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Jan 24, 2017

George Herbert's "The Pulley" as a Metaphysical Poem


What is a Metaphysical Poem?


The term 'metaphysical' simply means beyond the physical; and metaphysical poems treat subjects or give answers to questions that are beyond the physical. Metaphysical poetry flourished in England in the 17th century - a period characterized with religious activities. Due to the fact that society influences literature, poets who wrote during that period were not only secular but also religious as most of their works allude to some biblical stories. With John Donne being the originator of metaphysical poetry, other metaphysical poets include: Andrew Marvel, George Herbert, Richard Cashaw and Henry Vanghan.

Metaphysical poems are spiced with unique features which distinguish them from other poems; and George Herbert's 'The Pulley' is not devoid of such unique features; thus, making it a metaphysical poem.

One unique feature of metaphysical poems is that they give answers to questions that are beyond the physical. An in-depth analysis of George Herbert's 'The Pulley' will expose you to why human wants are insatiable. In other words, George Herbert's 'The Pulley' explains why man is never tired of satisfying his want irrespective of all he has acquired. According to George Herbert's 'The Pulley,' after God created man, He blessed him abundantly and endowed him with all precious gifts except rest. God withheld rest in order to always bring man closer to Himself. This is evident in the last stanza of the poem:

'Yet let him keep the rest,But keep them with repining restlessness;Let him be rich and weary, that at least,If goodness lead him not, yet weariness May toss him to my breast.'

In the very last two lines, God says 'if goodness lead him not, yet weariness may toss him to my breast.' This is an obvious answer to why human want is insatiable or why man is restless. The answer to this metaphysical question according to George Herbert is because God deprived man of rest after creating man.

Another unique feature of metaphysical poem is the use of conceit or fondness for conceit. In literature, a conceit is an extended metaphor with a complex logic that governs a poetic passage or entire poem. Also, a metaphor is the direct comparison of two dissimilar objects; and George Herbert in his poem, 'The Pulley' compares the relationship between God and man with a metaphorical pulley. A pulley is a wheel or set of wheels over which a rope or chain is pulled in order to lift or lower a heavy object. Similarly, in order to pull man (who is always distant from Him) back to Himself, God deprived man of rest.

Again, metaphysical poems are witty, that is, they are full of wits. Metaphysical poets are very clever and intelligent and such intelligence is showcased in their poems as they are fond of explaining bulky subjects in few lines. It is an undeniable fact that in twenty lines of four stanzas, George Herbert can recount the creation story in Genesis chapter one and also, give reason to man's restlessness.

Metaphysical poems have direct tone of speech and are also dramatic in nature. George Herbert's 'The Pulley' hypnotizes the reader with the feeling that God is dialoguing with other heavenly bodies while creating man and the tone of His speech is direct:
"Let us," said he "pour on him all we can." (L3)

The phrase "let us," is a clear indication that God is dialoguing with other heavenly bodies (perhaps members of the trinity).

The last stanza also projects the poem as dramatic in nature:
"Yet let him keep the rest,But keep them with repining restlessness..."

The above lines also create in the mind of the reader a mental picture of God discussing with other heavenly bodies why He withholds rest from man. The tone of His speech is direct as He talks directly to these heavenly bodies.

Metaphysical poems are religious in nature; they treat religious themes and this is as a result of the age they were written. Metaphysical poets really flourished in the 17th century when religious activities were the order of the day and that really influenced their poems. George Herbert's 'The Pulley' is never left out as it treats religious themes such as: the sovereignty of God, the creator and the creature, the unending blessings of God on man, divine providence etc.

Finally, another unique feature of metaphysical poems is concentration. Due to their high intelligent quotient (IQ), metaphysical poets remain focused on their subjects. An in-depth analysis of George Herbert's 'The Pulley,' will no doubt showcase 'the sovereignty/superiority of God over man' as a predominant theme that runs through the lines of the poem. God demonstrates His sovereignty over man by depriving man of rest which He feels will definitely draw man back to Him to totter under His feet (Lines 18 - 20).

In sum, from the above explanation and analysis, one cannot doubt the fact the George Herbert's 'The Pulley' is a metaphysical poem.




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