and simple, calling for recognition of Christ's sacrifice of his life for that of the eternal life of all those who receive his grace.
Herbert divides lines 19-30 into three four-line verses with a meter of four beats per line and a rhyme scheme of abab. The presentation slips into narrative, as the speaker tells the Easter story. He begins by describing the triumphant Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem of Christ, when crowds lined his path with flowers and palm boughs: "I got me flowers to straw thy way; / I got me boughs off many a tree." Herbert employs catachresis in his use of the term straw as a verb, calling attention to the poor material.
On Good Friday Christ suffered crucifixion, but, as the narrator relates, he rose on Easter Sunday. In the fifth stanza, Christ is compared to "The Sun arising in the East," but its light, along with the perfume from the East, should not presume "to contest / With thy arising." He closes by asking joyfully, "Can there be any day but this," then extends the sun reference, adding, "Though many suns to shine endeavour?" Herbert concludes by suggesting the homonym son, for the Son of God, in his allusion: "We count three hundred, but we miss: / There is but one, and that one ever." While men may note hundreds of suns rise, only one Son exists, he who arose to resume an eternal existence, purchasing eternity also for those humans who enjoy God's grace.
"EASTER WINGS" George Herbert (1633)
George Herbert included the well-known shape poems, "The Altar" and "Easter Wings," in his collection The Temple. The unity and harmony suggested by the wing shape support Herbert's message about the importance of man's acceptance of grace. As in "The Holdfast" and other such poems, he emphasizes that man can do nothing to earn grace; it must be granted by God. The wings create a sense of freedom, suggested by the act of flying, and Herbert emphasizes that act in references to birds and flight. The poem consists of two 10-line stanzas, with each line varying in length to fit the wing shape. As the lines diminish in length, their content suggests that act, revealing Herbert's skill in using form to reflect sentiment.
The first line is a direct address to God, although the speaker refers to humankind in third-person point of view: "Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store." The speaker notes that man "foolishly lost the same," the line length shrinking with the statement of loss. By the still shorter third line, the speaker suggests man's "Decaying," and in the next lines he adds, "Till he became / Most poor." The fifth line, with only two words, represents the smallest, poorest point for man. The sixth line, "With thee," balances the fifth line but begins expansion into lines that now increase in length, balancing the first five lines in appearance. only with God's help can the speaker "rise / As larks, harmoniously," and sing of God's "victories." The final line of the first stanza balances the first in length. Herbert uses a metaphysical approach to express his thought through contradiction, as his speaker notes that "the fall," referring to man's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden, is what will ultimately allow him to fly. This "fortunate fall" sentiment held that had man not engaged in original sin, he would never have had the chance to recover through Christ's sacrifice and experience the glory of redemption.
Repeating the same shape as the first stanza, the second stanza emphasizes that man's age, or history, began in sorrow, another reference to the fall, which brought on "sicknesses and shame" as God's punishment of sin. In the middle of the verse, in its two-word line, the speaker notes he became "Most thin," the thought expressing the thin shape of the wing image. Balancing the sixth line in the first stanza, Herbert
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