The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Collar” is George Herbert’s most extensive and detailed poem of rebellion. Thirty-two of its thirty-six lines describe what the poem itself calls the ravings of a person growing “more fierce and wild” as he strains to release himself from the restrictive pressures that surround him. Much like John Donne’s energetic complaints to God in several of his Holy Sonnets, “The Collar” gives full expression to the speaker’s resentment of the pain and rigor of leading a life that is moral and holy. Only after these complaints are freely, almost hysterically voiced is the speaker taught how quickly they can be banished by a patient God who ultimately gives more than he asks.

The poem begins with a dramatic statement of refusal—“I struck the board, and cried, No more”—and the following lines give examples of the kind of life that the speaker wants to leave behind. He is a person of ambition and desire, yet everything in life seems to conspire to frustrate or torment him. His life is one of “sighs” and “tears,” a situation he finds particularly distressing because he can readily imagine the joys and glories, the wine, fruit, and flowers, that are withheld from him.

The process of describing his past failure to seize the available pleasures of life makes him more determined to change his ways immediately and exchange his tears for the pursuit of “double pleasures.” Like a libertine, he suggests that inhibitions and...

(The entire section is 554 words.)