How would George Herbert's "The Flower," compare with Henry Vaughn's, "Unprofitableness"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Both of these excellent poems use the central conceit of comparing the speaker to a flower to describe their relationship with God and the way that God tends and nurtures them, as if he were a gardener. In "Unprofitableness," for example, the poem begins with the speaker thanking God for his visit, which came at just the right time, because at that stage his "bleak leaves hopeless hung, Sullied with dust and mud." God's glance and visit have made the speaker "flourish," now, however, and "Breathe all perfumes and spice." The poem then moves on to dwell on the way that God is engaged in a profoundly "unprofitable" task, as he "a thankless weed doth dress" when the speaker can give so little in return. The conceit of a flower therefore helps the speaker to meditate upon the grace of God and his amazing restorative energies.

"The Flower," by George Herbert is a similar meditation on God's resotrative powers, man's frailty and sinful nature and God's grace. However, one difference is the way that this poem focuses on the way in which God has the power to both restore and to wither:

These are thy wonders, Lord of power,

Killing and quickening, bringing down to hell

And up to heaven in an houre.

If God restores, he also can "kill," and therefore is not a God whose grace we can treat with contempt. It is the final stanza that concludes this meditation on God's wonders and his amazing power, both to punish and to bless:

These are thy wonders, Lord of love,

To make us see we are but flowers that glide:

Which when we once can finde and prove,

Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.

If "Unprofitableness" is therefore based on God's grace and a hymn of praise to the way that he spends so much time on "unprofitable" humans, then "The Flower" is much wider in its scope, looking at the way in which viewing ourselves as a flower should help to give us a correct and humble view of ourselves and not to take for granted God's love and grace.

 

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