In George Herbert's poem "The Pulley," analyze and discuss the meaning of the kinetic images suggested by the words "pour," "flowed," "rest," and "toss."

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The “kinetic images” in George Herbert’s poem “The Pulley” are presumably the images that imply motion. The verb “rest,” then, would not be a kinetic image in the strict sense of the word, since “rest” implies an absence of motion.  However, the verb “Bestow” (in line 12) does imply a kind of motion, and the poem as a whole seems to be organized partly around a pattern of images of motion and images of passivity or quiescence (such as “lay” in line 10 or “keep” in lines 16-17).

The first “kinetic image” occurs when God, having created man, says,

“Let us . . . pour on him all we can:

Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,

Contract into a span.” (3-5)

Here the word “pour” has many highly appropriate connotations (that is, suggestive meanings), since the word implies something that is liquid, free-flowing, abundant, energetic, and even rapid in movement.  The effect would be altogether different if God had merely said “Let us . . . place on him all we can” or “Let us . . . drip on him all that we can” or “Let us . . . drop on him all that we can.”  The word “pour” implies God’s generosity, his unlimited capacity, his freedom, and his ever-ready willingness to give.

Many of the same connotations are suggested by the word “flowed” in line 7, which again suggests a ready movement of abundant liquid.  Notice, however, that both “pour” and “flowed” imply a controlled movement of liquid in a way that such words as “flood” or “deluge” would not.  God “pour[s]” benefits on man; he doesn’t “flood” man with benefits or “overwhelm” man with benefits or unleash a “deluge” of benefits.  The benefits bestowed by God are given in good measure; their movement is under his control.

The same is true of the active word “Bestow,” which once more implies that God gives something precious and does so in a highly appropriate, controlled, and loving way.  The final kinetic word – “toss”—is perfectly appropriate, since it suggests careless, casual movement, movement that can even seem agitated or disturbed (as in the phrase “tempest-tossed”).  Here, however, God is not the imagined initiator of movement.  Instead, man’s restlessness is, and so the suggestions of carelessness, casualness, and agitation are perfectly appropriate to man’s imperfection (in contrast to God’s perfection).


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