“The Banquet” first appeared in a posthumous collection of George Herbert’s work published as The Temple. Divided into three parts (the church porch, the church, and the church militant), The Temple was designed by Herbert to reflect the structure of the Old Testament tabernacle (the outer porch, the Holy Room, and the Holy of Holies). This tripartite division also yields numerical significance as the symbol of the triune God.
As a religious meditation, “The Banquet” appears in the section labeled “The Church” as a method of preparation for Holy Communion, in which earthly and heavenly elements are combined into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The poem can be roughly divided into two parts. Stanzas 1 through 5 focus on the present, in this case the immediate joys of celebrating the sacrament. In keeping with this pattern, the initial verse contains an allusion to Solomon’s Song of Songs and welcomes the spiritual cheer provided by the Holy Supper in the way one might welcome a lover. In stanza 2, Herbert goes on to compare the divine sweetness of the wine to a sugared liquor; specifically, he envisions a star melted in the liquid, a combination of heaven and the fruit of earth. This metaphor involves sight as well as taste, perhaps suggesting that in the sacrament an earthly sense (taste) is transformed into a heavenly vision (sight).
Stanzas 3 and 4 shift the emphasis to a sense of...
(The entire section is 572 words.)