In George Herbert's poem, "Virtue," how does the imagery of the third stanza relate to the first two stanzas? "Sweet day" and "Sweet rose"

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George Herbert's poem entitled, "Virtue," uses images of things that are "sweet" and full of life, and couples them with the dark side of life: inevitable death.

The first stanza refers to "sweet day," the joining of earth and sky, with all its positive aspects—cool, calm and bright. However, these engaging images are coupled with death. It is here in "dew shall weep."  The second stanza begins with the image of a "sweet rose," with an "angry and brave" color, which brings to mind the color "red" as with red and rage, and red and blood. The "rash gazer" may be the one who looks too closely to see not the beauty and life in the rose, but dwells on the reality of ultimate death, the rose's roots—its grave.

The third stanza uses "sweet" again, referring to spring, "dayes" (daisies?), roses and "candy." The contradiction to these "sweet images" is the same as that presented in the first and second stanzas: the beauty of life aligned with the unavoidable death— without exception. The third line refers to "musick." The lines mention "your closes," which is the ...

...musical ending, the final chord or chords of a piece of music.

There are two kinds of "closes." The second kind, under certain circumstances, is also called an "A-men" ending. This also provides the reference to an end.

The third stanza shows a strong comparison between life and death in pitting the intellectual against the sensuous (things perceived by the senses), particularly in lines nine and ten...

...when the spring is compared to a box of compressed sweets.

By looking at the difference of the beginning of the fourth stanza, we can see the relationship of the first three stanzas, which deal with nature: the sweet day, the sweet rose, and the sweet spring, filled with sweet things that are temporary. The last stanza turns its attention to the condition of the soul, dealing with the end of the world, whereas the first three stanzas deal with the life and death of things in the world. The first two stanzas deal with the elements of spring: the sweet day and the sweet rose. It would seem that the these stanzas lead naturally into the broader "category" of "spring." In essence, there is a progression like an inverted pyramid: day, then rose, then spring, then the soul: and Herbert's message, all but the soul die.

The first two stanzas provide examples of smaller elements of a broader theme—the day and the rose as examples of spring. And all things, regardless of how small or seemingly inconsequential they seem, are finite.

In the poem "Virtue,"

...Herbert reflects on the loveliness of the living world but also on the reality of death.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial