In George Herbert's poem "The Pulley," what (according to the speaker) are the particular "blessings" that God confers on humanity and why should these be considered blessings?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In George Herbert’s poem “The Pulley,” the speaker claims that God once bestowed various “blessings” on man:

“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can:

Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,

Contract into a span.”

The first of the various blessings that God bestows on man is “strength” (6) – presumably physical strength, but perhaps spiritual and mental strength as well.  Next comes “beauty” (7), again probably referring first and foremost to physical beauty but perhaps also to spiritual beauty as well.  Next in the list are “wisdom, honor, [and] pleasure” (7).  If “strength” and “beauty” seemed to suggest primarily physical attributes, then surely “wisdom” and “honor” suggest gifts of mind and character.  The word “pleasure,” like “strength” and “beauty,” can seem double-edged and may refer both to physical pleasure and to pleasures of the soul and mind.

All these gifts should be considered “blessings” in several senses of that word:

  • They involve (in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary) bestowal of divine favour and prospering influence." In other words, they imply God's special regard for man.
  • They are gifts that result in happiness.
  • They imply God’s literal providence.
  • They are gifts that can be revoked if God so chooses and thus should never be taken for granted.

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