Compare and contrast the themes of Herbert's religious poems "Easter Wings" and "The Collar."

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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George Herbert's poem "Easter Wings" is a "shape poem," a common practice of poets at the time. It is shaped like an altar typical for the religious theme. (To see the shape, go to the link for the poem's text.)

In this poem, Herbert speaks of man's "fall from grace:" 

Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store,

Though foolishly he lost the same,

Decaying more and more,

Till he became

Most poore…

Herbert describes that God created man and gave him the riches of the Garden of Eden, but through his sinfulness, man lost it all, and is sentenced to eventual death. (This section is represented by the top of the altar, which is associated with death/sacrifice.) However, in the section on the bottom of this shaped stanza (the base of the altar), the tone of the poem changes: the speaker hopes that he will rise up, as the lark (noted by Shakespeare to "sing hymns at Heaven's gate"), victorious over death, so that the depth of his fall into sin's embrace will actually further catapult him heavenward.

With Thee

O let me rise,

As larks, harmoniously,

And sing this day Thy victories:

Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

The second stanza has a similar tone—the speaker was born into sin, and God has punished him until he is "thinne" with suffering. However, the second part of this stanza has positive tone again: that if the speaker clings to the "wing" of his Creator, his "afflictions" will only take him closer to heaven ("shall advance the flight in me"). In this poem is the sense of recognizing the poet's state of sin, accepting it, and yet trusting that with God's love, he will be saved—note references to flight.

The second poem is called "The Collar." This may refer to the collar of a preacher, the restrictive collar of a dog, or (as suggested), it may be a pun for "choler." Here is a totally different approach to sin. In this, the speaker is tired of doing without the pleasures of a secular existence. For his pains, he has nothing of joy in living a moral life:

Have I no harvest but a thorn

To let me bloud*, and not restore

What I have lost with cordiall fruit?

[*bloud - possibly "bleed"--figuratively]

The speaker has nothing to show for living a goodly life other than pain ("thorns"). So he decides that he will throw his Christian walk aside and live in the fullness of all the pleasures the world has to offer:

Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,

And thous hast hands.

Recover all thy sigh-blown age

On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute

Of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage...

The poet intends to grab life with both hands and enjoy every fun-loving thing he can—he rebels

However, like a parent (a "Father"), God gently calls him back. As he...

...rav'd and grew more fierce and wilde

At every word...

He hears God speaking to him:


And like a son gently called back from a harmful choice, the speaker answers faithfully:

My Lord.

The first poem's theme notes the constant struggle to overcome sin. The second poem shows a rebellious spirit—the rejection of trying to live a holy life—until God calls the speaker back to be a moral individual.


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