How does the title "The Collar" relate to the content of George Hughes' poem?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Firstly, the word collar has a number of connotations, both literal and figurative. In the normal sense of the word, a collar may be part of ones clothing, it could also be a reference to the white band which the clergy wear around their necks to indicate their profession, a collar is also used to restrict animals or to identify them. Added to this one can allude to someone being collared in a figurative sense, meaning that he/she has been caught or restricted in some way.

All of these definitions are apt in the context of the poem. Firstly, as used in the title, the poet's reference may be to the clerical collar, since he was a priest. This emphasises the significance of this small garment in the identification of a member of the clergy. They are generally associated with redemption, morality, spirituality and goodness.

It becomes quite clear that the speaker is rebelling against the restrictive nature of his calling. He violently declares in the first few lines: 

I struck the board, and cried, "No more;
                         I will abroad!
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free, free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store.
          Shall I be still in suit?
The speaker has apparently had enough of his spiritual duty and wishes to go 'abroad', not necessarily an actual journey, but a release so that he may do something else. He is clearly desirous to express himself freely and wants to 'sigh and pine' as others do. He wants the freedom to complain, but his faith demands that he bear his burdens patiently and not wallow in self-pity and negativity. His demeanour should always be pleasant but he seemingly has had enough of that. He insists that he has the freedom to complain, but he feels bound by the ethical requirements of his religion and his position. He therefore asks, rhetorically, whether he should still be 'in suit', i.e. should he not discard the garments of his profession, for they are part of that which limit him?
The speaker continues in the same vein in the proceeding lines, asking rhetorical questions about what he has lost during his period of priestly service. He longs for the more material pleasures of the world and wants to cease his emotional and physical suffering. He feels that he has lost much and it has become time to savour that which he has been denied. In his heart he feels the longing for these pleasures and wants to recover the time he has lost by doubling his enjoyment of such denied pleasures.
The speaker refers more specifically to the ties that bind him by using terms such as: 'cage', 'rope of sands' and 'good cable'. These images all have a restrictive quality about them and emphasises the speaker's wish to be free of them. For him, those were the rules that applied to his work but he asserts that he must rid himself of his fears. He addresses some unknown entity (possibly God) to take note that he will leave. He ironically states that those who 'forbear', i.e. resist the temptation to 'suit and serve his need' deserve the load that they are burdened with. What he means is that those who choose not to be self-serving and persist in serving God, should not complain about the burdens they have to carry. Seemingly, he does not want to have this collar (burden) around his neck any longer.
There is, however, an ironic twist at the end of the poem for the speaker declares that as his protests grew more voluminous, he thought he heard a voice cry out to him, Child! and he replied: My Lord. This is a clear indication that the speaker felt that he had been chastised for expressing such doubt about his calling and, in obedience, cried out to his master (God). The irony lies in the fact that the speaker obeyed immediately when he was castigated and would obviously comply to what is asked, making insignificant all his complaints.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial