In George Herbert's poem "Virtue," the first two stanzas are devoted to "Sweet day" and "Sweet rose." Specifically, how are these aspects of the natural world treated in the first two and last two...

In George Herbert's poem "Virtue," the first two stanzas are devoted to "Sweet day" and "Sweet rose." Specifically, how are these aspects of the natural world treated in the first two and last two lines in stanzas one and two?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In George Herbert's poem, "Virtue," the images that begin the first and second stanza are considered sensuous in nature (appealing to the senses), rather than that which appeals to the intellect.

Herbert's overall themes in his poetry generally center around religion, especially in light of rebellion and obedience, but it is not seen as clearly in "Virtue." Herbert does draw attention to the connection between "intellect and emotion." These two "forces" struggle with each other in the first three stanzas of the poem.

In the first stanza, the "Sweet day" appeals to the emotional force with its attributes that point to...

...cool, calm, bright, [and] the marriage of earth and

sky.

However, there is an end, a death (recognized by the intellect), as with all things. It is presented in the first stanza with...

The dew shall weep...

The second stanza deals with the emotional response to the "Sweet rose" and its beauty, seen with its red color that inspires recognition of anger and bravery; the intellectual response, presented with an awareness of death is found in the plant's roots:

...Thy root is ever in its grave

And thou must die.

So the images of the day and the rose appeal to the emotional (the human condition) and are found and described in the first two lines of each stanza. The opposing force (recognized by the intellect) is found in the last two lines of each stanza, which points out the eventual end of all things: these last two lines describe the "death" of the day and the rose.

 

 

kaseinpoint eNotes educator| Certified Educator
In the first two lines of each of the stanzas, an emphasis is placed on the beauty of the present, whereas in the last two lines, a statement about timeless inevitability is made.
 
In Stanza 1, the "sweet day" is currently "so cool, so calm, so bright" and described with optimism as a "bridal." But that present loveliness is met with an ominous prediction of the future: "the dew shall weep . . . to-night." In Stanza 2, the "sweet rose" is currently "angry and brave," and the "rash gazer" presently is told to "wipe his eye." But in the third line, the word "ever" suggests a truth that exceeds time, a truth outside of the present, of the "root" always being "in its grave."
 
The last line of each stanza is like a death knell: "thou must die." While the beginning of each stanza passionately observes the beauty of the present with words like "sweet" and "so," the ending of each stanza pounds an inevitable, recurring, timeless reminder of doom: "thou must die." The grave monotony of the repeating "thou must die" over each stanza reinforces the inevitability and uncaring nature of the reminder.
 
Nature is beautiful, as seen in the poignant descriptions of the sweet day and rose. But nature is also unforgiving, always sounding, if not now then eventually, the pendulum of the hearse, no matter the beauty of the present.
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Virtue

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