Last Updated on July 25, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 583
The speaker seems to be someone who is acutely aware of, and seeks forgiveness for, a sin that he has committed—the original sin, it seems, of human fallibility. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker bemoans the ingratitude of mankind, which has "foolishly" lost the "wealth and store" with which it was originally blessed by God. This is likely a reference to Adam and Eve, who, according to Christianity, were the first people, made in God's image and blessed with paradise in the form of the Garden of Eden. Both Adam and Eve then defied God by eating fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge. They were thrown out of Eden, and mankind thereafter was cursed with the burden of original sin. In the second stanza, the speaker suggests that he has likewise been punished for a "sinne" that he has committed. Beginning with an allusion to the story of Adam and Eve suggests that the speaker considers his sin, and his consequent punishment, to be comparable in some way. The implication is that he considers his sin to be especially grievous. Alternatively, the "sinne" could be an allusion to the original sin with which all descendants of Adam and Eve, according to Christianity, are burdened—and which the speaker considers as much his sin as theirs.
In the second stanza, too, the speaker alludes to a "sickness" and a "shame" that has made him "Most thinne." This could be a reference to Herbert's consumption, which was the cause of his death in 1633. In this case, the speaker and the poet seem to be one and the same. The sickness could also refer to the speaker's basic depravity, one shared with the rest of the human race after Adam and Eve's original sin. Regardless, the speaker accepts that this sickness is God's punishment for his sin, or for the original sin which he accepts is also his sin.
Elsewhere in the poem, the speaker hopes that he might be reborn so that he can rise from and be free of his "sicknes[s] and shame." He hopes that God might redeem him, and that he might rise with God. Twice in the poem, the speaker describes this hoped-for redemption as a "flight," implying how desperately he wishes to be free from the burden of sin which keeps him weak and which weighs him down. This hoped-for redemption also finds expression in the poem's title, "Easter Wings." The Easter festival is a Christian celebration of Jesus's resurrection, and the speaker hopes to be resurrected as Jesus once was. The motif of flight is also, of course, echoed in the poem's references to wings.
God is presented as beneficent, just, and omnipotent. He is credited with creating mankind "in wealth and store," and mankind's descent into moral sickness is attributed to mankind itself. God has the power to redeem the speaker, who asks God to "let me rise." The speaker also references God's "victories" in both stanzas, emphasizing the omnipotence of God.
In the first stanza, the speaker asks God to let him rise "As larks, harmoniously." This is the only time in the poem that larks are explicitly mentioned, but their symbolic significance informs the entire poem. The larks symbolize the freedom that the speaker yearns for and repeatedly asks for. The poem is also written in such a way as to visually represent, when rotated ninety degrees clockwise (as it was originally published in 1633), two birds in flight.
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