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Please explain "Jordan II," a poem by George Herbert.

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kareemoo | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted March 9, 2013 at 4:42 PM via web

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Please explain "Jordan II," a poem by George Herbert.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 9, 2013 at 6:54 PM (Answer #1)

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In "Jordan (II)," Herbert explains the difficult task he faces in writing poetry that speaks to the profound significance of his religious devotion. As a poet, he is inclined to use dramatic, expressive, and flowery language. But his religious outlook implores modesty and therefore, rich, overzealous language is just not in that spirit of modesty and piety. 

In the first stanza, the speaker says he began writing lustrous lines but then trimmed them down to quaint terms. In the second stanza, he admits that he had thousands of ideas but blotted them out, concluding that "heav'nly joyes" were just too ineffable to capture in words: 

Nothing could seem too rich to clothe the sunne,

Much lesse those joyes which trample on his head. 

In the third stanza, the speaker concludes the poem, as he determines that a friend might hear all of his pretense (all the flowery language and the wavering back and forth between trying to be modest and dramatic). He ends the poem with an appeal to a modest but powerful concept, that love itself is modest and profound: 

There is in love a sweetnesse readie penn'd: 

Copie out only that, and save expense. 

Herbert is therefore faced with an impossible task: to write a poem that encompasses the ineffable qualities of "heav'nly joyes" which is impossible in and of itself. But he also must dial down his flowery language because it would be too bold and audacious to suggest that he even could capture such joys in language. And, even if he were to attempt it, he also feels he must keep the language more plain because that would be in the spirit of modesty. This is a classic catch-22. It is a poem that he chooses to write but he knows, given the conflicting conditions of being modest and triumphant, it is a poem that can not be written. He ends with the idea that what he is trying to express is already ("readie") expressed in love itself. 

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