How does the poet portray the image of the pulley in the poem "The Pulley" by George Herbert?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What a beautiful poem! Written in 1633, "The Pulley" by George Hebert uses an extended metaphor or conceit to elucidate his purpose in the poem.  Herbert, a religious poet, develops his metaphor in a more complex manner leading the reader to a better understanding of God's purpose in designing mankind.  The poem has four stanzas each with five lines.  The stanzas follow a set rhyme scheme of ababa.

The key to understanding the poem's title is two-fold: the denotation and connotation of the word, pulley. A pulley is a mechanical device used for lifting weights with a downward application of force.  The poet places this contraption then in the hands of God to ascribe certain qualities to man: loveliness, astuteness, reverence, enjoyment. God pulls each sacred gift from a glass brimming over until he comes to the last one.

God pauses and sees that there is only blessing left.  If God were to withhold this gift, then man might not forget him.  Claiming man as his own,  God knows that man would love the world but overlook God.  Without the fellowship between man and God, both would lose.  No, God would keep rest, and man with all his other treasures would feel the pulley or tie to God and return to him for respite.  If love of God does not return man to him, his weariness of the world will.  God wants an emotional relationship with man.

He would adore my gifts in stead of me,

And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:

So both should losers be.

The image of the pulley going into the glass and bringing up each jewel that God gives man is a powerful metaphor.  Herbert cleverly uses another metaphor portraying the man standing barren of traits and God with all of his might, bestowing each gift with loving hands.  That is a delightful portrayal of Genesis 1:27:

God created man in his own image.

The hand of God becomes the pulley to hold the man to him.  Like a loving father who always watches over his children, God will never surrender his hold on man. 

 If goodnesse leade him not, yet wearinesse

May tosse him to my breast. 

awolugutu | Student

The Pulley by George Hebert was written in 17th century England. The poetic persona was himself a poet and Anglican priest.

The poem is a religious metaphysical poem. It is a metaphysical poem because the poetic persona conveys a religious idea through scientific representation. A pulley is a mechanical device used in lifting heavy objects.

The Pulley is about the story of creation as recorded in the book of Genesis in the Bible. As a benevolent Father God wanted to reward man who he created.

He had precious gifts for man. These included wealth, wisdom, beauty, honour and pleasure. He however withheld rest, considered the most important of all the jewels he had bestowed on man.

God thought that if man were to get everything he would begin to worship earthly things rather than he God. Man will adore Nature rather than the God of Nature.

Man cannot obtain contentment and fulfillment anywhere except through God his creator. Thus if goodness or love will not bring man to God, restlessness and weariness will compel man to return to God for sustenance and salvation.

The pulley thus becomes a means by which God pulls man to himself.

It is a metaphor depicting the connection between man and God, and how man is pulled towards God because he cannot on his own obtain eternal rest unless God.

From Robert AWOLUGUTU/