Herrick (1648) Robert Herrick's affection for the poet and playwright Ben Jonson is well known. He celebrated his mentor in a number of poems, including "An Ode for Him," all meant to praise Jonson's talent and his willingness to associate with and cultivate younger poets. Herrick's debt to Jonson proved great, as the older man introduced Herrick to his Tribe of Ben, allowing Herrick to join their gatherings. In "His Prayer to Ben Jonson" Herrick establishes Jonson as a saint figure. Because individuals were encouraged to pray to saints for protection and intercession, that metaphor allowed Herrick to depict Jonson as not only a mentor, but also a type of divine inspiration. In three simple four-line stanzas composed of rhyming couplets, Herrick extends his use of figurative language (figure of speech) to great effect. The first stanza reads:
When I a Verse shall make, Know I have prayed thee, For old Religions sake, Saint Ben to aid me.
The speaker emphasizes that poetry is not created in a vacuum, as poets require inspiration for their spiritual endeavor. Some critics propose that Religion, as Herrick uses it here, may equate to the sacred nature of an oath, which would allow the poet to repledge his loyalty to his departed mentor. The second stanza acts as a request as Herrick adopts the tone of a supplicant as he asks for Jonson's guidance in his writing:
Make the way smooth for me, When I, thy Herrick, Honouring thee, on my knee offer my Lyrick.
The speaker kneels, as befits one requesting a favor from a near-deity. The phrase thy Herrick allows the poet to remind readers and himself of his close relationship with Jonson. In the third and final stanza, Herrick references the lighting of candles, an important part of religious ritual designed to honor a departed soul, as well as an altar, an icon representing sacrifice by humans to God:
Candles Ile give to thee, And a new Altar; And thou Saint Ben, shalt be Writ in my Psalter.
A psalter is a book containing the Psalms, or lyrics, from the Bible, used in worship. That Herrick's Psalter will include Ben Jonson extends the metaphor of worship and praise connected with religious ritual. Herrick sought to exalt Jonson through his personal art, the highest honor a poet could offer.
"HOLDFAST, THE" George Herbert (1633)
In his sonnet "The Holdfast," George Herbert summarizes the ideas regarding grace presented in poems that appear earlier in his collection, The Temple, including "The Altar." He also employs the methods of metaphysical poets and poetry, suggesting contradiction reveals the truth. In addition, Herbert departs from the traditional Elizabethan sonnet technique of employing the final couplet as summation. In "The Holdfast," the concluding couplet represents an outside voice, convincing the poem's persona of his error.
The speaker begins, "I threatened to observe the strict decree / of my dear god with all my power & might." It is the first of several declarations of intent by the speaker. This one reflects on the Arminian belief, which countered Herbert's own Calvinistic leanings, that civil authority should be respected and served. Such declarations will be undercut by responses from an outside "one," as evidenced in the third line, "But I was told by one, it could not be." The speaker will be told repeatedly that none of his actions will result in his salvation. Specifically the counter to his first idea is "Yet I might trust God to be my light." The speaker accepts this idea, that trust will prove superior to observation of decree, responding, "Then I will trust, said I, in him alone." However, no sooner does he agree to what he sees as a countermand than he learns that also will not do, because trust "was also his: / We must confess that nothing is our own," where the possessive pronoun his refers to God. Predictably, when the speaker agrees to make that confession, "that he my succour is:" the rejoinder is "But to have nought is ours, not to confess / That we have nought." Herbert's use of caesura occurs in the middle of line 10, effectively stopping the reader with the thought that man has nothing and can claim or confess nothing. That line continues, "I stood amaz'd at this," with the forced pause emphasizing the phrase that precedes the comma. The speaker remains "Much troubled," but a friend explains the contradiction by stating another seeming contradiction:
That all things were more ours by being his.
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.
Herbert challenges the idea that one can earn grace through merit; the speaker cannot contribute to his own salvation, but instead must hold fast to Christ. Although the speaker makes a valiant attempt in his declarations of action at morality, he learns that his personal goodness does not matter. Even confession does not reflect obedience but rather acknowledges a lack of power and control. A force from outside the speaker, in this case a "friend," represents grace, which the speaker can neither generate nor earn.
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