William Cowper (1773) William Cowper's "Light Shining out of Darkness" testifies to his evangelical faith, a faith that convinced him he was evil and condemned by God as he sank into a depression that eventually resulted in insanity. It adopts the traditional Christian metaphor of light as knowledge, grace, and Christ and includes familiar lines from the Bible, such as its opening, "God moves in a mysterious way."
The poem's format is six stanzas of four verses each, with a rhyme scheme of ababcdcdefef, and so on, and alternate line rhythms of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. In each stanza Cowper offers assurance. He follows his description of God's mysteries, adding,
His wonders to perform; He plants his footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.
While he includes nothing surprising in this poem, Cowper paraphrases the familiar to pleasing effect, creating an imagery of a grand deity. The second stanza reads,
Deep in unfathomable mines Of never-failing skill
He treasures up his bright designs And works his sovereign will.
The speaker assures readers with the term unfathomable that the human mind can never understand God's efforts, thereby relieving them of any burden to try to do so. They understand a mine as a place deep in the earth, beyond the normal reach, where "treasures" might be discovered. The fact that God's will is "sovereign" makes him something more than an earthly king, who reigns but remains limited.
The speaker addresses the faithful in the third stanza, stating,
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.
He comforts the audience by explaining that while clouds often signal a storm, a metaphor for the problems that plague man, these clouds will rain with blessings. In the fourth stanza the speaker commands readers,
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust him for his grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.
Cowper continues his assurance by clarifying that our human natures cannot comprehend the Lord, because of his spiritual existence. The fearful God of Old Testament teachings, often seen as a vengeful parent, is actually prepared to offer man a gentle grace, rather than punishment. As the next stanza attests, that is part of an overriding plan, which man may at first not understand:
His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding ev'ry hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow'r.
Cowper offers the flower as metaphor, reminding readers that an immature bud remains bitter, but if one
remains patient and waits until it matures and flowers, he will be rewarded by a sweet scent, or taste. Cowper concludes with a final statement urging blind faith, not "Blind unbelief," which
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
While Cowper's surface message, that one must remain attentive to signs from the Lord, is clear, he suggests an additional idea. He speaks to others like him, poets, preachers, and all diviners of the spirit, warning them that God can best represent himself to those who will only listen. Therefore, Cowper exhibits an understanding of the limitations of language and art. While they may move men's emotions, only the Lord can move a soul.
"LOVE (3)" George Herbert (1633) "Love (3)" joins the poems "Dooms-day," "Judgement," "Heaven," and "Death" as the closing sequence to the grouping titled "The Church" within the collection The Temple by George Herbert. These final poems serve to complement some of the first poems, such as "The Altar." Herbert opens using the altar, an icon that traditionally represented sacrifice and later the communion service. In "Love (3)," he closes reflecting on that same communion, a sacramental service that celebrates Christ's sacrifice for the sake of man. The poem is structured in 18 lines divided into three six-line stanzas. Lines 1, 3, and 5 in each stanza have a meter scheme of iambic pentameter, while lines 2, 4, and 6 are much shorter and reflect iambic trimeter. Herbert often used such a format, emphasizing contrast, perhaps between God's greatness and man's lack of such.
As Christina Malcolmson explains, the Church of England had since the Reformation used the communion table to represent the last supper, where worshippers kneeled to accept the sacrament. Puritans preferred a seated posture, and Arminians, post-1617, used altars. In the absence of an altar, they moved a communion table to the east end of the church, placed it in the direction of the altar, and enclosed it with rails as a sign of respect for the clergy. Herbert agreed that participants in the holy ceremony should kneel, representing man's confession of unworthiness. However, he envisions the supplicant in this poem as seated at the table, emphasizing Christ's humility in his invitation for mere mortals to join him in a celebration of souls. Herbert establishes Love as a figure of allegory, hearkening back to the cautionary drama of medieval times. Yet he simultaneously undermines those stories of doom and gloom by revealing that Love aids Christ in the salvation of man.
The first line states, "Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back," indicating that the speaker feels unworthy, his emotion described in the second line as "Guilty of dust and sin." However, "quick-eyed Love" observes the sinner's hesitation and "Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning, / If I lacked anything." Love plays a gracious and (for)giving host to his guest. In the second stanza the speaker makes clear to Love that he feels unworthy to be in Love's presence. Although Love assures the guest "you shall be he" who will join Love at the table, the speaker continues to resist, unable even to look upon Love. Love takes the speaker's hand "and smiling did reply, / Who made the eyes but I?" Love assumes the speaker's burden by claiming responsibility for the gaze the speaker wishes to withhold. The sincerely humble speaker continues in the third stanza by countering that while he understands he is God's creation, he has "marred" his eyes. He tells Love, "Let my shame / Go where it doth deserve." At that point Love makes clear that such shame and blame have been borne by Christ. He concludes by gently insisting that the sinner "sit down" and "taste my meat." The sinner acquiesces, completing the poem by stating, "So I did sit and eat." Herbert stresses that all sinners are welcome at the communion table, providing they have a contrite heart and approach with proper humility.
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