Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 539

Although the first section of “The Banquet” is rich in poetic devices, the second section speaks more personally of the theme of the poem. Section 1 provides a succession of metaphors that build toward a parable of life that emphasizes the unity of flesh and spirit found both in the...

(The entire section contains 539 words.)

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Although the first section of “The Banquet” is rich in poetic devices, the second section speaks more personally of the theme of the poem. Section 1 provides a succession of metaphors that build toward a parable of life that emphasizes the unity of flesh and spirit found both in the sacrament and in the God/man, Christ Jesus. This building pattern is also significant because it relates to the title of the collection, The Temple. This image suggests not only a physical building but also human beings themselves, who as God’s temples constantly desire their bodies to be built up in the Spirit. Thus the abstract combinations of sweetness and wine, fragrance and bread, and the associations of wood and star suddenly become a more personalized parable of the unity of God and man.

This unity is attainable only through bruised wood, an image that recalls not only the cross but also the battered body of Christ, dying for the sins of the world. To emphasize the importance of this event, Herbert flashes back to a time before he was redeemed. Here he pictures himself “drowned” in the delights of the earth. Oddly enough, he is saved from drowning (the punishment for wickedness during the Flood) by another liquid, the blood of Christ. God in His Son comes down to the author and is “spilt with me.” Christ joins Himself to human suffering and then adds His victory and resurrection so that man can be restored.

A movement upward, culminating in a heavenly vision, results when man puts on Christ. Literally, Herbert is doing this through the reception of Holy Communion. “Wine becomes a wing,” and Herbert beholds a revelation or epiphany as he observes Christ in the fullness of His heavenly glory (the Transfiguration). This vision enables Herbert to make sense even of the insensible. He understands that since he has been lifted up through the sacrament, he must return to earth, and he does so with a greater vision. With “wonder” and awe, he takes up his ditty and returns to his “lines” [poetry] and life. In the last stanza, by joining the senses of touch (hands) and hearing (hearken) to the senses of taste and smell, Herbert seems to suggest that only through receiving the Lord’s Supper can one be wholly complete.

Such a completeness overcomes all earthly desires, even those of success and renown. Since it is known that Herbert had aspirations in the court of England, one line from the poem stands out in relationship to his own life. Lines 40 to 42 read as follows: “But still being low and short,/ far from court/ wine becomes wing at last.” Whether his hopes were crushed by political disasters in his family or whether he shunned his aspirations for grandeur in favor of the priesthood, Herbert seems to have recognized that the calling of God’s kingdom (His court) exceeds the appeals of earthly monarchs and their power. The journey of the soul to its Lord supersedes the finery offered by the world, and “the Banquet” of Holy Communion overshadows and supersedes any physical feast or celebration that might invite individuals to glory in their own abilities and accomplishments rather than in those of their Savior.

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