George Herbert

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Please explain "A Dialogue," a poem by George Herbert.

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In "A Dialogue," Herbert presents a conversation between man and his saviour where man argues that because he is so full of sin that he is not worth being loved by his God. From man's perspective, he is full of "care and pains" and therefore his soul is not "worth the having." The man is presented as being so aware of his sinful nature that he feels he is not worthy to be in a relationship with God. However, in the second stanza, God replies that it is not man's position to judge himself and his value to God:

What the gains in having thee

Do amount to, only He

Who for man was sold can see;

That transferr'd th'accounts to me.

God argues therefore that it is not man's position to value themselves or make a judgement on the possible benefit they can be to God. It is only Jesus who is able to "see" the "gains in having" man, because he was "sold" for man and thus is qualified to talk of man's value. In response, man replies that he can "see no merit" in this system. Because it is so totally beyond him and his understanding, he threatens to "disclaim the whole design." God in turn reminds man of what he did in taking the form of man and the suffering he endured. The man interrupts, saying he can hear no more and that his heart is breaking. Clearly, the example of God in dying for man is so powerful that it overrides any concerns or worries that the man has, and he ends the poem willing to trust in God and God's grace, even though he still presumably feels he is full of sin. The poem thus concerns itself with the doctrine of grace and how it is possible for man to be in relationship with God through the sacrifce of Jesus on the cross.

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