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

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The pulley is used by Herbert as a metaphor for the relationship between God and the individual Christian believer. A pulley is a simple mechanical device which you use to lift something up by pulling down on it. And God both pulls us down and lifts us up by withholding...

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The pulley is used by Herbert as a metaphor for the relationship between God and the individual Christian believer. A pulley is a simple mechanical device which you use to lift something up by pulling down on it. And God both pulls us down and lifts us up by withholding the gift of rest. One is reminded of St. Augustine's famous maxim that our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.

As with many metaphysical poems, "The Pulley" is based around a conceit, or extended metaphor. In this particular case, the conceit is God creating human beings by mixing various blessings together. Herbert portrays the Almighty as having a glass containing these blessings that he wishes to pour into us as he creates us:

So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
But then God hesitates. He holds back the most important gift, rest, thinking it may not be a good idea to bestow it upon us after all:
“'For if I should,' said he,
'Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be.'"
If we were completely at rest, then what need would we have for God? That's why he does not give us natural rest; the only rest we can have is the rest that comes from being lifted up to God. Hence, Herbert uses the pulley metaphor, which perfectly encapsulates the reciprocal relationship between God and humanity.
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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. 

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